Bali Diaries - 3 - Nyepi
During my riding around the Bukit peninsula, I started to notice this weird statues being built. At first just bamboo structures, then covered in white, and then coloured. The effigies looked like weird hindu monsters. I was quite curious about it so I started asking around. Some of them said it was for Nyepi day, others simply Hindu new year. So I did a bit of research and I found out that the 28th of March of 2017 was the hindu new year celebration. it varies from year to year on the date as the gregorian calendar and the balinese calendar are misaligned, one follows the sun, the other the moon phases.
We soon discovered what Niepy days entitles, it takes place over 2 days and it’s structured in two distinct, but connected, rituals.
During the first day, but mainly towards the evening, those statues made of bamboo and paper are parked around each district. And then presented in front of a sort of jury. Where a narrator tell the story of the monster represented by the statue, full on with sound effects and everything. The statues are parade by local kids that are extremely proud of representing their neighbourhood. The statue represent all the evil and negativity that happened in the past year, and apparently they get burned on the beach as a way to exorcise those evils. The party/ceremony itself goes on until 6am. It is quite fascinating as it’s the only time the locals are not working.
We decided to go and experience the ceremony with our eyes. The streets were crowded with balinese, all chatting to each other. The kids were all aligned holding a torch or close to their statue ready to parade, with this proud expression, eager to get photographed.
After a bit we moved inside this huge field what was serving as arena. In here every district would present their statue and a sort of narrator would tell a story, as it was told in Balinese I couldn’t understand a single word, but the sound effects were quite telling.
We staid there for a few hours then we decided to head home, on the way back the roads were totally empty, no traffic almost surreal. The only thing was the amount of noise, loud music or drums playing. Yet another way to exorcise the evil from the closing year.
The noise would go on until 6 in the morning of the day after. When the actual Nyepi (day of silence) would start and go on for the next 24 hours.
During that time no electricity and no fire are allowed; no cars or motorbike are allowed on the streets, that means no traveling in general, in fact even airport is closed for that day; no speaking, no working or any form of enjoyment is allowed. You should use the day to reflect about the year that just passed and get ready for the year coming.
As a tourist you are not allowed to leave your accommodation, and you should keep any noise to the minimum.
We, as a group, experienced Nyepi in different way. Some of us actually embraced it fully, by giving up any electronic device, no laptop, no phone, nothing and trying to stay silent for the whole day; just reflecting. Others respected only the silence but still worked a bit on the laptop.
Personally I did work a bit, but having all this silence around, lead me to a natural state of reflection.
Not having light pollution in the whole island result in an insane amount of visible stars during the night. Almost scary to see how small we are compared to the universe.
It has been a surreal experience for me and to be honest I think we westerners should all embrace it a bit. In our extremely fast lives we don’t really have time to reflect anymore, in fact stopping seems to be a waste of time in our forced busy lives.
If you decide to visit Bali during Niepy, and you should there are a couple of things to keep in mind.
No one works during Niepy, so restaurants and supermarket and actually any shop star to close a day before and will be closed until at least the day after. So get a couple of days worth of provisions, and water, way in advance as the supermarket won’t keep a big stock. ATM won’t work until at least a day after. Even the airport is close on that day.
But most of all respect the local customs and try to be silent on that day.