Nyepi – a time for self-reflection
On the Balinese calendar there is a day that is set aside for self-reflection. The international airport is closed.
People must stay at home but no electricity can be used, lights and fires must be out. No work, travel or entertainment is permitted. Instead, Bali’s New Year starts with silence, introspection and meditation.
Welcome to Nyepi, the Day of Silence.
The usual bustle of the island’s traffic, restaurants and bars, shops and shores is reduced to the sound of the birds and the wind in the trees, the occasional dog barking, the waves lapping. Villages, streets and beaches – everywhere is deserted. Only the pecalang (security men) are on the streets, ensuring rules are followed.
At Fivelements, Balinese spiritual teacher, Acharya Vibhakarananda Avadhuta (Dada) tells us that Nyepi, part of the Saka calendar (from the Sanskrit Isakawarsa), has been celebrated from as far back as AD79. The book Babad Bali (the history of Bali) tells of the tolerance and unity that allowed this Hindu festival to become a fixture.
The name Nyepi comes from ‘sepi’ or ‘silent’ in Balinese, and is commemorated each year on a different date according to the Balinese Saka calendar. This year the Day of Silence lasts from sunrise (6am) on March 21st to sunrise on March 22nd.
“It is indeed a very special experience to watch the different atmosphere on this Nyepi day,” says Dada. “It feels like being in another world, found nowhere else in the world. And it also gives the perfect environment for self-reflection and meditation.”
The purpose of Nyepi is to pray to God to purify the human world and the universe. “Throw away anything negative and start the New Year with something new, something positive, a new enthusiasm for the future,” encourages Dada.
During the holiday season the day following Nyepi is one of families visiting each other, offering forgiveness for past deeds, while by contrast the days before Nyepi are full of music, noise and processions.
The Melasti Ritual of purification of statues and effigies takes place three days before Nyepi, gamelan orchestras accompanying processions walking them to the ocean or nearest river for a cleansing bathe.
The day before Nyepi brings the exorcism of the island’s evil spirits. The sunset Ngrupuk parades and burning of the ogoh-ogoh (fantastical demons created out of bamboo and papier-mâché) accompanied by music, ferocious gong playing, fireworks, bamboo bombs, symbolically rid the island of evil spirits. This is the equivalent of the west’s New Year’s Eve, and is a noise-filled and exciting carnival. It is the ultimate contrast to Nyepi.
On the Balinese calendar there is a day that is set aside for self-reflection. Entirely in keeping with the enlightened nature of the Balinese
and their harmonious mix of spiritual cultures, when looking around at the state of our world it begs the question:
Shouldn’t this be a global phenomenon?