The Balinese have a novel way of celebrating the New Year: they do it in silence. They also do it around three months after the Gregorian New Year, based on the Balinese lunar calendar. In 2019, Nyepi as it is known (it literally means ‘to be silent’) falls on March 7. On that day, all of Bali falls silent. The only people allowed on the streets are the pecalang – a kind of community police force, who make sure no one leaves their home or turns on lights or loud music. The airport shuts down and planes do not even fly overhead. The entire island is given over to the spirits, while humans give themselves over to self-reflection.
It’s a singular notion – and makes a lot of sense when you think about it. First of all, it conveys a powerful message of sustainability: imagine if the entire world did this one day a year and the impact this would have on energy use! And the idea of preparing for the year ahead by being still and looking inside seems like a smart move too!
But it’s not all about contemplation – New Year’s activities start with Melasti – a purification ritual that takes place a few days before Nyepi. Ritual objects are cleansed in the sea, ceremonies take place in temples – many of them involving ritual possession, which is a unique spectacle to witness.
And there’s nothing the Balinese love more than a party – so on New Year’s Eve, giant papier mache monsters are paraded through the streets on giant litters by young men accompanied by dancers and gamelan musicians. These are the ogoh-ogoh – usually fearsome figures from Hindu and Balinese mythology, though there’s also room for some decidedly more bawdy sculptures as well as figures from global pop culture. It’s like the Balinese equivalent of carnival. It’s certainly likely that not a few of the Balinese spend Nyepi Day itself nursing a hang over from the copious amounts of arak rice alcohol consumed the night before.
Here at Karma, we’ve put together some special Nyepi packages so you can enjoy the whole experience in the lap of luxury. Our staff can also give you the inside track on experiencing both Melasti and the Ogoh-Ogoh parades.