In Bali, New Year’s Day is celebrated in silence

While the rest of the world celebrated the coming of 2019 on the first of January, the people in Bali, Indonesia, waited patiently for their own new year to arrive. And arrive it did on March 7, when the lunar-based saka calendar transitioned into 1941.

New Year’s Eve

There was plenty of revelry on the previous night, of course, but new year festivities in Bali are not just a one-night affair. Far from being just another excuse to party, the Balinese greet the occasion with lots of reverence and a huge helping of tradition.

In villages throughout the island, preparations for the new year typically begin a few days earlier with melasti rituals to cleanse the world of bad karma. Long, solemn processions are a common sight at the main roads, as residents in native sarong and kebaya attire march to the local temples to pay their respects. These fervent displays of devotion continue on to the last day of the year with the tawur kesanga ceremony that is said to restore the balance between good and evil.

Only after religious commitments are met do the Balinese proceed to the partying stage. Evening sees the start of the famous ogoh-ogoh parades, where huge effigies of mythical creatures are carried around the main streets.

In the town of Ubud, local villages often contribute their own monster statues to form a massive partying parade that stretches several blocks. The revelry ends around midnight with the burning of the ogoh-ogohs at the local cemeteries — an act that symbolizes the cleansing of all negativity from the previous year.

Day of Silence

In contrast to the merrymaking on the eve of the new year, the day itself is the exact opposite. Balinese traditionally observe Nyepi, or “the Day of Silence”, on the first day of the new year. It’s a ritual that requires everyone — that’s everyone on the island, including non-Balinese — to spend the whole day indoors in quiet contemplation. Offices and businesses are closed (including the seaport and the airport), electric lights are kept off, and all sorts of loud noises are prohibited.  Non-locals might take this to be a boring anti-climax to last night — but really, it’s a refreshing and truly soulful start to the new year!

Written and Photographed

Lester Ledesma

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