Yesterday we celebrated Bali New Year! This is the third New Year Celebration on our trip. We celebrated the traditional Western New Year on 1st January with festivities in Sydney and on 19th February in Kuala Lumpur we saw in Chinese New Year. Festivities here in Bali are quite different and we have really enjoyed learning about this tradition here in Denpasar with all the local people.
Nyepi is a Hindu celebration and is otherwise known as ‘the day of silence’. It is a 24-hour period of time, from 6am on Nyepi day until 6am the following morning, where Hindus, and actually most residents of Bali, enjoy peace and quiet. It is a time for reflection and prayer, to purify the soul, ready for the forthcoming year. There are several strict rules associated with this day; the main being no outdoor activities, no lighting of the home after darkness and no entertainment or carnal pleasures. These rules are taken very seriously. Pecalangs, Balinese security wardens, patrol the streets in their black uniforms and Udeng hats to ensure local areas are safe and that there are no activities occurring that may interfere with Nyepi. There is no traffic. In fact, Bali is thought to be the only place in the world where the airport is closed for the entire bank holiday period. Balinese people usually fast on this day and it is frowned upon to cook on Nyepi. However most prepare food beforehand and eat small amounts during the day. The day before Nyepi is called Tawur Kesanga. On this day, all villages hold a large exorcism ceremony at the main crossroads, which is thought to be the meeting place of demons. Local people spend the weeks leading up to Nyepi making huge papermache monsters and demons called ‘Ogoh-ogoh’. These monsters are supposed to represent the evil spirits in the environment, which must be got rid of. The monsters all have fangs, crazy hair and bulging eyes. They are absolutely amazing creations and some are absolutely huge in size. At sunset on Tawur Kesanga, a huge carnival takes place where the ogoh-ogoh are lit by fire torches and paraded through the streets. There is dancing and eating and much noise is made.
The lore continues along the lines that the noise and celebrations attract the attention of bad spirits. These can then be exorcised from the home and community during this festival. Any new spirits arriving on the island the following day, on Nyepi, find Bali silent and deserted. Therefore, the spirits soon depart as there is no-one to ‘haunt’ or take advantage of, thus leading to a peaceful, happy and prosperous year to follow. Reading about Nyepi online via various travel forums, tourists are advised not to come to Bali during Nyepi, because they would essentially ‘lose’ a day of their holiday by not being able to travel outside of their hotel or being able to undertake any activities on the island. It is true that even visitors to Bali are not allowed to leave their accommodation or visit the beach during the 24 hour holiday period. However, many of the big hotels do still provide food and special activity ‘packages’ for those staying in Bali during this time. As we are staying within a traditional Balinese homestay environment, it was very important to us that we prepared well for this day and followed the traditions, as per the family we are staying with. Much like at Christmas-time in the UK, this involved much planning and purchasing of food; all which would need to be easily prepared without the need for cooking on the day. We did lots of cooking the day before and had the usual Western panic of ‘what if we run out of food?!‘ We prepared the kids by saying they couldn’t put the TV on when they awoke, but we were advised that they would be allowed to use their kindles for reading and games (using headphones). Our host said it would be fine to boil the kettle to make tea (phew!). On waking on the morning of Nyepi, our neighbourhood was absolutely silent. All we could hear is birdsong and the buzz of insects. You don’t realise the impact of the constant hum of motorbikes on the road outside until it isn’t there. We haven’t heard the clang and clatter of pans, with people cooking. We haven’t heard any voices, apart from our own quiet chatter. It is so peaceful and lovely. This is actually what you want Christmas day to be like (or the afternoon at least!); no frantic trips to visit relatives, no crazy cooking, and absolutely no arguing over what to watch on the TV and no commercialism… We spent the day enjoying family time. Making things. Writing. Drawing. Resting. Enjoying the quiet. We had to retire to bed at 6.30pm as absolute darkness fell at sunset and we couldn’t use anything other than torchlight to find our way to the loo (any other artificial light would invite a cautionary visit from the local Pecalings). An early story and bedtime. I love Nyepi!