Rites of ‘Nyepi’: Bali

There are few places in the world that completely shut down for a 24-hour period as Bali does for its holiest day, Nyepi, or the Day of Silence.

Airports halt operations when the hands on the clock hit midnight, harbors shut down and ferries cease arrivals and departures from the island, which has withstood the incursions of the modern world to maintain its population’s Hindu rites.

Roads are closed, normally busy markets lie dormant, schools stand empty and all across Bali rest in a blanket of silence.

There is no cooking, no eating, no fires, no work, no music, nor idle chatter on street corners as humans hide in their homes while the evil spirits, now homeless after the eve’s festivities and rituals have chased them from the island of the gods, seek vengeance on those who drove them from paradise.

According to Wayan Gede Karang of Tengkulak Tengah in Gianyar, these angry evil spirits roam the heavens seeking a new home in the world.

“According to our folklore the evil spirits take to the sky, their eyes wide open looking down at earth, especially Bali. But they see nothing on the island because Balinese people do nothing on Nyepi and stay in their homes,” he said. “The spirits think Bali is empty of people because there is no human activity. When they have seen enough, they fly off and Bali is safe for another year.”

Visitors to Bali are expected to respect the cultural and religious laws of Nyepi. While they are welcome to undertake quiet activities in their hotels, like the Balinese, they may not go out or have loud entertainment said Wayan.

He stressed, however, that emergency services such as hospitals are operational, and that village guards will open roads and assist people to a hospital in emergencies.

Trisha Sertori