Nyepi – Bali’s New Year’s Day of Complete Silence

Nyepi is the most important and sacred Hindu holiday on Bali and is a general public holiday in the rest of Indonesia, commemorated every Isakawarsa (Saka new year) according to the Balinese calendar (in 2024, it falls on March 11, Saka New Year 1946).

Nyepi Day in Bali is a New Year’s celebration unlike anywhere else on the planet. Also known as Bali’s celebration of the Saka New Year and the Bali Day of Silence, it is ultimately the quietest day of the year, when all of its inhabitants abide by a set of local rules that brings all routine activities to a complete halt. The roads all over Bali are void of any traffic and nobody steps outside of his or her home premises.
Most Balinese and visitors regard it as a much-anticipated occasion. Expats and those coming from neighbouring islands prefer escaping Bali for the day due to the restrictions that surround this observance. Some visitors check coinciding dates ahead before their Bali trip, avoiding it altogether. Largely, Nyepi is worth experiencing at least once in a lifetime, especially since the preceding and following days are full of rare highlights!

The unique day of silence marks the turn of the Saka calendar of western Indian origin, one among the many calendars assimilated by Indonesia’s diverse cultures, and among two jointly used in Bali. The Saka is 78 years behind the Gregorian calendar, and follows a lunar sequence. This year’s Nyepi falls on March 11, following a new moon.

Village meeting halls known as ‘banjar’ and streets feature papier-mâché effigies called ogoh-ogoh, built throughout the weeks leading up to the Saka New Year. Youth groups design and build their mythical figures with intricately shaped and tied bamboo framework before many layers of artwork. These artistic creations are offshoots of the celebration since its dawning in the early 80s, which stayed on to become an inseparable element in the island-wide celebration that is Nyepi Eve.
Before ‘the silence’, highlight rituals essentially start three days prior to Nyepi, with colourful processions known as the Melasti pilgrimages. On Wednesday March 5, pilgrims from various village temples all over Bali convey heirlooms on long walks towards the coastlines where elaborate purification ceremonies take place. It is one of the best times to capture on camera the iconic Balinese processions in motion, as parasols, banners and small effigies offer a cultural spectacle.

On March 10, Saka New Year’s Eve is all blaring noise and merriment. Every Balinese household starts the evening with blessings at the family temple and continues with a ritual called the pengrupukan where each member participates in ‘chasing away’ malevolent forces, known as bhuta kala, from their compounds – hitting pots and pans or any other loud instruments along with a fiery bamboo torch. These ‘spirits’ are later manifested as the ogoh-ogoh to be paraded on the streets. As the street parades ensue, bamboo cannons and occasional firecrackers fill the air with flames and smoke. The Nyepi Eve parade usually starts at around 19:00 local time.

However on March 11, complete calm enshrouds the island. The Balinese Hindus follow a ritual called the Catur Brata Penyepian, roughly the ‘Four Nyepi Prohibitions’. These include:
1. Amati Geni: No fire or light, including no electricity
2. Amati Karya: No working / No physical activities
3. Amati Lelunganan: No travelling
4. Amati Lelanguan: Fasting and no revelry/no self-entertainment/no having fun/no making noise.
Some consider it a time for total relaxation and contemplation, for others, a chance for Mother Nature to ‘reboot’ herself after 364 days of human pestering. No lights are turned on at night – total darkness and seclusion goes along with this new moon island-wide, from 06:00 AM to 06:00 AM next morning.
No motor vehicles whatsoever are allowed on the streets, except ambulances and police patrols and emergencies. As a hotel guest, you are confined to your hotel premises, but free to continue to enjoy the hotel facilities as usual. Traditional community watch patrols or Pecalang enforce the rules of Nyepi, patrolling the streets by day and night in shifts.
Travellers to Bali around this date please note: On this day, the entire island of Bali will come to a complete standstill. To allow all to follow the prescribed ritual, all traffic all over Bali will be stopped. No planes will land or take off for 24 hours. All shops are closed. No one is allowed on the beach or on the streets.

The day after Nyepi on March 12 known as Ngembak Geni, social activity picks up again quickly, as families and friends gather to ask forgiveness from one another, and to perform certain religious rituals together.
Head up to the village of Sesetan in southern Denpasar for the Omed-omedan also known as the ‘festival of smooches’. This is a much-localized event, pertaining to the lesser Banjar Kaja community of Sesetan. The youths take to the street where water is splashed and sprayed by the surrounding villagers, and the highlight being two sides, boys and girls, in a tug-of-war-like scene with successive pairs in the middle ‘forced’ to smooch at each shove and push.

Interested in experiencing this rare event and its cultural highlights in Bali? Don’t worry if you missed out this year. Next year’s Saka New Year 1947 falls on March 29, 2025.

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