Nyepi: tips for celebrating Balinese New Year

Nyepi. Bali. New Year. Festival.
2008-03-06_1801.32_Ogoh_crowd.JPG by mattspongCreative Commons Attribution 

This is an excerpt from Lonely Planet's A Year of Festivals.

Location: Throughout Bali

Dates: The Lunar New Year, according to the Balinese saka calendar, falling on the first new moon after mid-March

Level of participation: 1 – enjoy the Nyepi eve parades then settle back for the quietest New Year’s Day of your life

Bali’s major festival pushes one year noisily out the door and very quietly ushers in the next one – if raucous, riotous New Year events are not your thing, then Bali well and truly has the celebration for you. If you keep alert you’ll probably notice Nyepi preparations beginning three days ahead of the New Year, with all the statues of gods removed from temples on this day and paraded to rivers, where they are washed and bathed before being returned to the temples.

The day before Nyepi, Tawur Agung Kesanga, is when you’ll see most action around the island. This is the ‘Day of Great Sacrifices’, with ceremonies held at town squares and sports grounds throughout the island. At about 4pm villagers dressed in traditional garb gather in town centres, playing music and offering gifts of food and flowers to the ogoh-ogoh, which are huge monster dolls with menacing fingers, bulging eyes and faces fit to give a child nightmares. This is followed by the ngrupuk, a grand procession in which the ogoh-ogoh figures are lifted on bamboo poles and, accompanied by gamelan music, paraded through the streets to frighten away all the evil spirits. After prayers and speeches, the ogoh-ogoh dolls are burnt with torches and bonfires in a final symbolic gesture to be rid of the evil spirits for the year ahead. Much revelry ensues. Wherever you are in Bali, you’ll almost certainly find a ngrupuk procession in the nearest large town, with the island capital, Denpasar, staging the most impressive parade.

The day of Nyepi itself officially lasts for 24 hours from sunrise, and is one of complete inactivity, so that when the evil spirits descend they will decide that Bali is uninhabited and leave the island alone for another year. They call it the ‘Day of Silence’, and all human activity stops – all shops, bars and restaurants close and no-one is allowed to leave their home or hotel. Even Bali’s international airport closes down. No fires are permitted and at night all buildings must be blacked out – only emergency services are exempt.

Essentials: On the day of Nyepi you must stay in your hotel. Consider it a day to catch up on sleep and some reading. Resist all other hotel-room thoughts and temptations since sex is also supposedly forbidden this day. Most places will arrange to serve you meals but should you wander off, the pecalang (village police) will politely but firmly send you back to your hotel.

Local attractions: From Denpasar, hit the beaches of Kuta or Sanur, or cool down on higher ground in Ubud, Bali’s culinary capital.

More info: Bali Tourism Board (www.bali-tourism-board.com)

See more festivals in March here.