If you happen to be in Bali around 20th March 2015, you are in for a real treat. This is the island’s most auspicious date of 2015 featuring a spectacularly chaotic ritual followed by an equally dramatic anti-climax.
Nyepi (aka Silent Day) is the start of the Balinese year and is a religious ‘celebration’ like no other. Hindu Bali has its very own unique take on this and even in the predominantly Hindu Indian sub-continent, there is nothing quite like it. Just like Bali’s famed dance dramas, its origins date back to the mythical times of gods, evil spirits, witches and bizarre superheroes.
Prior to Nyepi itself is the Melasti Festival, held in every town and village. It is in simple terms a symbolic spring cleaning of Bali’s spirit in readiness for the big day. Large effigies of the gods are hauled to rivers and the sea for ritual bathing, prayers and religious offerings. From an outsider’s perspective, all the main action takes place the day before Nyepi proper.
This is the time for the first sighting of the fearsome Ogoh-Ogoh – huge papier-mache effigies of evil monsters. Expect big bulging eyes, contorted faces and hands and enough fake blood to give young kids sleepless nights. These are carried through towns and villages in a traditional procession to the cacophony of deafening drummers, claxons, gamelan music – basically, the idea is to make as much noise as is humanly possible in order to scare off all evil spirits. After dark, these effigies are ceremoniously burnt, followed by much communal debauchery into the night. Drinking, dancing and feasting takes place in a rather chaotic fashion, all with the aim of driving these evil spirits far, far away, or at very least driving them insane.
Now for the big day of Nyepi itself. This could hardly be any more different. After a night of over-the-top excess, the whole island basically transforms into a ghost town. This is the famous Day of Silence, which is to ingeniously fool the evil spirits into thinking Bali is completely empty. When they say a “Day of Silence”, they are certainly not joking. This whole island, populated by over 3 million, quite literally resembles an eerie, post-apocalyptic world with not a soul to be seen, or a voice to be heard.
If you are thinking of arriving or departing Bali on this day, or even taking a stroll by the beach, think again! The whole island switches off – quite literally. The airport is completely closed, no travel is allowed, whether by motorized means or using your own two feet, all household electricity is banned and any kind of noise is a big no-no. It is a day for introspection and reflection for Balinese families and the most traditional folk will even abstain from talking to each other for the whole day. There are no shops or businesses open at all during Nyepi, the only exception being emergency medical services.