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Balinese Cremation

October 11, 2010 —

I had the good fortune to be in Ubud during a day when the Hindu holy men read that it was a "good day." Why? Well, on the days deemed good and holy, people can be cremated with Bali Hindu ceremony. And luckily, there were some dead people that needed burnin'.

To the Hindu of Bali (and probably other Hindu, I'm just ignorant of them), the body is a shell for the soul and upon death, must be cremated in an elaborate ceremony befitting the ancestral spirit. The whole community can get involved depending on the significance of the person creating a spectacular event where hundreds or thousands of people are involved.

Funeral Procession Funeral Procession

The body of the deceased is kept in the home until it is to be cremated, on a day that the holy men read is to be holy. Then, the body is carried in a tall, intricately detailed, golden multi-tiered pyre made of bamboo and covered in paper, tinsel, silk, cloth, mirrors and flowers. The pyre is carried by a ton of men (I'd guess at least a hundred in the example I saw) on a bamboo structure to the cemetery in a procession.

Firetruck at the Funeral Procession Firetruck at the Funeral Procession

Apparently, the procession to the cemetery is designed to confuse the corpse so it cannot find it's way back home. This confusion is done by the men shaking the tower, running it in circles, simulating wars with it, hurling water at it, yelling at it and generally rough handling it. And all the while there is a high priest clinging onto the side of the tower trying throw holy water on bystanders. Then, behind the pyre and it's group of carriers is a band making all kinds of noise with cymbals, gongs and singing. The whole thing is quite a spectacle.

On Top of the Bull On Top of the Bull

Once the tower reaches the cremation site, in this case at the cemetery inside the Sacred Monkey Forest, the body is moved from the pyre to a giant funeral sarcophagus that was carried by another group of men just in front of the pyre down to cemetery also being confused in the same manner as the. After the body is put into the sarcophagus, the thing is stuffed with all kinds of belongings and other things before everything is set on fire. The type of sarcophagus reflects the status of the person getting cremated, with a black bull being the highest status. Then the size of the tower and sarcophagus further reflect the status and wealth of the body.

Decoration Decoration

On Sunday the 3rd of October, there were two people who were to be cremated. I sat and waited for them to arrive at the Sacred Monkey Forest, where I watched them get run on down behind a fire truck spraying water on the group the whole way down the road. Also, the people getting cremated were important people, so their sarcophagi were giant black bulls, one of which was probably 20 feet tall. When the men got to the forest though, the bamboo structures supporting the bulls and towers were too wide to enter, so another group of men had towhip out their hand saws and cut off a bunch of length from either side of the platform.

Putting the Body in the Cow Putting the Body in the Cow

Once inside the cemetery, they place the bulls each under a big tent-like bamboo structure, and place the pyres behind them. They backs of the bulls were cut open along pre-arranged lines, and then I got to watch as the bodies were transferred. Once the bodies were transferred, some priests stuff belongings and other things into the bulls before they light them all on fire.

Up in Flames Up in Flames

At the end it was really unique that I got to witness this, especially since it doesn't happen particularly often and the timing of the visit has to be right. Also, it was very weird, and a little unsettling, to watch two bodies get moved into the bulls and then lit on fire, right in front of me. Granted, I want to be cremated too, but I'm not expecting anybody to be watching.

For anybody who is going to be in Ubud near the end of October, there is supposedly a person of royalty that is getting cremated. It is supposed to draw people from all over Bali to see it. If you are in the area, you have to go and see it.