Balinese New Year or the DOS and DONT'S on the island
27 September 2019
Imagine if New Year’s Eve wasn’t about loud parties, but staying at home with no lightning in total silence? In Bali, that’s precisely how New Year is celebrated. But around this feast, there are held various loud and colorful ceremonies and rituals with the highlight of Nyepi — Day of Silence — which has a lot of rules to follow by everyone on the island, including tourists.
According to the ancient Saka calendar, which was enacted in 78 B.C., Balinese New Year is celebrated March, less often in April, but always falls on the day after the first new moon of the Spring Equinox. That’s why in 2019 (March 4-8), Balinese people celebrated happy 1941, and in 2020, accordingly — 1942 — from 20 till 24 of March.
The first Melasti ceremony is usually held three days before New Year, but the village council sets the exact date. The purpose of this celebration is to purify oneself from evil thoughts and find a balance between nature and God. First thing in the morning Balinese dress up in all white and walk with a procession with decorated bamboo poles and umbrellas to the water: sea, river or lake. It is considered to be a sacred source of life.
The ritual itself has two levels:
- The small world purification — the body and soul of man, when people dive into the water to clean off sins and evil thoughts
- The significant world purification — the Universe, when ritual objects, food, trees, and earth are being washed in water
The ritual can last until sunset: people go around the beach several times, leave offerings, priests read prayers, some fall into a trance afterward.
These levels exemplify the main Hindu philosophy — you can’t change the world in the order you haven’t cleared your mind, and vice versa, the damage that we cause to nature, may turn against us over time. Of course, all residents of the villages participate in this ceremony, without which it is impossible to move on to another stage of the New Year celebrations. In some communities, they even fine for missing the service.
To participate in Melasti, you can try to find traditional Balinese clothing or just any white one, but necessarily long, covering your shoulders and hands. Mass rituals take place on the beaches of Kuta, Seminyak, Legian, Sanur, Jimbaran, Nusa Dua.
Bhuta Yajna Ritual and famous Ogo-Ogo parade
The day before Nyepi is always the most colorful and bustling. From the early morning, women begin to prepare offerings for evil spirits: usually, there should be meat with blood, more often poultry. This is the only day when cockfighting is officially allowed as part of the sacrifice. All other days on the island, it is illegal.
After the sacrifices, there starts a wild noise: to ward off demons. People knock as loud as possible on empty pots and bowls, exploding firecrackers, etc.
The Ngerupuk parade with the Ogoh-Ogoh figures — huge, frightening, colorful statue of monsters and evil spirits — is the most exciting experience for tourists. The word "ogoh" means "shake," so during the parade, Balinese try to shake dolls as much as possible, adding them (even more) terrible look.
People carry the Ogoh-Ogoh figures and turn three times at the crossroads with an accompaniment of loud music to make the demons dizzy. During the procession, all roads are blocked, and it is impossible to move on them. One statue weighs so much that one can carry from 10 to 60 strong men. The production of such colorful, massive, and natural-looking dolls is costly, so some villages began to allocate money from the local budget. After the parade, Ogoh-Ogoh figures are burned down or left as a decoration for the house. Sometimes they are resold to collectors.
Nyepi is the essential stage of New Year's Eve celebrations. It is the Day of the Silence, dedication to reflections, and meditation, which begins at 6:00 a.m. and lasts for 24 hours.
- Rules of the Nyepi relate to everyone on the island, including tourists:
- no switching on lights and making fires (also applies to electricity, so better take care of cooking in advance)
- no working (schools, ATMs, hospitals, shops, government offices are closed)
- no leaving home and traveling (even Bali airport closes for 24 hours)
- no pleasure and entertainment (prohibited to talk and laugh loudly, drink alcohol, listen to music, etc.)
On this day, volunteers strictly guard the island to control the compliance with the Nyepi rules. Deeply religious people do not even consume any food, liquid, and do not communicate with anyone. In the evening, everyone admires the perfectly visible stars because of no light on the whole island.
There are two theories on the meaning of the Day of Silence in Bali. One says that it is done to trick demons, who'll see there is no soul around and leave the island forever, and the other — that Nyepi as a day symbolizing the creation of the world and it is worth spending in silence.
Tourists who stay on the island during the time of Naples, are obliged to respect its beliefs and traditions, and non-compliance with it can lead to a fine or even arrest. If you want to stay for New Year's Eve in Bali, it's best to book accommodation ideally six months before. But keep in mind that March is the rainy season so that it will be a more scenic journey than the beach. We recommend stocking up with food and meds the day before Nyepi.
If you don't want to stay, there is an excellent option of going to the nearby island — Java for the Bromo and Ijen volcanoes and Yogyakarta to visit the famous temple compounds.
Nyepi and its ceremonies closest dates:
Balinese New Year 2020 — from 20 to 24 of March
Malasti — March 20 (but the exact date is decided by the village council)
Bhuta Yajna Ritual — March 22
Ngembak Geni — March 24
Silence Day— March 25
If you are planning the 2021 trip, here are the dates:
Balinese New Year 2021 — from 11 to 15 of March
Malasti — March 11 (but the exact date is decided by the village council)
Bhuta Yajna Ritual — March 13
Nyepi — March 14
Ngembak Geni — March 15