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Melanie van Leeuwen / © Culture Trip
Melanie van Leeuwen / © Culture Trip
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Nyepi: A Guide to Balinese New Year

Picture of Edira Putri
Updated: 11 April 2018
Balinese uphold many traditional festivals and celebrations, but like many other cultures, the New Year calls for a special festivity. The Balinese New Year is a sequence of mindful affairs that surround the quiet and mindful Day of Silence or Nyepi. Read on to learn more about the jubilance and quietude around the fascinating Balinese New Year.

The Day Before

Weeks before the Balinese New Year, scary giant puppets begin to show up all over. Each village creates its own demon in preparation for the Ngrupuk Parade the night before the Day of Silence (Nyepi). These giant puppets are made primarily from paper pulp then painted and embellished as needed.

The scary paper pulp puppet
The scary paper pulp puppet | © Culture Trip

Youths and children are organized to built the biggest, scariest puppet to represent the village. These demonic puppets, called ogoh-ogoh, represent the pollutant or disruptions of nature and life, including evil spirits. These frightening puppets, often inspired by evil mythical creatures, will be essential in the purifying procession in the evening before the New Year’s celebration.

Everyone is fascinated by the big and ornate ogoh-ogoh
Everyone is fascinated by the big and ornate ogoh-ogoh | © Culture Trip

Balinese Hindu do a lot of cleansing and preparation to welcome the new year. One of these rituals is the Melasti Ceremony, which is one of the biggest purification rituals in the culture. During this ceremony, Balinese Hindu will put on white clothing and embark on a pilgrimage to various water resources, such as the sea, to be cleansed with water via sacred rituals.

Walking procession before the day of silence
Walking procession before the day of silence | © Culture Trip

Bringing forth offerings and sacred objects, Balinese Hindu march together in a massive walking procession, which culminates at the beach.

White symbolizes purity
White symbolizes purity | © Culture Trip

Walking processions are led by the priests and elders, as the beats of the traditional gamelan music commands and accompanies the steps.

Gamelan all the way around
Gamelan all the way around | © Culture Trip

Various localities and villages have their own specific ways to conduct different processions. But most of the events that precede Balinese New Year have to do with cleansing and purification – letting go of sins, immoral ambitions – to welcome a brand new start.

Marching around the neighborhood
Marching around the neighborhood | © Culture Trip

Temple processions are also in place. In this island, nicknamed ‘the land of a thousand temples’, the day before New Year’s is arguably the busiest; locals swarm the houses of worship to pray for a better year ahead.

Getting ready for temple procession
Getting ready for temple procession | © Culture Trip

Symbolism is at the heart of many cultures, even more so for Balinese Hindu, who often come to worship fully adorned, loaded with the best offerings, all with deep philosophical and symbolic meanings. From the umbrella-like tedung to mythical creatures and the men’s headpieces, all things come together to represent the utmost respect and adoration for the gods.

Praying before the start of the new year
Praying before the start of the new year | © Culture Trip

As the day wears on, further preparations for the epic Ngrupuk Parade occurs in different spots. It won’t be long before youths from each village carry their creations along the neighborhood, trying to impress the audience lining up the streets to see which demon scares them the most this year.

Ogoh-ogoh is often inspired by mythical creatures
Ogoh-ogoh is often inspired by mythical creatures | © Culture Trip

Even though many of these scary puppets are inspired by mythological creatures from Hinduism, ogoh-ogoh is actually a recent tradition added to the sequence of New Year’s celebration in Bali. The first ogoh-ogoh parade was performed in the 1980s in Denpasar, Bali.

Taking pictures with ogoh-ogoh
Taking pictures with ogoh-ogoh | © Culture Trip

The parade continues on into the night, as og0h-ogoh are carried across the main streets and villages, often shifting directions rapidly to confuse and ward off evil spirits that may be lurking in the corners. As the dark of the night looms in, flares and torches are lit up, adding to the mystical vibe of the whole ceremony.

Lighting torches to lead the parade
Lighting torches to lead the parade | © Culture Trip

Traditional gamelan music keeps on playing through the night, echoing rhythmic thumps that give life to the parade. Like everyone else involved in this ceremony, gamelan players have been purified and prayed for by the local elders.

Ngrupuk parade continues through the night
Ngrupuk parade continues through the night | © Culture Trip

It’s time to say goodbye to the horrifying ogoh-ogoh, along with your sinful ambitions, bad intentions, and evil influences, as the symbolic evils are set on fire, marking the culmination of the parade.

Ogoh-ogoh, representing evil influences, will be burnt
Ogoh-ogoh, representing evil influences, will be burnt | © Culture Trip

Day of Silence

The day of silence means exactly that. Everyone stays indoors and restrains from all activities, aside from praying and meditation. Businesses, aside from accommodations or some logistics, are closed entirely. Radio and television broadcasting from anywhere in the world will not be accessible on the whole island, especially in local households. No lights or fire allowed, so it’s pitch-black during the night. But it doesn’t matter, no one is allowed outside anyway. In 2018, some localities even started blocking the internet connection and turning off electricity.

The quiet atmosphere allows anyone, locals and tourists alike, to take some time off the hustle of modern life and truly reflect and meditate upon higher things in life. Many Balinese Hindu even practice fasting throughout the day.

Empty streets during the day of silence
Empty streets during the day of silence | © Culture Trip

Day After Day of Silence

The day after Nyepi is also a good day to receive blessings and purification from the elders, as well as making amends and forgive one other.

Balinese Hindu receive blessings and forgiveness from the elders
Balinese Hindu receive blessings and forgiveness from the elders | © Culture Trip

After the day of silence. many people show their gratitude for the blessings they’ve received the previous day by sharing and giving to those in need.

Praying for a better year ahead
Praying for a better year ahead | © Culture Trip

Different localities in Bali have different ways to celebrate and welcome the new year. One tradition that attracts the most attention is the omed-omedan festival hosted by the local banjar (Balinese unit for a neighborhood area) of Sesetan, Denpasar.

Traditional performances to celebrate the new year
Traditional performances to celebrate the new year | © Culture Trip

This festival includes various traditional performances from music to dances and entertainment by the local youths.

Various traditional performances in different localities
Various traditional performances in different localities | © Culture Trip

Year after year, domestic and foreign tourists swarm the neighborhood to see fascinating performances and taste various local treats in food stalls lining up the street and leading up to a main stage.

Traditional dance and theater
Traditional dance and theater | © Culture Trip

Interesting as all those things are, the main takeaway of omed-omedan is actually the part when the local youths kiss one another, thus the popular name ‘kissing festival’. Young men and young women will be stationed on opposing sides — one by one, pairs will meet halfway and give each other a friendly kiss or hug.

Getting ready for omed-omedan festival
Getting ready for omed-omedan festival | © Culture Trip

Water, as a symbol of purification, is also at the heart of the festival. During the whole procession, the festival committee will splash water from buckets or hoses, which will be met with joyful cheers from attendees, especially the kids.

Omed-omedan is also a symbol for purification and keeping harmony
Omed-omedan is also a symbol for purification and keeping harmony | © Culture Trip

This festival may sound odd or random, but omed-omedan carries an earnest zest of connecting with one another as fellow human beings, keeping order and harmony, as well as just a way to have fun with neighbors, families, even strangers.

The omed-omedan festival involves local youths
The omed-omedan festival involves local youths | © Culture Trip