After a week of working in Bali, being stuck there for Nyepi (the Hindu Balinese equivalent of New Year) was not in my plans, but I chose to embrace the unique holiday and experience it to the fullest.
Most Westerners use the Nyepi holiday as an excuse to escape the island, but I highly recommend experiencing the excitement of the Ogoh Ogoh parades performed on Nyepi Eve, followed by the calm and serenity of Nyepi Day. It is unlike any other new year I have ever been involved in.
Three days before Nyepi the local Hindu population participate in the Melasti ceremony to purify themselves and the world from bad spirits and to become closer to God. The roads of Bali are at a standstill as thousands of Hindus dressed in white, parade from their local temple to the nearest body of water. Men, women and children play traditional Balinese instruments as they carry the effigies of the gods. In an effort to purify in preparation for Nyepi celebrations, all ceremony equipment is washed and sacred water is taken from the sea.
At sunset on Nyepi Eve the Ogoh Ogoh parades begin with thousands of people lining the streets, both participating and watching. Huge colorful figures of demons made from papier-mache are carried around every town or village in Bali to scare away all the demonic and negative elements in the universe. The parades are accompanied by music, street food, fireworks and bamboo bombs. It is quite a sight and something you do not want to miss if you have the opportunity. The parade ends before midnight with the destruction and the burning of the Ogoh Ogohs, a symbolic banishment all evil spirits.
A Balinese local, Wayan Gidaratura, said he would spend Nyepi reflecting on the loss of his son’s life three years ago. The toddler died on Nyepi day in 2010 after choking on a sweet. His family were unable to leave their compound to get the young boy to a hospital. Although Wayan grieves the loss of his son’s life, as any parent would, he believes “it was up to the Gods”.
“My son is where he belongs,” he told me.
For tourists, the usually bustling airport is closed. The international hospital is open for emergencies only, and an ambulance must be called to get there. Hotels are exempt from the more rigorous practices of Nyepi, offering tourists packages of two-nights and three-days with food and entertainment.
Then, as the sun sets on Nyepi, the world is considered once again clean, and everything starts anew. Wherever you happen to be, it is a festival worth experiencing. I left feeling a sense of relaxation, enforced as it was! –
Story and Photos by Kristy Coulcher