The sound of silence… No horns beeping… No bustle of the morning markets… No local shopkeepers shouting to each other as they open for the days tourist trade….. No men shouting “Taxi” or “Transport” to tourists wandering the streets. In fact no tourists. At least not on the streets of Bali. Not today. Today is Nyepi.
Nyepi is arguably the biggest festival in Bali. From 6am to 6am the following morning, Hindu Balinese celebrate a day of self-reflection and anything that interferes with that is restricted…no eating (Scott's in trouble) no talking (I'm in trouble) and no having fun (C'mon, it's our holiday). While primarily a Hindu Ritual, non-hindu residents and tourists are expected to, and do, observe the customs out of respect for the locals.
When we discovered we would be in Sanur during this festival, panic set in. How would I deal with Scott when he was hungry for 24 hours? How would he deal with me not speaking for 24 hours…that's rhetorical…don't answer! And wasn't the whole purpose of our holiday to relax and unwind… oh wait…a day of resting, rejuvenating, reflecting and meditating… hmmm.. maybe this would not be so bad after all.
In actual fact, after some research, it seems that Bali during Nyepi is not such a bad place to be. While confined to hotels and resorts for the day, tourists are still able to “eat drink and be quietly merry” within the resort grounds. And yes..we can still talk.
Nyepi would give us an opportunity to experience real Balinese traditions first hand, and what is the point of traveling if we don't expand our experiences and understanding of cultures other than our own.
The days leading up to Nyepi are a bustle of activity for local Balinese. There are a number of ceremonial rituals to be carried out and evidence of these is abundant as we walk around local villages.
1. Melasti or Mekiyis or Melis (three days before Nyepi)
Melasti is the ceremonial cleaning of the statues. Trucks crammed to capacity with locals head towards the river or sea with effigies from the temples. Melasti is not only to clean the statues but also a ritual cleansing of the soul. It is a ceremony most villagers don't want to miss. Priests carry out blessings while chanting mantras and it's a time of happiness and hope.
2. Tawur Kesanga (the day before Nyepi)
Exactly one day before Nyepi, all villages in Bali hold a large exorcism ceremony at the main village cross road, the meeting place of demons. They make Ogoh-ogoh – papier-mâché monsters, for the ceremony. The Ogoh-ogoh monsters symbolize the evil spirits, which need to be removed to make way for the good spirits and usher in the new year. The ceremonies are held all over Bali following sunset. Bleganjur, Balinese gamelan music accompanies the procession. Some Ogoh-ogoh are giants taken from classical Balinese lore. All have fangs, bulging eyes and scary hair and are illuminated by torches. The procession is usually organised by the Seka Teruna, the youth of the village and there is great excitement amongst the young boys at being chosen to carry the Ogoh-ogoh.
On Nyepi day itself, every street is quiet – normal day to day activities cease. No cooking, no talking, no travelling, no light. It is a day of reflection and seclusion. Local security enforce the laws of Nyepi, the only people allowed on the streets. Even tourists are forbidden to leave hotels or go onto the beach, even where these are private. The airport comes to a standstill, with no planes arriving or departing. The island shuts down.
4. Ngembak Geni (the day after Nyepi)
Following Nyepi, villagers visit with each other, offering and asking for forgiveness for past wrong-doings. Streets are crowded with locals travelling to visit family and friends or going to popular spots to fish, swim and socialise.
The highlight is undoubtably the Ogoh-ogoh. Travelling from Ubud to Sanur the day prior to Nyepi affords us plenty of opportunities to photograph some of these amazing creations. In Kuta, where sponsorship can be obtained from many of the hotels or shops, Ogoh-ogoh can cost upwards of 10 million rupiah (over $1000 AUD).
During the exorcism ceremony the streets are packed with both locals and tourists alike. In Sanur at least there is no sign of nervousness of potential attacks…five alleged terrorists having been shot dead by police a couple of days earlier, three in Denpasar and two just further down the road in Sanur. We are happy though, not to be in Kuta or Seminyak..suspected targets.
Many tourists are scared away by the idea of Nyepi, fleeing to islands such as nearby Lombok in order to avoid forced seclusion in their hotels. Resorts such as Kuta's Bounty are boarded up in order to keep occupants (mostly young drunken Aussies) inside. Local security patrol the streets and beaches to enforce Nyepi rules and hotel owners are reprimanded severely for tourists who do not respect the traditions.
For us Nyepi is spent laying quietly by the pool, reading, resting, forcing ourselves to have a day of stillness and do absolutely nothing… Not always as easy as it sounds..but then…a bit of R&R is why we are in Bali in the first place.