asia · bali · Indonesia · Travel

Balinese New Year, Nyepi – A Truly Amazing Time to be on the Island

My fiancee, Becky has previously spent 7 months living and working in Ubud, Bali – during this time she gained an appreciation for the culture of this small island, unfortunately she never got to witness the most important time of year for the Balinese people, Nyepi.

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Since arriving in Bali almost a month ago I think we have seen a good amount of the Island, I’ll be talking about our travels more in future posts.  Over the past few days we have been fortunate enough to witness Balinese New Year and the celebrations that come with each day.

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On the eve of Nyepi there is a parade called Ngrupuk where people from the different local areas create scary looking statues from polystyrene, these statues are then paraded through the streets to scare away evil spirits and purify the area from spiritual pollutants emitted by all living things.  The polystyrene statues are called Ogoh-ogoh, they are attached to a wooden structure so they can be carried through the streets of Balinese towns and villages.

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During the parade each Ogoh-ogoh is rotated three times counter-clockwise at each intersection, this is done in an effort to confuse the evil spirits and send them away.  Within a town there are multiple small villages, each area essentially has its own local council and something similar to a town hall, these are called Banjars, in the lead-up to Nyepi each Banjar will each construct an Ogoh-ogoh, some of them will be simple and some will be very grand – the size and intricacy of the Ogoh-ogoh is dependant on how much money is available at the time and the skill of the artists.

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Constructing an Ogoh-ogoh requires a lot of money, this is due to the number of skilled people needed, the time they are required to commit and the food that is needed to fuel them through the construction period which can last around 3 months.  Sometimes an Ogoh-ogoh can cost over 100 million rupiah which is over £5,000 – all of this money must come from the local people, so the wealth of the local people determines how grand the Ogoh-ogoh is.  In times when local villages are doing well and there is more money available then competitions are held between the Banjars to see who creates the best Ogoh-ogoh.

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After the parade, the Ogoh-ogoh statues are burned in a cremation ceremony, this is usually done a number of days after Nyepi.

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Following the Ogoh-ogoh parade is the Balinese New Year, this day is known as Nyepi – it is also referred to as the silent day.  On Nyepi, Denpasar airport is closed down, no motorbikes or cars are allowed to be used, nobody is allowed out of their homes and all lights must be switched off.  These rules are enforced by a type of non-legal local police called Pecalang who patrol the streets making sure nobody is out and about and all lights are turned off.

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We were based in Sanur over Nyepi and the usual sound of motorbikes and cars zipping up and down the street was but a distant memory.  We saw stars like we have never seen before due to the lack of light pollution, fortunately there wasn’t a cloud in the sky which was lucky since every day prior to Nyepi we saw nothing but grey skies.

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I am hoping to write more about Bali over the coming days, our friend is oh his way around with some local food for us now, so it’s probably going to be tomorrow when I next write.  I hope you’re fortunate enough to witness Nyepi in Bali, it really is a once in a lifetime experience and one I won’t soon forget.

Matt

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