Nyepi day in Bali is one of the world’s most interesting New Year celebrations. Marked with purification rituals, parades, demonic statues to be burned, an entire day of silence and a day for forgiveness. Bali will celebrate Nyepi in 2019 on March 7th (the Balinese saka calendar is lunar, so Nyepi is not the same day every year). Here are the rituals and how to observe Nyepi in Bali with respect and reverence.
Nyepi day in Bali
I’ve been to Bali several times and only once I’ve timed it right to see Nyepi. Getting the chance to see how different parts of the world ring in the new year is a special glimpse into the culture. While many cities ring in their new year with parties and drinking, Balinese Indonesians build statues (and burn them), lead processions and take an entire day for silence.
What is Hari Raya Nyepi (Balinese New Year)?
In short, Nyepi is Balinese New Year. Nyepi is a special holiday celebrated only on the island of Bali in Indonesia. It should be noted that many different parts of Indonesia have unique religious makeup and Bali is the only island that is primarily Hindu. While Nyepi is a Hindu holiday, Bali is the main place in the world where it is observed.
Nyepi itself is known as silent day. It is a day for reflection and stillness, to mark the end of one year and the beginning of another (learn what the silence used to be for below).
When is Nyepi day celebrated?
Nyepi day 2019 will be observed on March 7, 2019. It goes from 6:00 am March 7th until 6:00 am March 8th. The date is not the same each year as it follows the Balinese saka calendar, which is a lunar-based calendar, similar to Gregorian.
Nyepi day 2020 will be March 25th, celebrated from 6:00 am March 26th until 6:00 am March 8th.
Nyepi day glossary
There are a lot of special terms associated with Nyepi day; since some are also rules, it’s important to know them.
Nyepi/Nyepi Day: Nyepi itself refers to the several-day holiday, as well as the specific day-of silence; on Nyepi day, silence, introspection and fasting are used to focus observers on the coming year
Hari Raya Nyepi: Happy Nyepi! Happy new year!
Melasti: 3-4 days prior to Nyepi, the Melasti Ritual is performed in temples near the sea; it purifies sacred objects and the Balinese move through the streets with a parade, from temple to temple
Ogoh-ogoh: these are statues built for Nyepi; they are demonic and scary and will be paraded through the village the night before Nyepi during the Bhuta Yajna Ritual; afterward, some will be burned to ward off the negative spirits they embodied
Pecalang: the religious police who enforce the rules of Nyepi
Catur Brata Penyepian: the prohibitions that guide Nyepi day
- Amati geni: no fire, light or electricity
- Amati karya: no working
- Amati lelunga: no traveling
- Amati lelanguan: fasting and no revelry/self-entertainment
Nyepi day in Bali is more than just a day of silence
Or to be more accurate, the celebration of the new year is a 6-day celebration, one of which is Nyepi day itself. It starts with purifying celebrations, parades of ogoh ogoh (and their subsequent burning), a day of silence (Nyepi), a yoga ritual and forgiveness rituals.
A few days before Nyepi day, the Melasti ritual is performed around the island. This ritual is about purifying the sacred Arca, Pratima and Pralingga and is focused on temples near the sea (Pura Segara).
Ogoh-ogoh ceremony (Bhuta Yajna)
The Bhuta Yajna ritual is also known as ogoh-ogoh. Each banjar (neighborhood) builds an ogoh-ogoh in preparation for the ceremony. They are demonic and represent negative spirits. Which should mean it’s no surprise that the ceremony is completed by the ogoh-ogoh burning. Not all of them will be burned.
The banjar nearest us instead brought their ogoh-ogoh back to the temple and performed a dance in front of it, with the ogoh-ogoh lit up and moving mechanically. After the dance, they found all foreigners who were watching and insisted that we come in the temple with them for dinner and beers. They said they might burn their ogoh-ogoh later, but first had to remove all its wiring.
Nyepi day itself is about quiet and stillness. This is where the four prohibitions come in (fire/light/electricity, working, traveling and revelry). No one is allowed outside, to make noise, to use light and entertainment or to travel around. This is enforced by the pecalang. Even though it’s a Balinese Hindu holiday, all locals and tourists are subject to the restrictions, regardless of religion.
What’s with the silence though? It started with the idea that by being quiet and staying in the dark and making no noise, locals could trick negative spirits (the ones that just got purified and burned away) into thinking that the island was uninhabited (and therefore stay away). Now it’s seen as more of an opportunity to reflect and reset, preparing for the year to come.
After the Day of Silence, all social events carry on again. Big family events are scheduled, there are picnics and the days focus on yoga and rituals of forgiveness.
FAQ about Nyepi for toursits in Bali
In my opinion, visiting Bali during Nyepi is incredibly special and something that any visitor to the island should consider experiencing. But as with any religious holiday, it is important to understand that you are the visitor, and to appreciate it with grace and respect. Here are some of the most frequent questions about Nyepi for tourists.
What is like as a visitor?
Nyepi as a visitor to Bali means you need to do a little bit of planning and have a little bit of patience. Most importantly, remember that you are the visitor. Whatever inconvenience you may feel because of this tradition, too bad. You’ve chosen to visit Bali and should treat their most sacred day with reverence.
What can I do on Nyepi day?
While locals can do almost nothing on Nyepi day, tourists can do a little more. You will not be allowed to travel and should not leave your accommodation. Talk with your accommodation to find out if the electricity will be on, if the Wi-Fi will be on, if you can use the pool or any shared spaces. Depending on how close you are to main roads, you may not even be allowed out of your room.
Is there internet on Nyepi day?
This answer has been hard to chase up. In 2018, the government is requesting to turn off all Wi-Fi and cellular data for Nyepi day. As of the time of this publishing, it is confirmed that cell phone data will be turned off and that Wi-Fi will remain on.
Can I travel from or to Bali on Nyepi?
No. The airport will be closed and boats docked; all locals will be celebrating the holiday. Meaning that there are no taxi drivers, no transport working whatsoever. If you want to travel near Nyepi, plan ahead to go before or after the 24-hour shutdown.
Star-gazing on Nyepi
The biggest advantage to the restrictions against electricity, noise and light is that there is absolutely no light pollution whatsoever. So if you get a clear night, you can spend all night laying out, looking at the stars in complete silence, while birds chirp and dogs bark in the distance. Find out in advance if you are allowed out of your room so you can scope out a spot to check out the stars. It’s definitely the longest and deepest I’ve enjoyed the stars in years.
Can I (or should I) avoid Bali for Nyepi?
This one is up to you. For my money, I’d rather experience the important rituals of the local culture. But if you can’t see yourself quiet and offline for one day, it may be better to pop over to the Gili Islands or somewhere else close, like Lombok. Be sure to book your flight or boat in advance so that you have a spot and don’t have to worry about any last-minute cancellations.
What are the dos and don’ts of Nyepi day?
Do treat it with respect.
Do ask your accommodation what to expect for the day.
Don’t drive through streets that are closed for Melasti processions.
Do ask if you can take photos when joining the celebrations.
Don’t miss the ogoh-ogoh.
Do wear clothes that cover you up (kamben or selendang preferred, or even a sarong rather than short shorts).
Don’t make noise or use bright lights.
Do prepare by stocking up on food and downloading books or movies to keep you entertained.
Don’t disrespect a deeply important and religious holiday because it doesn’t align with your beliefs or you find it an inconvenience.
Do revel in the silence and disconnection for a day.