Balinese Day of Silence

nyepi - balinese day of silence ogoh-ogoh parade

Shhh…. it’s Nyepi.

Nyepi Day is the Balinese Hindu ‘Day of Silence’, one part of the sacred rituals of the Caka New Year celebration. Nyepi Day itself is when all activities on Bali are brought to a complete halt. All roads throughout Bali are void of any traffic, no-one ventures outside of his or her house/home, no fire is lit, electricity is used and even the airport is closed to all incoming and outgoing flights. Before the ‘day of silence’ the ritual started with several rituals, below are the details of the rituals.

The Melasti ritual, performed three days prior to Nyepi, is intended to cleanse thoughts, words and deeds with sacred waters as well as obtain sacred waters ahead a brand new year. This is also the time for purifications of the sacred ‘Arca’, ‘Pralingga’, ‘Pratima’ and other sacred objects from Puras (Balinese temples). These rituals can be performed in the sea, lake or other source of sacred waters i.e., rivers etc..

Then the day before Nyepi, the Balinese perform the Caru and Tawur Kesanga rituals. The Tawur Kesanga ritual is intended to build harmonious relationships between men, man and God (Ida Sanghyang Widhi Wasa) and man and nature. The ritual is also meant to win over Batara Kala (see Ogoh-Ogoh below) by the Pecaruan offering.

Additionally various offerings and animal sacrifices (chicken, ducks, pigs and even cows and bulls) are held in villages and provinces. Plants and crops are also sometimes used as part of the offerings. These sacrificial rituals are carried out in stages / levels starting at the household level then working the way up through the banjar, village, sub-district and so on until reaching Pura Besakih.

After performing the Tawur Kesanga ritual, it’s time for ‘Ngerupuk’ (more popularly known as the ‘Ogoh-Ogoh’ parade) ceremony. In general the ‘Ogoh-ogoh’ is a sculpture that depicts various personalitites of the Bhuta Kala, or negative/evil side of human nature. Similar to the seven deadly sins in western culture, there are six evil desires that need to be controlled. i.e. ‘Kroda’ (anger); ‘Kama’ (lust); ‘Mada’ (pride); ‘Matsarya’ (envy); ‘Lobha’ (greed) and ‘Moha’ (illusion).

These fantastical mythical ‘Ogoh-ogoh’ figures are usually are made of paper and colourfully painted. Starting at dusk (around 6.30 pm local time) the Balinese parade the streets with the ogoh-ogohs, passionately playing a deafening mixture of the kulkul (traditional bamboo bell), claxons, gamelan music, drummers music or any other loud instruments. The idea of ‘ogoh-ogoh’ is to awaken and scare the evil spirits by making unbearable amounts of noise as is humanly possible. After the ogoh-ogoh have been paraded through the streets they are burned as a symbol of purification.

The next day, Nyepi, is a 24 hour period (6.00am-6.00pm) of total silence to follow/observe ‘Catur Brata’ (four prohibitions) ‘amati karya’ (no activity); ‘amati geni’ (no fire); ‘amati lelungan’ (no travel); ‘amati lelanguan’ (no entertainment). It is thought that the evil spirits circling above Bali and not finding any activity depart for for another world. Following ‘Catur Brata’ is enforced by ‘Pecalang’, traditional community watch patrols who are are on the look out for violations. No one is allowed on the streets except ambulances for emergencies and police. Foreigners residing or staying in private residences or villas are are not exempt and must not play music or have lights on at night (or at least visible from the street). Hotels are exempt inasmuch as guests can have lights on in their rooms but curtains should be drawn so the light is not visible from the street or beach. Also lights in the hotel’s public areas are turned off and only basic services are available.

The day after Nyepi is a new year, a new day where the ‘Catur Brata’ is over and the Balinese may resume daily activities as usual. It’s a day for visiting families, relatives and friends to exchange forgiveness and start the new year with a pure heart.

All that being said, one benefit of Nyepi (other than the peace and quiet for prayer and meditation) is that with the island plunged into total darkness at night the night sky comes alive with millions of stars – a rare sight not often available in today’s world.

Selamat Hari Raya Nyepi!

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