The day after the new moon of the ninth lunar month is the Balinese version of New Year’s Day. Called NYEPI, it is a very important and strictly observed religious day of silence, prayer, fasting and meditation.
All activity on Bali comes to a virtual standstill on March 12th this year. The Ngurah Rai International Airport is closed for arrivalls and departures and hotels have limited staff for existing guests, but no checking in or out is allowed.
If you plan to visit or are already in Bali over the two days of festivites, you will appreciate the traditional parades and music as much as the calm and a day of rest to do whatever you like. Pack a good read, a torchlight, maybe your yoga mat.
Preparations for NYEPI begin the day before. At sundown on Friday, animals are sacrificed and given as offerings to the mischievous evil spirits. Afterwards, everyone – especially little boys – bang on anything that makes a loud noise, including petroleum drums, pots and pans, and pieces of metal roofing, and light firecrackers. Nearly everyone stays awake all night and pandemonium takes over each Balinese village, as people alert the evil spirits with shouts, general din and flame.
At dawn there is silence, as NYEPI’s observances begin and continue for the next 24 hours. For all Balinese, NYEPI is a time to reflect on the past year and any transgressions that may have been made. People also contemplate on how they can become a better person in the New Year.
The Balinese are forbidden to light fires or use electricity, drive or go for a walk outside, listen to the radio or watch television. Family member speak in lowered tones. Priests and higher caste members fast and do not take a drink.
Some people have been led to believe that by creating an appearance of absolute calm and abandonment, the few stubborn evil spirits that still remain after the previous day’s exorcism drift away. Hindu scholars explain differently. The noise on NYEPI is not designed to scare the demons away, but intended rather to wake them so they will take note of the offerings that have been laid for them. The quietude on the day after is not intended to trick the bad spirits into thinking that everyone has left, rather it is a matter of a symbolic showing of how the forces of evil are satisfied and will not bother anyone – at least for a while, anyway.