History and meaning
Ultimately, the whole of Nyepi commemorates the Saka New Year as a spiritual dialogue carried out by Hindus so that life is always balanced and harmonious, prosperous and peaceful.
History of the New Year Celebrations
Nyepi is a day that the Hindu Balinese dedicate completely to connect more deeply with God (Hyang Widi Wasa) through ceremonies of prayer, fasting, and meditation. Among the many celebrations the Balinese holds all year, this religious ceremony is much bigger and more lavish than any other.
The Hindu New Year, based on the Saka calendar, began in 78 AD. Unlike the western New Year celebration that occurs every January 1st, the Saka New Year in Bali begins with isolation and activities whatsoever are prohibited.
Hinduism, that originated from India, began in the middle of when the country was experiencing crises and prolonged social conflicts, which after a long dispute, King Kaniskha I was crowned on 1 (one day after tilem) month 1 (caitramasa) year 01 Saka, in March 78 AD.
From then on, the anniversary of the new Saka date has been attributed to the success of his leadership in uniting a nation that had previously been at war due to different religious beliefs. Therefore, the Saka New Year is commemorated as a meaningful day of resurrection, unity, tolerance, and peace.
As the entire island prepares to celebrate Nyepi, a series of ceremonies are held within the transition period of the Balinese New Year. Celebrated for about six days, the Day of Silence that symbolises the change into the New Year is only one aspect of the rituals in this holy week. Each celebrated part is sacred and captivating to the Balinese culture. Non-Hindus that are interested in participating usually partake in the viewing of the Ogoh Ogoh parade.
First Ceremony: Melasti
A purifying ritual dedicated to the Supreme God, Hyang Wdihi Wasa, known as Melasti by acquiring sacred water from the sea to cleanse sacred objects such as Arca, Pratima, and Pralingga that belongs to several temples. Although Melasti does not always count as the first day of Nyepi celebrations, it definitely signifies the start, as it falls under Hari Baik or “Good Day”, which initiates the beginning of the Nyepi period.
The intention of the purifying ritual is the cleansing of each of us (bhuana alit) and the universe (bhuana agung). The acquisition of the sacred water is called Tirta Amerta, the water/source of life. The Balinese wear their traditional white clothes, and checkered sarongs as they conduct the ceremony, and by performing it by the edge of the beach or near water sources, such as lakes, it symbolizes letting go of the past and throwing it out into the ocean.
Similar rituals are performed at the Balekambang Beach on the southern coast of Malang, East Java; it is the ritual of Jalani Dhipuja.
Second Ceremony: Bhuta Yajna & Ogoh Ogoh Parade
The Bhuta Yajna ritual, more commonly known as Pengerupukan, is performed one day before Nyepi with the Ogoh Ogoh parade to vanquish negative elements and create a balance with God, Mankind, and Nature. The ritual is also meant to appease Batara Kala (God of the Underworld and Destruction) with the Pecaruan offering.
At sunset, between 5–6 pm, the Pengrupukan ceremony takes place where during this time the roads are closed. With a huge amount of foot traffic, the Balinese parade through the streets with the Ogoh-ogoh statues, passionately playing a loud mixture of drumming and banging from instruments, such as the kulkul (traditional bamboo bell), claxons, and gamelans.
Although these rituals take place over the entire island, one can experience the best processions either in Kuta, Seminyak, Nusa Dua, Sanur and other famous beaches. Each village makes at least one spectacular Ogoh-Ogoh and takes pride in the entire process. Oftentimes there are contests in each areas such as Sanur, Kuta, Denpasar, Ubud for the best Ogoh-Ogoh.
Third Ceremony: Nyepi – Day of Silence
The most significant day is strictly reserved for self-reflection and anything that might interfere with that purpose is strictly prohibited. Nyepi is traditionally a day of absolute silence adhered to by the Balinese Hindu, even the non-Hindu residents, based on the four precepts of Catur Brata:
Amati Geni: No fire or light, including no electricity
Not even cooking, which is why some Balinese follow a tradition of fasting
Amati Karya: No form of physical activity except things dedicated to spiritual cleansing and renewal
Hence why meditation and oftentimes yoga
Amati Lelunganan: No movement or traveling.
Airport is closed, there’s no going in or out of Bali, as well as the roads are patroled by the Pecalang.
Amati Lelanguan: Fasting and no revelry/self-entertainment or general merrymaking.
Prohibition of satisfying opleasurable human appetite.
Starting from 6:00 am on the day of Nyepi until 6:00 am the next day, the faithful Balinese spend their day indoors with the windows covered and blinds closed.
There is a myth that, after the boisterous and active celebrations, the Island goes into hiding to protect itself from evil spirits, fooling them into believing that Bali, enveloped in an atmosphere of complete tranquillity and peace, is a deserted Island. This myth dates back to the mythical times of evil spirits, Gods, legendary heroes, and witches.
Fourth Ceremony: Ngembak Agni / Labuh Brata Ritual
The final ceremony emerging from the Day of Silence is known as Ngembak Agni, or Labuh Brata, which is a ritual performed on the official New Years Day. The last day is when Catur Berata Penyepian is over and the Balinese Hindus visit their families, engage with neighbours and relatives to ask for forgiveness.
On the day after Nyepi, known as Ngembak Geni, social activity picks up again quickly, a complete opposite of the previous day. Families and friends gather and socialise, perform certain religious rituals together, and are basically encouraged to go out. In contrast to Nyepi Day, they should be active with the surrounding community, embracing your neighbors, family, and friends
Different areas have different ways they celebrate Ngembak Agni, which is a day to rejoice and spend the day outside. A relatively well-known ritual that most people have heard of regarding this day is the Kissing Ceremony, found in the district of Sesetan, where non-married people are paired together and have to kiss as part of the celebration. Other places such as Kedonganan have fun activities such as mudbathing, where Balinese families get their hands dirty, or Kuta’s streets would be flooded with markets that suddenly appear and pop-up for the day to celebrate.