When people think of holidays, loud noises and bright lights are usually what come to mind. However, on 17 March 2018, all will be quiet and dark in the Indonesian province of Bali. This holiday goes by many names, such as Hari Raya Nyepi (or just Nyepi), Hindu New Year, and Day of Silence.
Although characterized as a Hindu holiday, Nyepi is observed by all as a public holiday, no matter one’s religious preferences. Visitors are not omitted from the restrictions of Nyepi either and must follow the same traditions as locals do. How did this holiday get its start, though, and what can one expect to experience if visiting Bali during this time? Read on to find out.
History of Nyepi
It all began when King Kanishka I ascended the Kushan throne in A.D. 78. At a time where the land he ruled suffered from religious strife and prejudice, King Kanishka I became a force of religious tolerance that unified his once-conflicted people. At a time where peace and unity began to strengthen, the Shaka era and calendar began.
The Shaka calendar is still kept (as well as the Gregorian calendar) today in Indonesia. Nyepi marks the New Year of the Shaka calendar. Since the Shaka calendar is based off of lunar sequences, the day of Nyepi changes slightly from year to year. So if you would like to visit Bali during this holiday, make sure to check which day it is when you decide to go.
The revelry of Nyepi Eve
Before all is silent, a night of revelry precedes the calm. All matter of noises are made throughout the evening. Bangs and clangs and firecrackers echo in the air in an effort to rouse up demons and drive them out of their neighborhoods. Elaborate papier-mâché and bamboo effigies (some spanning 20-feet tall) are made of these demons and are called ogoh-ogoh.
These ogoh-ogohs are made a couple months prior and are paraded throughout the towns on Nyepi Eve to later be burned as a symbol of eradicating negative influences from one’s own life. However, once all the lights turn off and everyone goes to sleep, a very different scene greets them in the morning.
All sounds and fires that had just blazed the night before seem to simply vanish. Starting from 6am and ending at 6am the next morning, there will be no sounds from vehicles (except for emergency vehicles) or electrical appliances, no fire or artificial light to be seen for miles. Don’t expect to listen to the radio or watch TV either.
The only sounds you’ll hear will be from animals and nature, with the sun as the only light source to see by. Every shop and establishment will be closed as well, even the airport. There are no flights coming in or out of Bali on Nyepi, so plan your trip accordingly if you’re planning to visit this province during this time.
That being said, you may stay longer in Indonesia than originally expected due to the closing of the airports. Keep this in mind when booking a hotel like the Ubud Hanging Gardens. Named as having one of the best pools in the world it has the price tag to match too, so be prepared.
Speaking of hotels, visitors’ stays during Nyepi will also be affected by the holiday’s customs. Although there are many trends that are changing the way hotels are run, these establishments are greatly limited during this time of year despite current hospitality trends. You won’t see a single person outside of their homes either, including hotel guests.
The security guards of Bali, called pecalang, make sure of this; they’re the only people patrolling the streets to make sure no one is breaking any of the rules of Nyepi. If violators are caught, they’ll be liable to pay a small fee. As a result, the villages look deserted. This ghost town display is meant for evil spirits who are still lingering in the hopes that they’ll leave for more populated areas.
However, scholars have debated whether the merrymaking from the night before is actually meant to awake the slumbering demons so they can be appeased by offerings left out for them. This gives a slightly different meaning to the Day of Silence, gearing it more towards a time of gratitude that the demons will not cause trouble for another year. Whatever the reason, people use Nyepi as a time to be more mindful and meditate.
Some may fast during this day, while others won’t. Although visitors to Bali need not participate in the spiritual and mental aspects of Nypei, they are still expected to be quiet, cover the windows, and stay within the hotel grounds. Because of this, double-check that you don’t have any outdoor excursions planned on 17 March.
There’s nothing quite like the holiday Nyepi in Bali. In a world where people rarely take the time to slow down and disconnect from their many electronics, Nyepi offers an alternative way to spend one’s day. Instead of catching up on the latest TV drama or music album release, take the time to contemplate your life’s choices in the quiet of your home. You don’t have to wait till Nyepi to enjoy the benefits of meditation, but if you want an authentic Day of Silence experience, take a trip to Bali to celebrate a holiday like no other.