Nyepi: The Annual Balinese Cleansing Ritual

Bali is the home of many of the most beautiful and meaningful ceremonies in the world. Where else does a spiritual holiday also mandate that the airport closes and all road traffic and commerce cease for an entire 24 hours!

Only in Bali and the holiday is called Nyepi. Nyepi is a 6 day long ceremonial ritual that begins with colorful processions of temple artifacts from each village to their nearest ocean. Men and women walk for 2-6 hours carrying loads upon their shoulders. Once they arrive at the ocean, the artifacts are cleansed in beautiful purification ceremonies. And, once completed, the entire village walks back home.

Photographs can barely capture the beauty of the parasols, banners, small effigies and music that accompany these processions. 

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On the 2nd day of Nyepi, the famous Ogoh-Ogoh parade takes place across the island. For weeks leading up to this day, each village creates an elaborate paper mache sculpture of something horrific; a tourist drinking Bintang beer, a character from the Mahaburata, a many-headed beast. 

Watch an Ogoh-ogoh competition. 

Inside the effigy, the villagers infuse anything bad – bad memories, horrible events, arguments, regrets, aggressions.

All evil from within the person and village is infused into the Ogoh-Ogoh. The incredible sculptures are then carried on mens’ shoulders via elaborate bamboo structures. The Ogoh-Ogoh’s are paraded through the streets while Gamelan music is played. The effigies are dramatically shaken and turned to invite more Evil Spirits from the village and the entire island of Bali to enter.
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Once full to the brim with evil, the enormous effigies are burned as temple Priests perform elaborate cleansing rituals to encourage the Evil Spirits to leave the island for good! 

We all tiptoe home as quiet as a mouse so as not to attract the newly released Evil Spirits. All lights are out! We sleep to wake to a full 24 hours of SILENCE. Yes, you heard me, no talking, to TV, no mobile phones, no use of computers or the oven. We don’t talk to each other or get in a car or on a bike. To be sure that we all obey, there are men in the village called Pecalang who’s important job it is to be sure that we each obey the rules and not attract Evil Spirits back to the villages.

Then, as night falls, we close all doors and curtains and all lights are again off. 

If a plane were to fly over Bali on this night, no lights would be visible.  

On day 4, Brata rituals are performed and everything returns to normal.

Day 5, Ngembak Geni, is the Day of Forgiveness. Each Balinese person asks for forgiveness and also grants forgiveness to cleanse any ‘darkness” held inside. All darkness is replaced by the light of forgiveness. Water blessings are a common aspect of this release!

No one can refuse to forgive or be forgiven. It is a communal duty to let bygones be bygones and start the year anew.

The last day of the holiday is Dharma Shanti when the priests “close” the loop and welcome in the new year where the Good Spirits are again blessed and in position!

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Stay tuned for the next blog post on forgiveness!

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