On March the 12th, all of us in Bali will be celebrating (yet again) another New Year but this time it’s the Balinese calendar we will be following. Bali’s New Year’s Day is called “Nyepi”, the Day of Silence. The celebrations actually begin on the 11th and finish on the 13th however, in the usual Balinese way, it’s complicated. Continue reading to find out why……
On the evening of the 11th, most areas in Bali will be focused on the closest parade. This is when (just like Halloween), the goblins and demons are thought to come out, only to be beaten back by the Balinese. (The culture here recognizes that good and evil are equal partners in life however, when matters count, it HAS to be that good wins over evil.)
Before all the revelry of the parades, a few days prior to Nyepi is when every village temple on the island undergoes a cleansing. The ritual is called “Melasti”. It involves the temples taking their sacred objects (statues of gold, precious keris knives, carvings of deer, etc.) and having them purified in the sea at the closest beach. The parades for Melasti are huge – hundreds of people that belong to each temple walking for hours in some cases. Gong orchestras beat the way, women carry offerings file down the streets, children old enough to walk the distance join in.
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When villagers live quite a distance from the beach, they do not walk but head there on their motorbikes with their pratima carried in trucks. This procession, of several hundred people, passed by at 10:00 a.m. It will be difficult for everyone to drive around Bali today since normal traffic has to stop to let the processions proceed. From our vantage point, we'll hear gongs all day. Delightful!
It was thought that the gods fly over Bali at this time, looking for somewhere to settle and create mayhem. The response to this is Nyepi Day. The Balinese believe that if the island looks quiet and uninteresting, the demons will flit by and not be interested in staying to create any trouble. It’s a beautiful thought and the fact that is still persists to this day in Bali’s customs is amazing. For Bali, it’s the one day of the year when everything from our modern world is denied.
By 5:00 a.m. on the 12th, no-one is allowed to be outside their property. (Only emergency vehicles are allowed to operate and the rules are enforced by teams of local guards – the only people permitted to be on the streets at Nyepi.) The streets are silent. Even the animals know and respect the quiet. You hear no murmur from chickens, dogs, insects – nothing! The whole day is supposed to be spent in meditation. No machine should be used, no fire lit (and this includes electricity). TV & radio stations are shut down and ports of entry to Bali are closed; no planes or boats allowed.
By the evening, all must stay in blackness and, if we have good weather, we can look up to the heavens and see the most glorious panorama of stars that we usually never see! Such a treat!! And when you do look at the stars, there is a feeling that seems to put everything in perspective. We (and our human pettiness) do not matter one iota in the grand scheme of the Universe and there is a certain cleansing of the soul to be reminded of that each year for at least one day.
Bali’s hotels have special dispensations but they still have to tone-down their operations and no guests are allowed along the beach front or outside their grounds either. They also treat Nyepi as a marketing opportunity, offering enticing packages to those who just shudder at the thought of having to spend one night at home in total darkness. Of course, they will offer something to do on the evening of the Day of Silence but, if you can, try to join in the local tradition – stay home and follow the practice the Balinese way.
Sometimes, following someone else’s path other than our own can bring us some surprising magic…….
Happy New Year To You All From Bali!