Nyepi, also known as the Day of Silence, is the most significant and sacred day in the Balinese Hindu calendar. It is a day of self-reflection and meditation, where people on the island of Bali in Indonesia observe complete silence, fasting, and abstinence. In this article, we will delve into the history, events, and preparations needed for Nyepi, as well as what non-Hindunese visitors should keep in mind.
Nyepi has been celebrated in Bali for centuries and has its roots in Hindu mythology. It falls on the day following the new moon of the Balinese Saka calendar, which signals the new year of the Saka calendar. It usually occurs in March or April and is a day of complete silence, where all activity on the island is put to a halt.
According to legend, the demons of the island were driven away during the day before Nyepi, known as Pengrupukan, through loud noises and the burning of effigies. On the day of Nyepi itself, the island is thought to be deserted, so that the demons would think it uninhabited and move on.
Alt text: Leak Bali
The historical record suggests that Nyepi was created based on a story from the Vedic scriptures that tells how, in the early centuries AD, the State of India and its surrounding areas were described as always experiencing prolonged social crises and conflicts. At that time, there were many conflicts between tribes (Caka, Pahiava, Yueh Chi, Yavana, and Malaya) with alternating winning and losing conditions.
The waves of inter-tribal power struggles eventually caused religious life to drift. In the end, the Caka tribe became the winner under the leadership of King Kaniskha I, who was crowned King and descended from Caka on the first day (one day after tilem) of the first month (caitramasa) of the year 01 Caka, in March 78 AD. To commemorate the good things that happened under the leadership of King Kaniskha I, the Holy Day of Nyepi was created. Since then, the life of the state, society, and religion in India has been reorganized.
Nyepi is actually a series of events that take place over a period of a few days. Here's a breakdown of each day:
Melasti is the first event of Nyepi and takes place three days prior. This event is a purification ceremony that involves taking temple artefacts to the sea or lake to be cleansed. For Balinese Hindus, the sea and the lake are the source of sacred water of life (tirta amerta) which is believed can cleanse all kinds of dirt in humans and the universe.
Alt text: Melasti ceremony
Legian, Canggu, and Melasti Beaches are well-known locations for the Melasti ceremony. If you want to experience the ceremony up close, make sure to respect the event and observe proper manners.
The second event is Pengrupukan, also known as Mecaru. This is the day before Nyepi and involves the burning of effigies (ogoh-ogoh) that represent evil spirits (bhuta kala), with the aim of driving them away by making loud noises.
Alt text: Ogoh ogoh
Nyepi itself is the third event and is the day of silence, where the entire island shuts down. No lights are allowed, no fires can be lit, no one is allowed to work, and no one can leave their homes. This is a time for self-reflection and to purify oneself. There are four restrictions, also called Catur Brata Penyepian, which include:
Amati Geni: It is forbidden to turn on the fire both literally and figuratively. In addition to prohibiting the lighting of fires or lamps, Hindus are asked to temper their passions, emotions, and anger.
Amati Karya: No work. Nyepi is a moment to take a break from all the hustle and bustle of work and an invitation to pause and reflect on what an individual has done so far.
Amati Lelanguan: It is forbidden to seek or create entertainment, ranging from partying, gambling, and so on that are considered entertaining. That's why the internet, radio and local TV are also turned off for the day in Bali.
Amati Lelungan: Travel is prohibited, no one is given access to travel except authorized personnel such as police, firefighters, hospitals, and other relevant agencies. So the streets in Bali will be very quiet.
Alt text: Nyepi Day
The final event of the Balinese New Year celebration is Ngembak Geni, which is held one day after Nyepi. This is a special time when forgiveness is sought and granted among family and friends. Balinese people take this opportunity to visit one another, exchange greetings, and ask for forgiveness for any wrongdoings committed during the past year.
Alt text: Family visit after Nyepi
If you're planning to visit Bali during Nyepi, it's important to be aware of the restrictions in place and prepare accordingly. Here are some things to keep in mind:
During Nyepi, the local mobile internet provider will shut its signal in Bali areas. If you’re worried about your work then fear not, you can still access the wifi. But for a quiet moment as rare as Nyepi in Bali, it’d be a waste just to pass it by on Netflix or games. Instead, you can use this time to disconnect from the world and focus on self-reflection.
All shops and restaurants will be closed during Nyepi, so it's important to stock up on food beforehand. While some hotels and resorts may have limited menus available, it's best to be prepared with snacks and other essentials. And according to past events, it is highly advisable to not buy your groceries one or two days before Nyepi, unless you enjoy a long queue, a massive crowd in the store, or running out of stock.
Alt text: Crowded store before Nyepi
During Nyepi, there is a complete ban on noise. Loud music and talking loudly are not allowed, and it's important to be respectful of this. Embrace the silence and take the time to reflect on your life and goals.
During Nyepi, all public and commercial facilities, including offices, airports, shops, restaurants, and even ATMs are closed. This is to maintain the solemnity of the event. It's worth noting that Ngurah Rai International Airport is the only airport in the world that shuts down for 24 hours during Nyepi. Despite the closures, the Balinese government still accommodates other religious communities during this time. For example, when Nyepi coincides with Friday prayers for Muslims, they are allowed to pray together in mosques, only without loudspeakers. After prayer, they are expected to return home and observe the rest of Nyepi in silence.
One of the most enchanting experiences during Nyepi is the clear and starry night sky. Since the island is devoid of all artificial lights, you can observe the twinkling stars and the Milky Way in all its glory. It's the perfect time to lay back and marvel at the beauty of the cosmos. So prepare your best gear to capture the rare moments or simply lay out your mat on the rooftop to enjoy the glory of the Balinese night sky.
Alt text: Nyepi milky way
Omed-omedan is a lively ceremony that takes place in Sesetan village every year, after Nyepi day, on Ngembak Geni day to welcome the new Saka year. It's a tradition that has been carried out for generations by the youth of Banjar Kaja. Omed-omedan, which means 'pull and pull' in Balinese, involves unmarried youths between the ages of 17 to 30. The highlight of this ceremony is when male and female groups pull each other with bare hands, hug, and even kiss while being splashed with water. This unique ceremony is held until 5 PM local time and is a must-see spectacle.
Alt text: Kiss festival after Nyepi
Another quirky tradition during Nyepi is the Mebuug-Buugan mud festival, which is practiced in Kedonganan Traditional Village, Kuta District, Badung Regency. The word 'buug' means soil or mud, and the purpose of this tradition is to cleanse oneself to welcome the new year. Participants of all ages, both men and women, get dirty with mud and engage in a playful mud war. Afterward, they walk to the beach in the west to clean themselves. The Mebuug-Buugan tradition dates back hundreds of years, and after being discontinued for 60 years, it was revived in 2015.
Nyepi is a remarkable and significant holiday in Bali that is steeped in rich traditions and symbolism. For visitors who are not Hindu, it's important to acknowledge and honor the restrictions during this period and respect the customs and traditions of the island. By doing so, visitors can experience the wonder of Nyepi and gain a deeper appreciation of Balinese culture