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Nyepi (Balinese Lunar New Year, Saka New Year)

Type of Holiday: Calendar/Seasonal
Date of Observation: Late March; first day of the tenth lunar month
Where Celebrated: Bali, Indonesia
Symbols and Customs: Cockfighting, Kissing, Noisemaking, Ogoh-ogoh
Related Holidays: Galungan


Nyepi marks the beginning of a new year according to the saka (caka), or twelvemonth lunar calendar, which originated in India and was introduced to Indonesia in the first century C . E . Each month in the saka year ends on the day of the new moon, and the year as a whole begins on the day after the new moon of the VERNAL EQUINOX , which is also the first day of the tenth lunar month. Balinese people also follow the wuku, or 210-day ritual calendar, and GALUNGAN is the celebration of the new year in Bali according to that calendar.

Preparations for Nyepi begin three days beforehand, when all the religious statues are carried in procession from the Balinese Hindu temples to the sea for the ritual known as melasti. Everyone wears traditional Balinese sarongs, and the sound of bells and gongs accompanies the bathing of the images in seawater that has been blessed by the priests. The priests then sprinkle holy water on the people themselves, so that they will begin the new year in a purified state.

The dominant religion of the island of Bali in Indonesia is known as Bali Hindu, or Agama Tirtha, the Religion of Holy Water. Claiming more than two million adherents in Bali, the faith is a blend of ancient indigenous Balinese beliefs and strong Hindu and Buddhist influences. The emergence of Bali Hindu as a distinct religion is thought to have occurred sometime between the fourteenth and nineteenth centuries.

On the day before Nyepi, the last day of the old year, the exorcism ritual known as Tawur Agung Kesanga is held. It is marked by intense NOISEMAKING and the parading of effigies or OGOH OGOH through the streets, which are thought to drive the evil spirits away from the villages. People bang pots and pans together, children set off firecrackers, and the sound of the gamelan (a traditional Indonesian instrumental ensemble) can be heard during these parades. Nyepi falls at the end of the rainy season, which leaves the earth in a soiled and spiritually unbalanced state. Getting rid of evil this way, it is believed, will restore the earth's harmony, balance, and purity.

The day of Nyepi itself is spent in complete silence. Everyone adheres to four basic rules: no light (including cooking fires); no physical work; no travel or movement (including driving, opening doors and windows, or even leaving the house), and no entertainment or amusement (including music, art, or sexual intercourse). Starting at dawn and lasting for twenty-four hours, the Balinese people stay in their homes and spend their time fasting, praying, and meditating. It is a day for purifying themselves spiritually and readying themselves mentally for the start of a new year. Even tourists are warned not to go anywhere or make any noise on this day. The streets are empty and the beaches are closed, so most visitors spend the day in their hotels.

The day after Nyepi is usually devoted to visiting relatives. Just outside the capital city of Denpasar, this is the day when the unusual custom of public KISSING takes place. Nyepi



Although gambling has been officially outlawed in Bali since the early 1980s, cockfighting is permitted on the day before Nyepi. Cockfights take place in every village, and after the cocks die, they are plucked and cooked right away, since no cooking is allowed during the observation of the holiday. The blood from the dead cocks is sprinkled over the nearest crossroad, a ritual that is believed to purify the earth.


One of the most unusual customs associated with Nyepi takes place in the village of Banjar Kaja, in the southern part of the capital city of Denpasar. Known as medmedan, it involves two groups of teenagers, one male and one female, who, after walking in a procession to the local temple for prayers, face each other and move closer and closer until they are kissing. Although no one is certain how or where this public display of affection originated, it is widely believed that the kissing ritual offers protection from the unexpected in the coming year.

Perhaps influenced by what they have seen in Western movies and on television, the young Balinese who participate in the ritual often get carried away, exchanging passionate kisses rather than the recommended chaste, ceremonial ones. Only those who live in Banjar Kaja are allowed to join in the kissing, although tourists and nonresidents usually gather to watch. Should they get caught up in the spirit of the event and be unable to restrain themselves, there are always adult "referees" standing by to hose them down with cold water.


Nyepi is known as much for the noise it creates the day beforehand as it is for the silence of the holiday itself. The noisemaking begins at dusk, accompanied by torches, which are used to drive the demons out of every possible hiding place. People bang on drums, tin cans, cymbals and gongs, pots and pans, and whatever else they can find that will make a loud noise. They light firecrackers and beat the earth and the trees with sticks. The noise subsides around midnight, and it is believed that after several hours of this racket, no evil spirits will be left in the villages.


Ogoh-ogoh are the huge and usually frightening effigies that each village makes to represent the demons or evil spirits that are plaguing the lives of its inhabitants. Made from bamboo or wood and covered with styrofoam or papier-mâché, they usually resemble mythical giants or creatures from Balinese folklore, although they occasionally take the form of more modern demons, such as motorcycle gang members. Held aloft by young men, they are paraded through the streets as part of the noisy processions that take place on the eve of Nyepi. At the end of the evening's festivities, the ogoh-ogoh are often burned as a symbolic way of getting rid of evil.


Freeman, Dave, et al. 100 Things to Do Before You Die: Travel Events You Just Can't Miss. Dallas: Taylor Pub. Co., 1999. MacDonald, Margaret R., ed. The Folklore of World Holidays. Detroit: Gale Research, 1992.


International Herald Tribune www.iht.com/articles/2006/03/24/opinion/edhogue.php Nyepi
Holiday Symbols and Customs, 4th ed. © Omnigraphics, Inc. 2009


The people of Bali in Indonesia celebrate the Vernal Equinox and the New Year by driving the devils out of the villages and then observing a day of stillness, known as Nyepi or Njepi. It is believed that when spring arrives and the rainy season ends, the Lord of Hell, Yama, sweeps the devils out of Hades. The devils then fall on Bali, making it necessary to purify the entire island.
First the evil spirits are lured out of their hiding places with an elaborate offering of food, drink, money, and household utensils. Samples of every seed and fruit and of every animal used as food are all laid out in an eight-point star representing the Rose of the Winds. Then the evil spirits are driven out of the village by the strong incantations and curses of the priests, and by the people who run through the streets with their faces and bodies painted, lighting firecrackers, carrying torches, beating the trees and the ground, and banging drums, tin cans, and anything else they can find to make noise to drive the demons away. Animal sacrifices play an important role in the ceremony, because blood is believed to cleanse the impure earth.
The following day, Nyepi, marks the start of the New Year and the arrival of spring. It is observed with the suspension of all activity: no cooking or fires, no sexual intercourse, and no work of any kind are permitted.
Indonesian Embassy
2020 Massachusetts Ave. N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20036
202-775-5200; fax: 202-775-5365
FolkWrldHol-1999, p. 216
HolSymbols-2009, p. 640 (c)
Holidays, Festivals, and Celebrations of the World Dictionary, Fourth Edition. © 2010 by Omnigraphics, Inc.
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References in periodicals archive ?
Among beach destinations, try Bali the last three weeks of March after Nyepi (the Day of Silence), which takes place on March 7.
Melasti is a purification festival which is held several days before Nyepi, the day of silence.
Mar 21 Indonesia Nyepi Day, Indonesia A combo of noise and quiet, this is a three day ritual in which sacred idols are brought out, washed and returned to the temples.
a week goes by without some sort ofcelebration going on; including Galungan, a holiday when people decorate bamboo poles with flowers, cakes and fruit and dress in their best clothes to symbolise the victory of good over evil and nyepi, when silence and inactivity is practiced across the island to help banish bad spirits.
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Australian media quoted another senior police officer as saying it was possible the group had been planning to carry out attacks on Thursday, the eve of Nyepi, or the annual Day of Silence marking Bali's Hindu New Year.
The men are rumoured to have been planning a bomb attack on a well known cafe on Wednesday, the night before Nyepi, or the day of silence, which marks the Balinese Hindu new year, The Sydney Morning Herald reports.
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This practice was apparently influenced by the Balinese Nyepi Day (Lembaga Pengembangan Tandak ...