Nyepi is a national holiday in Indonesia, observed by the local Hindus to welcome the Çaka New Year. Judging by the name of the holiday in English (Day of Silence), the holiday doesn’t sound very daunting. “So it’s just like A Quiet Place, then? Piece of cake!” you might say. Well, it’s more complicated than just keeping your mouth shut to keep the scary monsters from swallowing you whole. Depending on the choices you make, it can be either the longest 24 hours of your life, or the best.
Although there are travellers who deliberately visit the island to experience Nyepi, there are also people who accidentally book their Bali vacation during the holiday without knowing what they’ve signed up for. A lot of people underestimate what it means to spend the holiday in Bali during the Nyepi period and only realise the gravity of the situation when they are already confined within their hotel.
Here we give you the lowdown on Nyepi so you can make an informed decision on whether to stick around during the period of time or skip it altogether.
What Is Nyepi?
As mentioned above, Nyepi is celebrated to welcome the Çaka New Year. The date changes every year on the Gregorian calendar as it follows the Çaka calendar, a system based on both Indian and local traditions. This year, it falls on 7 March. Next year, it will be observed on 25 March 2020. Instead of the usual revelry, Nyepi is a time of silence and self-reflection for the adherents of Agama Hindu Dharma (a version of Hinduism found in Indonesia), spent by entreating the divines to purify bhuana alit (the realm of human) and bhuana agung (the universe). In Bali, where more than 80% of the population are Hindus, the island goes into a complete silence for 24 hours.
It’s a peaceful time when the island’s usual cacophony is replaced with the calming sound of nature. This day spent in meditation and self-reflection as it is meant to welcome a clean start for the New Year.
What Do People Do on Nyepi?
Nothing much, it’s all about abstaining. On Nyepi Day, the devotees observe Catur Brata Penyepian:
- Amati Geni: Abstaining from fire (this includes electricity)
- Amati Karya: Abstaining from work
- Amati Lelungan: Abstaining from traveling
- Amati Lelanguan: Abstaining from entertainment
These translate to a total shut down for 24 hours, from 6am on the actual Nyepi day until 6am the morning after. Shops will be closed, streets will be empty, and people will stay in their homes in total darkness. Even the seaports and airports are closed down for 24 hours!
How Does Nyepi Affect Visitors?
While you do not have to partake in the ritual side of the holiday, you are expected to respect Catur Brata Penyepian. Just like the locals, you are not allowed to venture outside of your hotel (or whatever type of lodging you’re in). Don’t try your luck by stepping out of your hotel’s premises, because you WILL BE escorted back in by pecalang (community police). You are also expected to keep the lights off. Posting this unique cultural experience on your social media would be a hassle as well, as mobile data will be down island-wide.
However, there is a little leeway for visitors. Depending on your boarding arrangement, your hosts might still serve you meals per usual, so you don’t have to fast like locals do. They might also board up the windows to prevent light from being seen from the outside, but you still need to be vigilant. Make sure your curtains are shut tight before turning on your bathroom lights to make sure that the light doesn’t seep out lest you get fined. Your hotel might leave their Wi-Fi on, but you have to fight with other guests for data. You don’t have to shun music and other forms of entertainment, but make sure to keep your headphones on.
How to Be Prepared for Nyepi?
If you are going to spend Nyepi in Bali, there are ways to make sure you’re comfortable.
1. Book Good Accommodation
You’d want a hotel where you can still have your creature comforts. Make sure the hotel has its own generator. Find a place with enough space where you can still go and read your book by the pool or play a boardgame with your travel companions.
2. Stock Up
Whether your hotel offers hot meals or not, it’s always good to stock up on snacks, drinks and ready-to-eat meals. Most convenience stores and shopping centres will be closed by 10pm on the eve of Nyepi. Also good to stock up on is your regular over-the-counter meds for common illnesses like headache or stomach ache. If you get too sick, fear not as hospitals will be open and ambulances are exempted from the traveling ban.
3. Cash In
Most ATMs are usually turned off at midnight at the eve of Nyepi or even earlier.
4. Entertain Yourself
Bring your gadgets to keep you entertained and don’t forget to charge up. If you decide to make it a gadget-free day, it’s a good chance to focus on your yoga practice or end your writing procrastination.
How to Escape from It?
If the idea of being trapped in your hotel makes you feel claustrophobic, there are ways to escape from it. Despite Nyepi being a national holiday in Indonesia, Catur Brata Penyepian is only strictly observed in Bali. Arrange for your trip at least two days in advance, and take a short ferry ride to any of the neighbouring islands such as Lombok (along with Gili Trawangan, Gili Air, and Gili Meno), Java or Flores. Stay there for a few nights or just overnight and then come back to Bali the day after to carry on with your holiday plans.
What to See & Experience
But if you have the luxury of time, why not stick around for Nyepi? It’s a great opportunity to learn about the local cultures and traditions.
A few days before Nyepi, each banjar (village or district) will hold Melasti (ceremonial cleansing of religious paraphernalia) at a source of water, mostly at a beach. It’s a wonderful time to be in Bali as you will see colourful parades everywhere you go leading up to Nyepi.
Villages and districts will also hold competitions for the best ogoh-ogoh, paper effigies which represent evil spirits and all negative aspects in life. Taking inspiration from both traditional motifs and contemporary lore, these wonderfully grotesque creations are prepared well months in advance. Not to be missed is the Ngrupuk ceremony which features the ogoh-ogoh parade on the eve of Nyepi, culminating with the burning of the effigies.
After Nyepi, the young men and women of Bali, who are usually reserved and always under the watchful eyes of the elders, are given the chance to get to know each other at omed-omedan (ritual kissing), where they kiss under pouring water. This is not something outsiders are allowed to participate in, but you can always watch from afar.
It’s good to relieve Mother Earth from pollution once in a year. The one thing that is noticeable when you’re in Bali for Nyepi is how clear the night sky is and how fresh the air is the morning after. Whether you are in Bali for Nyepi on purpose or because you’ve accidentally put yourself in this position, there’s enough good things for you to go on.
For our Indonesian Hindu friends who are welcoming the Çaka New Year, we wish you:
- Rahajeng Rahina Nyepi
- Selamat Hari Raya Nyepi
- Have a Blessed Nyepi!
GETTING THERE: AirAsia flies to Indonesia. Book your tickets now at airasia.com.