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Nyepi 2013 – Ringing in the New Year, Bali Style

Photo credit - I Nengah Januartha (flickr)

Photo credit – I Nengah Januartha (flickr)

You may be wondering why on earth I’m writing a New Year’s post in March. In fact tonight is New Year’s Eve according to the Balinese Saka calendar. Tomorrow is New Year in Bali – Nyepi and just to confuse you, we’re celebrating the start of the year 1935.

The Nyepi traditions and celebrations are something unique to Bali and you’re unlikely to have experienced anything similar if you haven’t been in Bali during the Nyepi period before.

Ogoh Ogoh Parade

Photo Credit - I Nengah Januartha (flickr)

Photo Credit – I Nengah Januartha (flickr)

The evening before Nyepi is a spectacle that has to be seen to believed as thousands of Ogoh Ogoh – huge demonic statues made from papier-mâché are paraded through the streets of every village on the island.

These statues represent the malevolent spirits that may be lurking around the island and the ngrupuk procession is accompanied by a lot of shouting and clashing of cymbals intended to lure the spirits inside these physical effigies. The young men of the village carry the statues on a bamboo platform at great speed, twisting and turning as they go in order to confuse the spirits.

Back at home while the ngrupuk procession is taking place, the women place special offerings around the home compound and perform a cleansing ritual with fire and a lot of banging and shouting in order to chase out any remaining spirits that may be hanging around.

At the end of the procession the ogoh ogoh are burned, symbolically cleansing the village and banishing the evil spirits

Nyepi – the day of silence

Photo credit: saylows (flickr)

Photo credit: saylows (flickr)

What really makes Bali unique when it comes to its New Year celebrations is not the Ogoh Ogoh procession the day before but Nyepi day itself. On Nyepi, the entire island of Bali shuts down. Nobody is permitted to leave their homes, there are no vehicles on the roads and only hospitals remain open for emergencies. Even the airport is closed for the day as the island descends into total silence.

The idea behind Nyepi is that after chasing the demons away the night before, they will be fooled into thinking there are no humans on Bali and will pass over, looking for another place to call home.

On Nyepi day families are confined to their homes, tourists confined to their hotels, no lights must be used and any conversation must be kept at a minimal level. Even the television signal is cut incase anyone should be tempted to break the silence. Anyone attempting to sneak outside will be accompanied back to where they came from by the pecalang (village police).

Nyepi is a day for reflection and many Balinese choose to fast and meditate for most of the day but even if meditation isn’t your thing, most people find that being in Bali on Nyepi has quite a profound effect on them.

It’s probably quite difficult to imagine the silence that occurs from no traffic, no television, no people and only whispered conversations unless perhaps you’ve experienced trekking in the wilderness. On Nyepi night the stars are unbelievably bright with no artificial light leaking into the sky and the air is clean and pure after 24 hours with not a single car or motorbike to create pollution.

Just imagine what a difference it would make to the world if every country followed suit and used no electricity and no transport for just one day.

If you get the chance to visit Bali over Nyepi, I would definitely recommend it. 24 hours of silence may not sound like fun to the uninitiated but it’s an experience that you won’t find anywhere else in the world.

In the spirit of Nyepi I’ll be turning off my computer for the day after I’ve finished my work for this evening so I’ll sign off for now and say Happy New Year from Bali!

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