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Attending a Balinese cremation ceremony is an unforgettable experience. If you have the opportunity to be present at a Balinese funeral ceremony, be sure to go. The spirit of a cremation in Bali will stay with you for quite some time.
A Balinese Cremation Ceremony|What to Expect
The flames leap skyward blazing a trail to the heavens.
The ferocious heat causes spectators to make a hasty retreat as the twelve oxen and lions flare, pop and eventually burn to a crisp.
I am in the midst of a Balinese cremation ceremony, a ngaben, the most important ceremony of every Balinese life.
with its Hindu traditions,
leaves lasting imprints
on one’s consciousness.
They take time to understand
cause an examination of one’s beliefs,
Standing amidst the blazing flames of this Balinese cremation ceremony at the Ubud temple, I am immersed in the most intimate ritual. After all, it is one of life’s eternal mysteries, this journey to the afterlife.
Balinese Cremation Ceremony, The Ngaben | Turning to Ash
In Bali at the time of death, there is a funeral. Months or often years later, the Balinese cremation ceremony occurs.
It is the family’s responsibility to ensure that a cremation ceremony is held. When the family can afford it and the priest dictates a suitable day based on the Balinese calendar, the Balinese cremation ceremony occurs. Most families will choose to have a group ngaben to share financial responsibilities.
To prepare for the Balinese death ritual, the ngaben, magnificent oxen (or other animals) are carved by skilled carpenters and elaborately covered in velvet and gold decorations. Yes, real gold. Hence the grand expense for this sacred ritual.
For a Bali cremation ceremony, the remains of the deceased are dug up and lovingly placed in the hollow oxen. Remains and offerings, sprinkled with holy water, fill these ornate sarcophagi to the brim. Families gather around their oxen as the priest performs a blessing.
For this particular Balinese cremation ceremony, when all twelve oxen are filled and blessed, the fires are lit.
A Balinese cremation ceremony is a celebration of the loved one’s soul passing from the human world to that of the spirit realm. And a celebration it is – hundreds of exquisitely dressed Balinese, tourists in sarongs, music playing, incense burning and an overwhelming sense of spirituality, ritual and community.
Once the first pyre is ablaze, all attention turns to the second Balinese cremation ceremony to be held this day, the Royal cremation.
Royal Cremation Ceremony,
The Pelebon | Turning to Ash
For royalty, a Royal cremation ceremony is held quite soon after death. This is an elaborate cremation ceremony that takes hundreds of people to organize.
The king’s mother had recently passed away. For this Royal cremation ceremony, everything has come to a standstill in Ubud. Crowds gather along the roads and at the temple to honour this remarkable life passage.
For the Royal cremation ceremony, a lone rider sits precariously atop an enormous bull as he is carried by hundreds of men through the streets. This hollow, gilded bull arrives at the Ubud temple and will graciously receive the Royal mother’s coffin.
Part of the Balinese death rituals for royalty, is a nine-layer tower called a bade, which carries the royal body from the palace to the cremation ground. It too is carried by a team of men.
Such is its height that the power lines are turned off and have to be raised to a higher level to ensure safe passage through the streets.
There are gamelans playing,
a dancing parade,
This Royal cremation ceremony
with a whisper of solemnity.
Through a great team effort, the bull and tower are lined up. The royal coffin is transferred into the bull and blessed.
The majestic bull will be burned later that evening. In the days that follow, the ashes will be gathered up and delivered to the sea. This, the last step in a Balinese cremation ceremony.
I leave the Ubud Temple knowing it has been a privilege to partake in the Balinese cremation ceremonies. Not fully understanding what I have witnessed, I know in my heart that these cremation ceremonies will be with me forever.
Faith and community are woven intricately with tradition and history. This is the essence of Bali and it leaves its mark.
“Don’t grieve. Anything you lose comes round in another form.”
More Travel Info…
The Bali cremation I attended was at Pura Dalem Puri, one of Ubud’s Temples on August 20, 2016.
Wherever you are in Bali, ask around to see if there is a Balinese cremation ceremony scheduled.
Cremations in villages may not be so elaborate as the one described above.
It is mandatory to wear a sarong and sash.
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