Nyepi: Balinese New Year

by Sasha Savinov

We first learned about Nyepi a year ago when we were doing our research in preparation to move here. There’s nothing we’ve been looking forward to more than this. Nyepi is the Balinese New Year which follows the Saka calendar. It’s a very exciting time here on the Island of the Gods as it is their most important holiday. Today wraps up the Nyepi celebrations here in Bali and it is now the year 1938 in the Balinese calendar. There are many rituals that go along with Nyepi.

Melasti Ceremony

Bali melasti ceremony

Melasti procession on the beach in Sanur.

The melasti ceremony kicks off the Nyepi rituals. It’s basically a day for spring cleaning and purification. Two or three days before Nyepi, hundreds of people from each village bring their sacred religious objects from the temple to the beach by way of a colorful and elaborate procession. There they are cleaned and purified. The ceremony is led by a priest and also includes prayers, meditation and a traditional dance. Offerings are made and live goats, chickens and ducks are thrown in to the sea as sacrifices. Take a look in this short video:

Ogoh-Ogoh

Bali ogoh-ogoh

Damn those ogoh-ogoh are freaky!

The day before Nyepi is the most exciting day. The goal is to rid the island of all negative things and evil spirits. In order to do this, each village makes an ogoh-ogoh – a demonic statue that symbolizes evil and malevolent spirits. Traditionally they are paraded through the streets accompanied by loud music and then taken to the beach to be burned. However, this year in Sanur where we live they decided to do something different. Because of the traffic jams caused by the parades they decided to have a competition where each village put together a dance depicting the story of their ogoh-ogoh. They were judged on the dance, costumes and ogoh-ogoh. We are lucky to be living just across the street from the competition site. We were able to head over early and see the ogoh-ogoh in the daylight and get photos of them sitting still. We were also able to walk home rather than get stuck in the massive traffic jam, because they did parade them down the street after the competition finished at 1am. See what the scary beasts look like in our video highlight reel:

Day of Silence

Bali Day of Silence

Not a bad place to be stuck.

Nyepi is a day for self reflection and therefore a day of total silence. Everything shuts down here – the airport, harbors, and roads are all closed. The official rules are no fires or electricity, no leaving your property , no work, and no entertainment or revelry. This is so the evil spirits can not find their way back to the island after being scared away. Foreigners are not exempt from these rules. Although we are free to do as we please in our respective accommodations, we can not leave the property. We’ve never been good at following rules, and this was no different. Staying inside was easy enough, but we definitely cooked, used the A/C, and had a bit of revelry – if you can call drinking a few beers by the pool revelry, that is. All in all, participating in Nyepi has been the best experience we’ve had thus far in Bali, and we’d highly recommend trying to visit the island at this time to join in for such a colorful, spiritual, and important part of Balinese culture.

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