The silence of Bali

The island of Bali will turn to silence for 24 hours on March 4 when locals observe the four sobrieties of Nyepi, the Hindu Day of Silence.


Motorcyclists pass effigies known as Ogoh-Ogoh ahead of the Day of Silence in Denpasar, Bali, on March 24, 2020. (AFP/Sonny Tumbelaka)

March 3, 2022

JAKARTA – Tomorrow the whole island of Bali will turn to quietness for 24 hours when the local people observe the four sobrieties of Nyepi, the Hindu Day of Silence, namely amati gni (refraining from lighting any fire or turning on lights), amati karya (refraining from work), amati lelungan (refraining from traveling outside the house), and amati lelanguan (refraining from taking part in any leisure activity).

The holiday is the peak of the Saka lunar new year celebrations that include a series of noisy rituals.

Roads will be deserted, airports and seaports will stop operating and tourists are expected to arrive in Bali only before or after Nyepi, a national holiday in predominantly Muslim Indonesia.

While people stay at home in complete darkness, only pecalang (traditional security guards at the village level) are given the exception as they have to enforce the rules.

According to Hindu teachings, the day of silence is the time to contemplate the good and the bad deeds of a person, whether he/she has made enough dharma (sacrifices for the good of humanity) and whether the person has practiced the philosophy of life, the Tri Hita Karana. The teaching requires that all Balinese Hindus live in harmony with fellow beings, spiritual beliefs and nature.

The Nyepi moment always attracts domestic and international tourists to visit Bali, although they have to comply with the curbs and darkness. The Island of the Gods is a strong magnet for people from all over the world and has regularly won international plaudits as one of the most favorite tourist destinations.

So popular is Bali that many foreigners know the island a lot better than Indonesia, and sometimes think Bali is a separate country from Indonesia.

When terrorists bombed Bali in 2002 and 2005 and killed hundreds of foreign tourists and Indonesians, the world mourned. The bombers, identified as members of Jamaah Islamiyah group, thought their barbaric acts would destroy Bali and remove the island from the world’s map of tourism, but they were wrong. Bali was severely wounded and needed quite some time to fully recover, but the world’s love for the island has remained unchanged.

Many Indonesians may assume that the presence of western tourists, known for their fondness for wearing bikinis and their love of alcoholic drinks, is one of the evils that will damage the noble culture and deep-seated religious values of Bali. It turns out Balinese people have kept their religiosity and attachment to their culture and way of life intact despite the arrival of outside cultures, or globalization. Their local wisdom, in the forms of religious and cultural norms, has been well preserved as we can see during Nyepi.

It is sometimes tempting to ask whether Bali will remain as it is if Hinduism is not predominant in the province, which is home to more than 4.3 million people. Once there were efforts by some government officials to introduce halal tourism in Bali, only to stir raucous protests, forcing the officials to retract their statement. In fact, Bali has created its own market mechanism for halal food and drinks and other necessities in accordance with Islam.

Now trying to regain its feet from the impacts of the pandemic, Bali sets an example of maintaining harmony between local wisdom and cultures from the outside world. Happy Nyepi!

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