As anyone who's been to Bali knows, the Balinese take their ceremonies very seriously. But the king of all ceremonial days is Nyepi, the Balinese New Year and day of silence, during which no one is allowed to go outside, make any noise or even turn on any lights. The streets are deserted and even the airport shuts, which is a big deal for an island which relies so heavily on tourism.
Nyepi falls on the day after the dark moon of the spring equinox, when the day and night are of approximately equal duration (usually in March). The celebrations last for several days, and officially start with Melasti, which is a time of prayer. Sacred temple objects are brought in a long procession to the beach (or nearest body of water) by villagers dressed in traditional temple clothes.
The ceremony is to cleanse all impure things and to take the essences of life from the ocean (or water).
Next an event called Pengrupukan. The Balinese make massive monsters called Ogoh Ogohs, which are then paraded through the streets at night. The Ogoh Ogoh are made to look evil and scary in order to attract the evil spirits to inhabit the monster.
After the procession, the Ogoh Ogoh are set on fire. This isn't intended to destroy the bad spirits, but to neutralise them, as the Balinese believe that both good and evil should survive in the world to balance each other out.
The day after the Ogoh Ogoh parade is Nyepi, the day of silence. Everyone must stay inside their house (or hotel in our case). No one is allowed on the streets, everything closes, and noise is kept to an absolute minimum. It's a day for quiet reflection and meditation and many people also fast on this day.
The symbolism of Nyepi is that there are evil spirits flying above the island, and if everyone stays quiet, they will think that Bali is uninhabited and fly away. At night, there are no outside lights, and the curtains have to stay drawn.
Our Nyepi this year was spent at the traditional Tugu Hotel in Canggu. It was a really quiet and peaceful day, and even if you're not into meditation, it's nice just to spend a day quietly doing not very much at all.
Nyepi is rounded off with Ngembak, the day of forgiveness, when Balinese people spend the day visiting relatives and friends. It is the official start of the Balinese New Year and people endeavour to forgive each other over grievances, so that they can start the new year working together to face the challenges of the year ahead.