What to Know if You’re in Bali on the Annual Day of Silence

During Nyepi, the Hindu holiday honoring the new year, stillness and quiet sweep the island. Here’s what it’s like—and what to know if it’s happening when you’re visiting.

What to Know if You’re in Bali on the  Annual Day of Silence

Ogoh-ogoh creatures parade through the streets the day before Nyepi in Bali.

Photo by Matthew Spong/Flickr

For 24 hours each year, the Island of the Gods—as Bali is known—falls silent. Dead silent. The airport closes, halting the constant shuttling of tourists to one of Southeast Asia’s most popular vacation destinations. Cars remain parked; motorbikes sit unused. Phone companies turn off mobile internet on the island. Walking the streets, hitting the beach, working, lighting fires (even for cooking), and electricity are forbidden, rules that are enforced by local security guards called pecalang. The occasion is called Nyepi. It’s a ritual unique to Balinese Hindus, and it’s absolutely spectacular. Balinese tradition dictates that the island goes dark and silent on the New Year’s night. It’s believed that when demons and gods fly overhead, they will pass right by, thinking it’s uninhabited—and will thus cause no harm. This year, the holiday begins at 6 a.m. on March 7 and ends at 6 a.m. on March 8—sunrise to sunrise.

Each village presents a handmade ogoh-ogoh the day before Nyepi.

Each village presents a handmade ogoh-ogoh the day before Nyepi.

Photo by Kathryn Romeyn

I had my first experience with Bali’s Silent Day, which marks the New Year in the Hindu lunar calendar called Saka, in 2017. The event actually began the day before, when ominous stormy skies magically transformed into cerulean blue. (Locals I spoke to say it has never rained for the important evening event that occurs the night before the holiday, and magical men known as “rain stoppers” are called in if it threatens.) The clouds cleared just in time for the entire island’s population to gather in various regions for an event known as a Ngerupuk parade, the precursor to Nyepi and a total sensory overload to get ready for a full day of silence.

For the parades, each village presents a painstakingly created effigy, known as ogoh-ogoh, during a choreographed dance. (Over 7,000 of these artful ogoh-ogohs were registered for hundreds of parades around the island in 2017.) In each parade, dozens of men shake and spin the massive, terrifying-looking beasts on their shoulders to the frenetic sounds of traditional gamelan music, alongside expressive dancers in golden costumes and headdresses wearing theatrical makeup. The purpose of this hours-long display? To ward off demons and dark forces, known as bula kala.

The next day? Silence and stillness.

Dancers in the Ngerupuk parade wear golden headdresses and lots of makeup.

Dancers in the Ngerupuk parade wear golden headdresses and lots of makeup.

Photo by Kathryn Romeyn

That means, as a traveler, you’ll be unable to go anywhere or do anything beyond taking a stroll on the beach. Because of this, many hotels and resorts offer Nyepi packages out of necessity. Mandapa, A Ritz-Carlton Reserve, in Ubud, allows no check-ins or check-outs on Nyepi. Travelers staying two nights during the holiday receive daily breakfast, lunch, and dinner at Sawah Terrace (each for two people), plus activities including Nyepi prayer and meditation.
The Four Seasons Resort Bali at Jimbaran Bay celebrates with an ogoh-ogoh doll-making class, a Nyepi Eve ceremony at the oceanfront temple, and on Silent Day, hatha yoga, a tennis clinic, and sushumna meditation, along with fourth night–free offers. The expansive AYANA Resort & Spa’s two-night Nyepi package features a resort ogoh-ogoh festival with a buffet, Aqua tonic Seawater Therapy Pool treatment for two, and a “Star Gazing and Grazing” picnic-style dinner on the Rimba lawn under the stars, among other amenities. Luckily, the silence and no-cooking rules aren’t enforced on resorts, but the properties won’t be playing music and will ask guests to close their curtains in their rooms before turning lights on.

Some might balk at the idea of spending 24 hours of their vacation subject to restricted activity, but the meditative silence of Nyepi, the most sacred day of the year in Bali, is powerful and worth experiencing.

Nyepi felt like a normal day, sans a morning yoga class. But during a day in Padang Padang spent with a friend, quietly reading on our balcony, gazing over the jungle at the Indian Ocean in the distance, eating cold leftover pizza (we’d planned ahead the night before), and resisting the urge to use our iPhones, I kept thinking that there should be more simple, quiet times like this in our existence.

And then the sun set—aglow in pink, per usual—the stars came out, and it went from a lovely experience to a purely mystical, maybe even religious one. Even on safari in Africa I haven’t seen as many thick clumps of stars and swirling galaxies illuminating an inky black sky. With not a light illuminated for miles—the pecalang made sure of that, even shining a flashlight in our window accusingly when I accidentally opened my phone—it felt like just us and those celestial beings. We sat silent and still, and the demons passed right by us in the darkness.

This article originally appeared online on March 14, 2018; it was updated on March 7, 2019, to include current information.

>>Next: The Weirdest Superstitions From Around the World

Kathryn Romeyn is a Bali-based journalist and devoted explorer of culture, nature and design, especially throughout Asia and Africa—always with her toddler in tow.
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