It’s quite hard to imagine a New Year’s celebration without the late night parties and colorful fireworks, but in Bali it is a fascinating reality.
Known as Nyepi or “day of silence”, the crowded streets and shops of the city are abandoned for a full 24 hours in respect of the New Year. These hours are dedicated to self-reflection and relaxation. Though it might sound boring, in fact it’s quite the spectacle. The celebrations start 3-4 days prior to Nyepi and end on the following day. These cultural performances include sacred purification rituals along with a wonderfully vibrant parade.
The first ritual, Melasti, is a Hindu ceremony meant to cleanse the world of sin and bad karma. This is held on the edge of the beach in order to acquire the Tirta Amerta or “the water of life”. In addition, every sacred relic belonging to a temple is purified.
On the last day of the year, the Bhuta Yajna ritual takes place, allowing devout Hindus to eliminate negativity in order to renew harmony with God. This ceremony includes a procession of ogoh-ogoh, demonic statues made of painted bamboo and syrofoam meant to represent the evil spirits. When the parade is finished, they burn the statues.
Preceding this day of excitement is the silent Nyepi ritual beginning at 6:00am until 6:00am the next morning. This ritual includes enforced regulations on Balinese residents, including visiting tourists and non-Hindus. Besides the obviously deserted streets, there is no work (Amati Kary), travel (Amati Lelunganan), and entertainment or pleasure (Amati Lelanguan) permitted. There is also a strict ban on the use of fire or light of any kind (Amati Geni). The more devout residents even forbid talking and eating.
Although this probably sounds quite harsh for us Westerners, the Balinese see it as the most sacred day of the year.
On the second day of the year, Hindus perform Ngembak Agni, the final ritual fostering forgiveness among friends and family.
The Balinese year follows the lunar sequence, meaning it is 78 years behind our Gregorian calendar. New Year’s Day falls on the first new moon in March; this year is was on the 28th of March.
If you’re interested in attending this very special Balinese celebration, here are some quick tips to make the experience easier:
- Book your flights respectively: Arrive before the celebrations begin and depart after the 1st of the year, as the airport is closed during the 24-hour period
- Consider how you’re going to spend Nyepi as visitors are confined to their hotels
- Arrive early to watch (or participate in) the celebrations as they can get quite crowded
Planning for next year? New Year’s Day will be on the 17th of March 2018.
Written by Savannah Chinelli, intern at Pilot Productions HQ in London