Bali has a unique culture very different from the rest of Indonesia and one aspect of that is the island’s new year’s celebrations called Nyepi. Considering there are a few big restrictions for tourists during this time, should you travel to Bali during Nyepi?
Nyepi is a rare cultural experience for any traveller because, to a certain extent, there is no getting out of participating!
During Nyepi’s “day of silence” there are a lot of restrictions for travellers. Sadly a lot of visitors find these restrictions annoying and inconvenient and will often avoid going to Bali during the island’s Nyepi New Year celebrations.
But once you understand what Nyepi is all about, hopefully like me, you’ll see it for the soul-deep cultural experience it is and also have a better understanding of the Balinese people and their way of life.
What is Nyepi?
What date is Nyepi?
How is Nyepi Celebrated?
What is Nyepi Laut?
Nyepi Rules for Tourists and Travellers
What is the Nyepi Greeting
Why You Should Experience Nyepi
How to Spend Nyepi in Bali
What is Nyepi?
The purpose of Nyepi is to bring in Bali’s new year with six days of very specific cleansing rituals. The rituals are designed to clear all negative energy from the island, people’s homes and people’s hearts and to maintain balance between all things in the universe. A clean slate to begin the new year.
In this day and age of self growth, manifesting and the quest for health of mind and spirit, the Balinese have been doing this in their own way from as far back as AD79!
First some Nyepi facts…
What date is Nyepi?
There are two calendars that the Balinese use and they’re both very complex compared to the Gregorian calendar that we’re used to.
While the Bali Aga calendar is used to designate the dates of Nyepi around the lunar cycle, the new year of the Hindu Saka calendar begins with Nyepi’s day of silence. (Told you it was complicated!)
This means that the date of Nyepi is different every year but it’s usually in March some time.
The best place to find evergreen information on Nyepi dates is Wikipedia.
To understand Nyepi better, you need only look to Balinese Hinduism.
While the majority of Indonesia’s population practices Islam, the Balinese have their own version of Hinduism.
Balinese Hinduism is a combination of two beliefs based in Hinduism and Buddhism, with the ultimate goal of maintaining cosmic balance between the forces of light and shadow (represented by gods and demons).
The Balinese understand that both forces are a part of life, that there is nothing bad in shadow and nothing good in light; they are just two forces that coexist in the universe and all have their parts to play.
While it’s more of a personal spiritual journey, to transcend the concept of good and bad, the Balinese strive to find harmony and balance in their everyday life and personal actions which then helps maintain the balance within the cosmos.
Understanding the basis of their religion can give you a true insight into everyday life in Bali but it’s subtle and you really have to look for it without your “western” eyes.
To provide you with an “obvious” example – if there is no bad in shadow you’ll understand why there’s no road rage in Bali’s crazy traffic and why they calmly give way to each other’s cars and scooters!
How is Nyepi Celebrated?
Nyepi is celebrated with six specific ceremonies carried out over six days.
Travellers to Bali are welcome to watch some of them, allowing you an insight into a gentle and introspective culture.
First Day of Nyepi
The Melasti Festival marks the beginning of the Nyepi cleansing rituals.
Crowds of Balinese in their “Sunday best”, carrying umbrellas and playing music, follow priests to a beach temple where sacred objects are purified in the ocean.
I took these photos during a Melasti Festival on Kuta beach a few years ago and to be honest I didn’t notice some big and obvious temple. Perhaps the temple only needs to be one of the small ones you see all around Bali.
Once the procession gets to the beach, the music stops and the affair is relatively quiet and solemn, but not so strict to stop kids from playing towards the end of the ritual.
After the rituals are performed, the procession leaves the beach, resuming the singing, music and smiles. It’s quite a relaxed community affair!
Second Day of Nyepi
On the second day, the Bhuta Yajna Ritual is performed to remove all the negative elements on the island and create a balance with God, mankind and nature.
The Things You Won’t See
At home the Balinese begin the purification rites with prayers in the family temples. Special rice is sprinkled throughout the house, then a torch is lit and carried throughout the home by family members clanging loud objects like pots and pans to chase away malevolent spirits.
Animal sacrifices are held in villages and provinces with different plants and crops included as part of the offerings.
What You Will See
The Ngrupuk Parade, also known as the Ogoh Ogoh Parade, takes to the streets in every part of Bali at sunset and everyone participates.
The Balinese do not frown upon tourists watching the Ogoh Ogoh Parade. You’re more than welcome to watch and enjoy the spectacle, although I haven’t seen foreigners participating.
In the months before Nyepi, Balinese start making the ogoh-ogoh puppets, giant statues made of bamboo and paper, symbolising the negative elements of the world. These are carried through the streets in loud parades, to attract and trap evil spirits, culminating in their burning to eradicate the evil influences of life and cleanse the island in preparation for the new year.
During the parade, the Balinese create a deafening mixture of traditional bamboo bells, claxons, gamelan and drums as well as metal pipes, small fireworks, pots and pans.
They make as much noise as humanly possible to scare the evil spirits away.
While the parades are definitely loud and chaotic, they always remain friendly. Considering how some parades and festivals can get out of hand in Western countries, the gentleness and respect of Balinese Hinduism is a subtle layer within the Ogoh Ogoh Parade, if you look for it.
The Ogoh Ogoh Parade is practiced throughout the entire island and tourists can experience some really big processions in Kuta, Seminyak, Nusa Dua and Sanur.
It’s a unique cultural experience, safe for the whole family to witness! The only thing I’d say you need to be careful of, especially if you have kids with you, are the small fireworks let off on the ground and the big crowds.
Third Day of Nyepi
Nyepi is the Day of Silence.
The complete silence is supposed to trick evil spirits into believing there is no one left on the island, so that they leave.
The Balinese use this day of silence to fast and rest in contemplation and meditation, cleansing the inner world as the outer world was cleansed the day before.
Nyepi expects a day of absolute silence, based on the four precepts of Catur Brata:
Amati Geni: No fire or light, including no electricity. Prohibition of satisfying pleasurable human appetites.
Amati Karya: No form of physical working other than activities dedicated to spiritual cleansing and renewal.
Amati Lelunganan: No movement or travelling.
Amati Lelanguan: Fasting and no revelry/self-entertainment or general merrymaking.
This is the day that all businesses are closed, no cars or people are on the street, the airport closes for the day, radio and tv broadcast from overseas won’t be available, and sometimes electricity and internet can be turned off.
Everyone, locals and travellers alike, are required to stay inside by law.
Local watchmen called the Pecalang are positioned all over the island to make sure that all the rules are obeyed!
Nyepi also extends to a few of the smaller islands off the Bali mainland that follow Balinese Hinduism including Nusa Penida, Nusa Lembongan and Nusa Ceningan.
Nyepi Laut, also called Quiet Seas, is the Day of Silence for these smaller islands. For the locals it includes all the restrictions of mainland Nyepi (no work, lights, revelry, travelling, etc) with meditation and quiet contemplation on the importance of the ocean environment that surrounds and sustains the islands.
For visitors, Nyepi Laut means all tourist activities like diving and snorkelling are closed for the day, as well as marine transport (you can’t get to or leave the islands for a day).
Fourth Day of Nyepi
While everything is shut on Nyepi day, it’s back to business as usual on the fourth day of Nyepi with many shops and restaurants reopening. However from 6am to 6pm faithful Balinese will use this day to continue their meditations of the previous day.
Fifth Day of Nyepi
On the fifth day, Balinese will visit their families, neighbours and friends asking forgiveness for past transgressions and to express their gratitude and hopes for the new year ahead.
Sixth Day of Nyepi
This is the last day of the Nyepi celebrations. The Dharma Shanti Rituals, reciting ancient scriptures, is performed after all other Nyepi rituals are finalised. This marks the closure of the sacred week and the beginning of the new year.
Nyepi Rules for Tourists and Travellers
If you decide to visit Bali during Nyepi to experience this beautiful aspect of their culture for yourself, I hope you won’t view these rules as restrictions. But rather a way to either provide yourself with a much needed tech disconnect or your own version of introspection.
Please don’t take these rules lightly. Remember they are not only mandated by law but if you choose to be there then you should treat this unique custom with the respect it deserves.
And hey, 24 hours of no tech won’t kill you right?!
Nyepi restrictions for visitors:
Don’t go out onto the street. It’s ok to walk around your hotel grounds (pool, bar, etc) but remain within the hotel’s boundaries.
No vehicles can be used except in the case of emergencies.
Be quiet. Keep the music and tv down. Keep your voice no louder than talking level.
No light once the sun goes down. From my experience hotels don’t normally turn off the electricity because they are also respectful of you being there. However the staff will come and tape your blinds shut so no light leaks out through the windows.
Move to a hotel. If you’re doing budget accommodation and living in a homestay environment, please book a hotel for a couple of days (for day 3 and day 4 of Nyepi) so that the family can perform the required rituals around their home.
As we would wish each other a “happy new year”, the Balinese have a similar greeting for Nyepi.
Feel free to wish any Balinese you meet with during the six days of Nyepi with “selamat hari raya nyepi”.
Nyepi pronunciation sounds like this:
sel-uh-MUT h-AH-ree RYE-uh n-YEP-ee
You will definitely bring a smile to someone’s face!
Why You Should Experience Nyepi
There are a few reasons why I think Nyepi is an amazing experience and shouldn’t be avoided if you’re travelling to Bali.
A Great Attitude to Life
The gentle Balinese culture is often overwhelmed by the high level of tourism, crazy traffic, their misunderstood “attitude” to street dogs and poverty.
And while we look at culture as things that include cuisine, traditional clothing and history, religion isn’t always something we look closely at, I guess because we all have beliefs of our own.
But religion often offers a unique insight into a country’s culture as well as a people’s life perspective and Nyepi in Bali is an excellent and accessible example.
No matter where we’re from, finding balance in life (whether you use those words or something else) is most people’s goal. Personally, I can appreciate how Balinese Hinduism sees no bad in shadow, no good in light, the universe just is.
It would be hard to have that common modern victim mentality if we could all accept that shit just happens in life and nothing bad is ever directed at us personally.
Discounts and Packages
Sadly Nyepi puts a lot of travellers off. Bali relies heavily on tourism which drops dramatically in March mainly due to the day of silence with everything being closed and an there’s an attitude of “losing” a couple of days of vacation.
The truth is that these days many hotels and resorts offer not only discounts but Nyepi “packages” to make your stay during Nyepi more comfortable!
Airfares to Bali during the Nyepi period in March are also heavily discounted!
As Nyepi is the time of year that brings focus for every Balinese to cleansing, forgiveness, introspection and the banishment of all bad things, it’s a wonderful environment to show kids an example of a positive perspective on life.
A New Insight
There are layers to every culture and sometimes you have to spend at least a month or more in a country to uncover some of the nuances of their culture.
Understanding and experiencing Nyepi can open your eyes to many parts of the Balinese way of life that may seem strange to us.
I mentioned the lack of road rage before as an example. But you will see it, the gentle goodwill if you like, in the way the Balinese speak with each other, their friendliness towards foreigners, in how they accept that everything from cockroaches to people “belong”, and in their work ethic.
In Bali’s chaotic busy centres like Kuta and Seminyak for example, it’s hard to see past the tourism activities of sightseeing and shopping. But it’s there if you know what to look for.
How To Spend Nyepi in Bali
For my travel tips and ideas on how to spend your Nyepi “day of silence”, subscribe and grab my free download How To Spend Nyepi in Bali.
How To Spend Nyepi in Bali includes:
- how and where to experience the best of Nyepi’s different festivals
- Nyepi retreats
- Nyepi hotel packages
- how to organise your stay
- things to be aware of and
- ideas on how you can spend your day.
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Should You Travel to Bali During Nyepi?
Without a doubt Nyepi is a unique cultural experience and personally I think if you’re going to be in Bali for Nyepi you should embrace every part of this beautiful festival.
Because Bali is so close to my home in Australia, just a 3.5 hour flight, it has always been my R&R away from work and technology and a place for me to re-energise in a more natural setting. I love Nyepi time because it “forces” me to disconnect even more from technology and I get to spend my time more meaningfully.
If you love culture then of course Nyepi is an amazing experience!
And if Bali is one of those countries that’s just a little too far away (and normally a little too expensive) then the deals around Nyepi would make it the perfect time to visit.
So my answer is a wholehearted YES you should visit Bali during Nyepi!
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