Nyepi, the Balinese New Year

Nyepi comes from the Indonesian word “sepi”, which means “silent”. Nyepi is the Balinese New Year’s celebration, albeit for a different calendar. The calendar that we’re referring to is the Saka calendar or the lunar calendar. It is similar to the Gregorian calendar but 78 years behind and used alongside the traditional 210-day calendar in Bali. Nyepi is usually celebrated in March, or as the moon on the ninth month (according to the Saka calendar) wanes. In Indonesia, Nyepi was first acknowledged as a national holiday in 1983.

Before Nyepi Day, a series of ceremonies are carried out. First is the melasti ceremony, where people go to the beaches to cleanse themselves and any sacred objects they think need cleaning, such as statues and even gamelan instruments. Next is the Tawur Kesanga, commonly known as “ogoh-ogoh night” or “the day before Nyepi”. This ceremony is considered one of the highest offerings to appease demons and lesser spirits. On this day, starting at twilight, people carry flame torches, make a lot of noise around the house, and place offerings for demons. It is meant to keep demons satiated so they won’t disturb people during Nyepi Day. On this day, the many banjars show off their prized “ogoh-ogoh”, massive handmade statues of demons in Balinese lore and parade them around. It’s a festive night!

Then comes Nyepi Day. Nyepi is a day for people to self-reflect and contemplate their previous year in total silence. It is meant as a day for people to recognize what they did wrong last year and how to improve themselves next year. As such, during Nyepi, four restrictions are applied to everyone (tourists and non-Hindus included). Of course, if you’re a tourist or a non-Hindu, you’ll only be refrained from going outside your hotel. These restrictions are known as Catur Brata Penyepian and include abstaining from lighting fires, including electrical lighting; abstaining from any form of entertainment (so, no phones!); abstaining from work; and abstaining from travel. Due to these restrictions, the entire island shuts down for the day. Everything closes, including the only international airport in Bali. There’s nobody in the streets except for the village security guards patrolling the streets. Health services, however, remain on standby for dire medical emergencies. The restrictions apply 24 hours, from 6 AM to 6 AM the next day.

What we think highly of Nyepi is its role in helping the environment. During Nyepi, practically all activity stops on the island. Since nobody can turn on lights or light fires, electricity and natural gas resources are saved, which means less energy consumption and lower pollution levels. Also, since no motor vehicles are allowed on the street, carbon emission levels plummet, leading to a clear sky and fresh air the following day.

What we like the most about Nyepi is the clear skies at night. It’s the best night for stargazing since there’s no light pollution! Overall, the philosophy of Nyepi is important to consider when we’re talking about saving the planet. Everyone needs a break once in a while, and Mother Nature also deserves one, even though it’s just one day.