The New Year is usually greeted with joyous cheer. For Balinese Hindus however, the New Year is greeted with silence. No-one may be rowdy or make any kind of fun. This is how the Nyepi holiday marks the Saka New Year.

According to the Saka calendar, the Saka New Year falls every Tilem Sasih Kasanga, which is usually around March. Historically, Nyepi represents a period of peace which punctuates the din of war. Long before the Common Era began, there were always wars to retain or seize territory. These wars may have been long, and they may have been short. On the sidelines of the war, both the people and the army entered a short period of peace. During peacetime they built relationships, forged family ties through marriage, then created a blend of tribes and races.

A few weeks before Nyepi in Bali, the youth of each village prepare a giant puppet, known as ogoh-ogoh. Ogoh-ogoh symbolise Bhuta Kala, a giant creature with a very bad temper. The day before Nyepi, ogoh-ogoh are paraded around the villages, while each family cleanses their neighbourhood of negative influences.

Ogoh-ogoh 1

Crowds gather in central Ubud to revel in the ogoh-ogoh parade. Photo: Julia Winterflood

Ogoh-ogoh 2

In the Ubud skyline at dusk lurk terrifying monsters. Photo: Julia Winterflood

At the end of the parade, the ogoh-ogoh are destroyed to mark the end of war. All vices vanish. The next day, Nyepi commences at 6am. There are four taboos, called Catur Brata Panyepian, which should not be committed during Nyepi: Amati Geni (no fire), Amati Lelungan (no traveling), Amati Lelanguan (no fun) and Amati Karya (no work). At the present time in Bali there is indeed no war. But is this world peaceful, even without war? Various life situations today create both challenges and competition. Exhaustion may be almost the same as war. Work, school, friendships and family all have their respective problems. Because of this, one day which is truly peaceful is duly anticipated. Nyepi is synonymous with silence, tranquility, serenity and peace.

During Nyepi, Hindus are forbidden from lighting fires or anything relating to light. There is no need to ignite stoves, as fasting is recommended for Hindus. There is no need to turn on lights, television, computers or mobile phones because these are all sources of pleasure. There is no need to go to work or school, as Nyepi is a holiday for all. Even when working from home, one should have a day off for the body and the mind. During Nyepi no-one leaves their home, though these rules are only able to be enforced in full in Bali. Sometimes tolerance is necessary if Nyepi coincides with a time of worship for others, so exceptions are made, as long as they aren’t noisy and vehicles aren’t used. All vehicles will not be visible during Nyepi, unless for urgent matters. Land, sea and air vehicles are all halted for one day. We allow the natural environment to breathe, free of pollution. At night, the starlight glows brighter.

Something which should be performed during Nyepi is asceticism through meditation. But not everyone is able to do so, especially those who are used to being busy with work and dreams. At least a day off for Nyepi grants us time to reflect and prepare to become a better person.