Determined by the Lunar (Saka) Calendar in Bali, Nyepi (Balinese New Year) falls on the day after the new moon that occurs somewhere between mid-March & mid-April each year. Nyepi is perhaps the most unique of all festivals celebrated in Bali, as the whole island comes to a standstill on this particular day. Visitors to Bali at this time of the year definitely need to be aware of the day of Nyepi, as they will not be able to go anywhere on this day, but rather spend time relaxing around their place of accommodation.
The most interesting part of Nyepi for visitors is the visual spectacles of ogoh-ogoh (monsters) created by many of the villages throughout Bali to be used as a part of a huge island-wide exorcism on the eve of Nyepi. The youth of the various village banjar (local council areas) take great delight in competing with the neighbouring villages to create the most gruesome and terrifying-looking ogoh-ogoh in the month preceding Nyepi.
In Ubud all the youth from their perspective banjar excitedly gather at the foot of each of their creations in the late afternoon on the eve of Nyepi to proudly lead their ogoh-ogoh through the central intersection down to the soccer field on Monkey Forest Road. With all the noise & commotion of a cremation ceremony the ogoh-ogoh are lead one by one into this open area, where the rest of the community & visitors to the area could wander between them all to marvel at the ferociousness achieved by their creators.
As well as each group escorting their creation being decked out in fine new uniforms, many of the ogoh-ogoh are accompanied by their local gamelan players for greater impact, & these groups put on a further demonstration of their music one by one on the soccer field for the crowds of people who come to watch.
On the eve of Nyepi, many different ogoh-ogoh of all different shapes & sizes are presented in the parade in Ubud. At dusk, after a group of village elders have assessed each creation & given a speech praising the skills of those involved, the ogoh-ogoh begins to move out one by one once more towards the village centre, before branching off to each of their individual areas of Ubud.
Hundreds of people gather at the central crossroads of Ubud, where each of the ogoh-ogoh lurches crazily through the crowd. Officials guiding them along their path are careful to make sure that no two ogoh-ogoh make any sort of physical contact during this time, as with the Balinese spirits running high, this might lead to friction between the two groups.
Once the ogoh-ogoh have returned to their area of the village, parading down all the side streets, it is eventually either consumed by a huge bonfire in the central crossroads of the village, or nowadays more often ‘defrocked’, i.e. stripped of its finery so that some of the materials may then be reused in the following year.
All over Bali, on the eve of Nyepi all the effigies of the gods from the village temples are also taken in long & colourful processions to the river to be ritually bathed. Then after sunset the exorcism of the island starts, firstly within the house compound, where special offerings accompanied by fire & holy water are delivered to every corner of the compound, accompanied by loud banging & clanging, & also as much noise as the vocal chords can handle. Once the exorcism of evil has been accomplished within the home, people then move out onto the streets, many accompanying the terrifying ogoh-ogoh as they roam the neighbourhood with as much revelry as they can muster. The final meeting place in the central crossroads of the village sees huge offerings being burnt after the special prayers by the village priest for the cleansing of the whole village. For weeks before the eve of Nyepi, you can hear fire crackers & the loud retorts of exploding bamboo ‘cannons’ being set off at night, & this continues that night well into the wee hours, before all gradually settles into an all-pervading peace to greet the dawn of Nyepi.
On the day of Nyepi (literally meaning ‘silence’) the whole of Bali lies still. There is no one out on the streets, nothing opens in the way of shops or offices, the sound of traffic is nonexistent. This Day of Silence is where the world has been cleansed & everything starts anew. With the religious prohibitions of
- mati lelangon (no pleasure)
- mati lelungan (no traffic)
- mati geni (no fire) and
- mati pekaryan (no work)
Beginning at sunrise & continuing for the next 24 hours, all you will hear is the occasional barking of dogs or the shrill of insects. You will not be allowed to go anywhere on this day, but rather relax at your place of accommodation, enjoying the peace & quiet of an otherwise bustling island.