Nyepi: Indonesia Bali Hindu New Year and Day of Silence

Balinese Hindus celebrate the New Year in silence and the day is known as Nyepi. Bali Nyepi symbolically represents the state of the universe before creation. The Bali New Year is based on the Hindu lunar calendar and involves four days of rituals. Nyepi falls on the Amavas (no moon night) . In 2013, Nyepi is on March 12.

The rituals related to Nyepi begin two days before Amavas or the actual Nyepi day. The first day is dedicated to Melasti purification or Mekiyis or Melis. The day before Nyepi is Tawur Kesanga or Tawur Agung. Then it is Nyepi the day of silence. The next day is Ngembak Geni.

The Bali New Year is based on the Saka calendar – the one followed by the Indian government and by some Hindu communities. In India, Saka era begins with the Chaitra month. Kaniska I of India had started this calendar in AD 78. And it was Aji Saka who introduced the Saka era in Bali.

In India the Saka era calendar begins with Purnima and in Bali with Amavas.

On the first day that is the Melasti purification day, village deities are bathed in the sea. People take bath along with deities. 

Symbolically the deities and the sea or ocean purify man's soul so he can embrace the New Year with a pure heart. It also provides an opportunity to take the blessing of God Baruna, the god of oceans.

On the Tawur Kesanga day evil or Bhuta Kala is burnt. Ogoh-ogoh, huge demons made from bamboo, represents the evil. In a carnival atmosphere in the evening, Ogoh-ogoh is burnt in the street corner. It is a sort of warding off the evil and also a cleansing ceremony. This ceremony is quite similar to burning of Holika or Holika Dahan before Holi in India.

On the Nyepi day there is no activity. Pecalangs, traditional Balinese security men, make sure that the villages are totally silent with no traffic and activity. It is the New Year day, a day to contemplate and cleanse the mind and body and begin afresh.

The following day is Ngembak Geni. It is meant for prayers and meeting friends and relatives.
(Photo courtesy Reuters)