Many visitors are drawn to Bali for the beautiful beaches, serene retreats, delicious food and cultural immersion. The Balinese Hindu population holds special celebrations regularly, including the Bali arts festival, Bali kite festival, Bali spirit festival, perang pandan, galungan and kuningan. However, of all festivals across Bali, one of the most intriguing is that of Nyepi.
Why Nyepi is Celebrated
In Bali, one of the main calendars used is the Saka calendar which follows the lunar sequence. Although the Gregorian calendar has been adopted for daily business and government use, the Saka calendar dictates the holy days. Nyepi is a celebration of the Saka New Year, taking place every March after a new moon. The day of Nyepi is known as the ‘Day of Silence’, allowing the island to recover after a full year of human activity.
Although Nyepi itself is only for one day, the celebrations are sequential over several days leading up to, and following the New Year. The sequence of events build anticipation and culminate to create a fresh start leading into a new year.
The Melasti Pilgrimage
Usually around three days before the new year, Balinese Hindus across the island will embark on a pilgrimage from their community temples towards the sea or holy springs. The journey is one of purification, to cleanse the communities of impurities and that of the manifestation of deities on earth.
Villages can be seen in procession down streets with offerings, shrines and icons, making their way to these sacred water sources. The ocean is considered the source of life in Balinese Hindu beliefs and the cleansing power of the ocean releases the deities back to a purified state. The community is thus cleansed of negative forces, bad deeds and unfavourable influences.
The Nusa islands are generally quite small in size and Melasti processions are hard to miss. With easy ocean access, all temple pilgrimages can be readily viewed by visitors on short notice. It is recommended that if you plan to stay and watch the process at any of these holy sites to respectfully dress in a long sleeve top, with a sarong and sash, as the local worshippers do.
The Ogoh-Ogoh Parade of New Year’s Eve
Many local people will continue with business as usual during the morning of New Year’s Eve, leaving worksites and completing errands around midday. Most families then return to their homes to prepare for the evening’s events. The rituals begins with a ritual known as pengrupukan. This involves ridding family compounds of negative forces. Family members walk through their compounds making loud noises, chanting and scaring away the evil spirits.
After this process is complete, it is time to put on prayer clothing and head out to the local community temple. A prayer ceremony is performed, which is a preparation for the upcoming holy celebration and a time to connect through prayer. A village procession then takes place, carrying offerings and shrines through the streets. The village members then wait until nightfall to begin the ogoh-ogoh parade.
Ogoh-ogoh are large, meticulously constructed effigies representing evil spirits from Hindu teachings. These large masterpieces are built over several weeks leading up to the evening’s celebration and are a community effort in terms of financial assistance and construction. Most often the figures are built using bamboo, palm fronds and papier-mâché, which are then painted and dressed in traditional style.
Generally the young adults of the community will band together to carry the large effigies on sturdy bamboo platforms. The ogoh-ogoh is lit up and community members carry fiery torches along with the procession down the village streets. The parade proceeds down the streets with traditional gamelan music accompanying the swaying ogoh-ogoh. The figure is made to dance and sway along the route, with elaborate movements taking place at street corners in order to get the attention of evil spirits congregating there.
Many neighbouring villages attempt to outdo one another with the size, complexity and showmanship of their parade performances. When nearby villages meet on the street, the ogoh-ogoh perform an impromptu ‘battle’ with one another before carrying on to the next village. In Denpasar and other major cities, there can be several ogoh-ogoh converging in a major crossroads location, presenting an impressive spectacle.
The parade can last up to four hours, with high energy dancing, music, rice alcohol and processions down the streets. Upon completion, the effigies were traditionally burned to release the bad spirits inside. Nowadays, some complex ogoh-ogoh are auctioned off to the highest bidder, while other are beheaded and slowly torn apart by locals the next day. The entire process is a stark contrast to the quiet reflection that follows.
Nyepi Day – Saka New Year
Starting from 6:00am on Nyepi day, silence descends over all of Bali. The day is a ‘Day of Silence’ that mandates the following of strict prohibition from many activities that would disrupt the peace including:
- Amati Geni – no lights or fires permitted
- Amati Karya – no physical work unless it relates to spiritual healing
- Amati Lelungan – no travel outside of the home
- Amati Lelangunan – no entertainment or recreation
This results in completely deserted streets, a calm quiet across the island and a general sense of peace and relaxation. The purpose of the restrictions is to fool the evil spirits into believing the island is devoid of humans and leave it in peace as the New Year begins.
The rules are strictly enforced across Bali with special patrols done by pecalang community members to ensure that all aspects are followed. There is no travel permitted unless it is for emergency purposes. Even the international airport is shutdown for an entire 24 hour period.
The Return of Order After Nyepi
Starting at 6:00am on the day after Nyepi, the prohibition is lifted and everyone returns to their work and everyday routine. This is followed by Ngembak Geni which is a time for everyone to show forgiveness to one another and perform special ceremonies together. This is a fresh start to a new year and many families travel from afar to be together.
H2 = What Nyepi Means for Visitors
The week leading up to and including Nyepi is a special time to visit Bali. With so many preparations, ceremonies and celebrations taking place, it’s a perfect opportunity to experience true Balinese culture. Many visitors however, choose to leave the island in order to avoid the strict regulations and seeming chaos. For those who decide to stay, it can be a highly rewarding experience with proper preparation and expectations.
Planning Accommodation for Nyepi
It’s important to realize that although tourists are welcome on the island, the celebrations are for the local community. The Balinese people will mostly be concerned with their own preparations and in many cases, visitors can become blindsided by the occasion as a whole. When planning your trip, it is important to know which day Nyepi falls on so you do not book flights, travel or outdoor activities. With many online booking services now available, they are not always updated to reflect when tours and guesthouses are in actual fact, unavailable.
If you are booking accommodation around this time, be sure to get in contact with the accommodation you are interested in before submitting payment. Many local homestays and guesthouses may not be accepting guests since the locals are not permitted to work or leave their houses. Most higher end hotels will likely be open for business and even run promotions for Nyepi. It’s worth having a look around for the level of comfort you are expecting. There will be no internet, phone data or local cable networks running on the day of Nyepi, so plan your entertainment accordingly.
Preparing Food for Nyepi
Since all businesses will be closed and outside travel is prohibited, it is important to pre-plan your meals for Nyepi day. Some of the higher end hotels will provide an entire meal plan for you which takes the stress away for the day. Smaller guesthouses and hostels may not offer any meals and you should stock up on supplies beforehand. Since most of the locals will be leaving work early on Nyepi Eve to go and prepare for the ogoh-ogoh parades, you will also need to prepare for a dinner ahead of schedule. It is recommended that all grocery shopping happens one or two days before as many people will be rushing out to load up on supplies and you’ll want to make sure you have options.
If your accommodation does not have cooking appliances, be sure to consider some meal options that do not require preparation. Also consider whether or not the food will require refrigeration and if that is provided in your room. Easy snacks can include fruits, energy bars, cookies, potato chips and the like.
Tourist Activities Around Nyepi
Many tour operators will be running rather limited excursions on the day of Nyepi Eve and it’s a good idea to pre-plan around that. Consider spending the afternoon at the beach or somewhere that you can reach independently that does not have open / closing hours. The roads will be very busy from midday onwards, so avoid travelling by road if you can. Many communities start moving their ogoh-ogoh to the streets causing entire roadways to be completely blocked off.
On Nyepi day there will be no operators running tours, but some hotels may still have spas, gyms and other facilities in operation. For kids, the higher end hotels will also prepare fun activities and games to keep everyone occupied.
The day after Nyepi is a good day to go out sightseeing as many visitors will have left the island and the attractions will be a bit quieter. Try to plan for morning visits, but still keeping in mind that you are unable to leave until after 6:00 am.
Nyepi on the Nusa Islands
Since the islands of Nusa Lembongan, Nusa Ceningan and Nusa Penida are quite removed from Bali in terms of essential services, Nyepi is even more primitive in nature. The islands run all of the power off of large generators which are quite noisy. Since Nyepi is a day of silence which prohibits any noise, in addition to the restrictions noted above, the islands are also without electricity for that 24 hour period. As a result, that means that many accommodations will also be without running water if it runs on a pump.
Extra Food and Water Considerations
Any accommodations booked will need to be contacted to ensure that there will be water buckets supplied for essential services like flushing toilets during Nyepi day. Without electricity it can also be very hot, so plan ahead to book accommodation that may provide a bit of a cooler environment or natural breezes if you are concerned about that. Food will need to be packaged or self contained as refrigeration will not be possible.
Without any electricity, it’s a good idea to pick up a book or two, and if travelling with others, perhaps some games. Charge up your electronics the day before and you may have some limited entertainment as well. The data networks are ordered to shut down as well, so phone service will be non-existent for most of the day. Although natural lighting should be sufficient during the day, it’s important to pack a flashlight or other battery powered light source for the evening.
Ceningan Resort Closure for Nyepi
Due to our inability to provide adequate services to our guests over Nyepi, our resort closes from noon on Nyepi Eve until noon the day after Nyepi. This ensures that our staff have time to go home and spend time with family during this beautiful celebration. Since no boats are allowed on the water during Nyepi, our trips are usually put on hold for three days around the time of the event.
Personal Experience of Nyepi on Nusa Penida
I had the opportunity to spend Nyepi on Nusa Penida, and am grateful that I did. I was made aware of all challenges the days would offer and ensured that I was properly prepared to handle them.
My accommodation at Sunset Hill Cottages on the north side of the island were very accommodating to my requests. The staff stayed on site for Nyepi and prepared food for breakfast for all of the guests which was brought to us whenever we felt hungry. I was even lucky enough to get picked up in the pouring rain by the owner and brought to a special ogoh-ogoh parade in the nearby village of Prapat.
Thankfully, it was incredibly windy and pouring rain on Nyepi day which kept the cottages a perfect temperature. I watched the ogoh-ogoh parade in Prapat the night before, and enjoyed a very late night of binge watching movies until the power went out the next morning. I then took the opportunity to catch up on sleep for the whole morning of Nyepi.
The next morning I enjoyed a leisurely breakfast provided by the staff before digging into my latest book. When I finished my book I snacked on the many goodies I had picked up the day before. I had enough power on my computer to do some work on my laptop for a few hours, before spending the evening in the dark, listening to music and just relaxing.
I enjoyed it a lot more than I expected because often I don’t take much time to myself. If I watch hours of movies, or read a book for extended periods, I usually feel quite guilty for not doing something more productive. Having permission to be lazy and catch up on the simple pleasures was a nice break. I think everyone deserves to spend 24 hours with zero expectations for having to accomplish anything!
One of the big perks of travelling to Nusa Penida for the days leading up to and after Nyepi was being able to escape the crowds! With the beauty of the Nusa islands all over Instagram and Pinterest, it’s no wonder that tourists are flocking to these gorgeous islands to see it for themselves.
I had read that the major attractions like Angel’s Billabong and Klingking Beach were a bit of nightmare with car loads of tourists swarming all over the place. Since most tourists had decided to escape Bali for Nyepi, I enjoyed the sites mostly to myself and didn’t have to creatively position my photos to avoid the masses. I was sure to book a driver that would take me out early each morning to avoid the tour operators coming over from Bali mainland. It also made for some really great lighting without the scorching heat of midday.
Consider Nyepi on the Nusa islands like a bit of a silent retreat. The perks speak for themselves:
- You can escape the hustle and bustle of Bali mainland
- You can have some very popular attractions to yourself
- You can full immerse yourself in a high energy cultural experience
- You can spend a whole day completely detaching from modern conveniences and finally relax
- And best of all, you’ll be avoiding all the madness of the Gilis and other surrounding areas where the other tourists end up flocking!
For anyone keen to visit these beautiful islands but unsure how to get to the islands, check out our Getting to the Nusa Islands blog post!
What’s stopping you from taking part in this annual celebration?