Every year on the island of Bali in Indonesia, the entire island goes completely dark for 24 hours. No Internet. No TV. No electricity. Nyepi Day is a day for meditation and reflection; a day for the Earth to reset; a day for complete silence. It’s also an incredible time to be in Bali.
Bali is the only place in the world that celebrates Nyepi – a Hindu holiday – this way. While the day is a public holiday for all of Indonesia, Bali is the only place in the country where Hindu is the overwhelming majority and, therefore, where the Day of Silence is strictly enforced.
Here’s what to expect if you visit Bali on Nyepi Day:
Nyepi is a day dedicated to silence and one of the most important days on the Balinese calendar. It’s a sacred Hindu holiday and the third of a six-day celebration to mark a new year in Bali.
While the concept of Nyepi is not unique to Bali, no place honors this holiday quite like Bali where rituals are part of daily life and where Nyepi is the jewel in a ritualistic crown.
Nyepi is honored on the first New Moon after the spring equinox each year. This usually falls in March.
Starting at 06:00, there is silence for 24 hours on the island. The familiar noise from scooters is gone. There is no commerce in the markets and the streets are left to the monkeys. Anybody who does venture outside will be escorted home by the cultural police. There is no television, no radio, no phone calls, and no Internet.
There is also darkness. There is no electricity or even candlelight.
There is no working and no cooking. The Denpasar Airport shuts down to incoming and outgoing flights.
Bungalows on the island that cater to Westerners do maintain a reduced staff to cook food for the guests, usually offering a buffet at set times. Wandering around inside the compound is permitted.
The silence of Nyepi is more pronounced because of the raucous rituals surrounding the holiday.
It starts with a purification ceremony two days before Nyepi called a Melasti Ritual. Sacred water is gathered from the sea to purify sacred objects.
The day before Nyepi brings the Bhuta Yajna Ritual meant to vanquish negative elements and create a balance between God, man and nature. Villages perform sacrifices of animals and plants.
For weeks leading up to the big day, the Balinese work together to create ogoh-ogoh, which are large monsters made out of paper, bamboo and wood. They are designed to look scary in the hopes that the fearsome, toothy creatures will attract evil spirits.
In the shadows of the setting sun of Nyepi Eve, the Balinese then chase the evil spirits out of their house with as much noise as possible. They bang pots and pans in a commotion meant to startle the malevolent spirits from their hiding places and into the waiting arms and gaping mouths of the ogoh-ogoh.
The towering monsters are then carried in drum-beating, merry-making parades across the island.
After the Ngurupuk Parade, bonfires are lit and the ogoh-ogoh are burned – along with all of the evil spirits (not to mention week’s worth of work!)
Then it’s time to party. Just like on New Year’s Eve around the world, the Balinese set out to start the new year with a hangover. the preferred drink is arak – a Balinese moonshine – and it’s thrown back at parties all over the island.
It’s said that the silence the next day – Nyepi Day – is meant to trick the evil spirits remaining on the island into believing that Bali is deserted.
In a word, yes!
It is a time for silent reflection and for contemplating the year to come. But it’s not for everyone.
When I visited Ubud during Nyepi Day, I fully embraced a day of enforced resting. I felt no guilt about staying in bed for the entire day, emerging only for the food prepared for all of the Westerners holed up on my hotel compound. (I also enjoyed the all-night festivities of Nyepi Eve, which might be why staying in bed with books and meditation felt so good!)
I also loved the idea of allowing the earth to re-set for a day. With no lights, traffic, travel, or activity, the planet enjoyed a much-deserved day of rest in this little corner of the world.
Related Stories: When an Island Goes Dark, my story about visiting Ubud during Nyepi Day and partying on Nyepi Eve.
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