Once a year, the entire island of Bali shuts down for a day. The airport is closed, the roads are free of vehicles. What’s the occasion? It’s Hari Raya Nyepi, or the Balinese New Year. This is the most important holiday on the Island of the Gods, and it’s meant for fasting, reflection, and meditation. In the lead-up to the Day of Silence, however, there’s a lot going on.
Nyepi falls on the day after the dark moon of the spring equinox, when the day and night are of approximately equal duration (This year will be fall on 17th March). The celebrations last for several days, and officially start with Melasti, which is a time of prayer. Sacred temple objects are brought in a long procession to the beach (or nearest body of water) by villagers dressed in traditional temple clothes.
Next an event called Pengrupukan. The Balinese make massive monsters called Ogoh Ogohs, which are then paraded through the streets at night. The Ogoh Ogoh are made to look evil and scary in order to attract the evil spirits to inhabit the monster.
After the procession, the Ogoh Ogoh are set on fire. This isn’t intended to destroy the bad spirits, but to neutralise them, as the Balinese believe that both good and evil should survive in the world to balance each other out.
The day after the Ogoh Ogoh parade is Nyepi, the day of silence. There’s not a whole lot to say about the actual Day of Silence, because it’s exactly that – silent! The reason for the peace and quiet is so that when the demons descend to take over Bali, they decide the island is uninhabited and leave it alone for one more year. All human activity ceases, and people must stay in their homes (or hotels for tourists). The only people you’ll see out on the streets are the pecalang (village police), who make sure nobody is out and about. There are four main rules, known as Catur Brata:
Amati Geni: No fire, light, or electricity.
Amati Karya: No working.
Amati Lelungan: No movement or travel outside of the home.
Amati Lelangunan: No entertainment or revelry of any kind.
This silence lasts until 6 AM the next day, when it’s back to business as usual on the Island of the Gods.
Nyepi is rounded off with Ngembak, the day of forgiveness, when Balinese people spend the day visiting relatives and friends. It is the official start of the Balinese New Year and people endeavour to forgive each other over grievances, so that they can start the new year working together to face the challenges of the year ahead.