Demons and divine tranquility: Bali’s Nyepi celebrations


Parades of demons walk the street on New Years Eve in Bali. Source: Shutterstock

WHILE every country around the globe welcomes a New Year, they don’t all follow the Gregorian calendar which dictates Dec 31 to be New Year’s Eve (NYE).

Normal depictions of NYE involve sozzled party-goers singing Auld Lang Syne and swaying in the arms of a loved one or someone they’ve just met. These are the usual scenes across Europe anyway.

While many people have heard of Chinese New Year – a two-week-long, lion-dance-filled, feasting-with-family festive period – few are familiar with Nyepi festivities in Bali.

On March 17, the people of Bali will shut down shops, cancel tours, activities, and entertainment. The government has also announced it will switch off internet access for the day, all in the name of welcoming in the New Year.

Nyepi is a day of silence, purification, and reflection – far from the raucous parties usually associated with NYE.

The day pushes non-committal resolutions and boozy toilet-chats to the sidelines and makes way for an internal rebalancing of your physical and mental states and becoming more in tune with nature.

But this day of self-reflection comes later in the six-day event because rebalancing needs a build-up and can’t be accomplished in just 24-hours.

First, on the festivities schedule is the ceremony of Melasti which occurs three days before Nyepi. Celebrants take all the hanging effigies of Gods down from Balinese villages and take them to be washed in the source of eternal life (rivers and oceans).

Then on the eve of Nyepi, giant papier-mache floats are waltzed around the island’s streets in a parade called Tawur Kesanga.

The floats are called Ogoh Ogoh and they symbolize the evil spirits that are believed to be on the island.

They are usually carried by villagers while crowds of terrified onlookers spurn the demonic-resembling creations.

By midnight, most of the floats have been burned to the ground and the celebrators make their way back home to get ready for the following day, which couldn’t be more of a contrast from the previous night’s events.

As the glorious sun shines down upon Bali on March 17, the streets will remain empty. No vehicles will racket through neighborhoods, shops, banks, airports, and attractions, as they will all be closed for islanders to truly reflect on their lives, love, relationships, work, and families. It is a period of complete calm, with no interference.

Not an utterance is supposed to leave your mouth, no food is meant to be eaten and if you follow the tradition correctly no electricity or flame is supposed to be used either.

This year, the Parisada Hindu Dharma Indonesia (the country’s leading authority of Hinduism) is appealing to authorities to get the island disconnected from the internet for the day – so no 20-minute-long Instagram stories.

If you break these century-old rubrics, it is believed you will reveal your location to the wandering demons outside – something nobody wants to linger over their heads

In rural villages especially, there is nothing to break the tranquil silence apart from the bark of a dog, the cry of a baby or the whispering insects in the bushes.

The day is supposed to allow you to rebalance yourself and think about your values for the forthcoming year.

On the following day, however, expect to get stuck in traffic jams and wait in long queues as everyone emerges from their dwellings on mass and travels to visit family and friends around the island.

But don’t let this deter you, Nyepi is a truly unique experience and the traditions you practice on this day can be taken forward into everyday life – because it’s important to spend time with yourself.

Happy Nyepi everyone!