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Cremation Rituals on Bali

While traveling around on Bali, you might stumble into a funeral cremation, which for the most part, is not a typical sad occasion. It is one of those all-important Balinese transition rites, carrying every child, man and women on the island from one life cycle into another one. The transformation into a next life, a prospect that all Balinese face if the rites are observed and pursued in the right manner, is perhaps the most important of them all. As one might expect, this comes with elaborate, lengthy and complex ceremonies, during which the body of the deceased has to be returned to the five elements of solid, energy, liquid, radiance and ether. The magnificent objects and the spectacular burning itself, make this ceremony one of the most picturesque manifestations of religion on the island.

This is what happens when a Balinese passes away: If the family of the deceased person can afford it, elaborate preparations will be initiated. The whole family and the banjar or local community, will assist in setting up temporary shelters for shrines, preparation of offerings, the acquisition of holy water, the ritual slaughter of animals, the organization of puppet shows and sacred dances under the entrancing tones of a gamelan orchestra, the construction of a sarcophagus, built from a solid trunk and shaped according the caste of the deceased, and cremation towers…

And all these splendid objects covered with paper, cloth, mirrors , tassels and tinsel, are to be used only once, when the body is transferred from the house to the cremation ground next to a village temple. This must be done in a frenzied procession, with joyful shouts and accompanied by the wild sounds of a portable gamelan set. The strongest men of the village will carry the heavy towers, shrines and sarcophagus on makeshift bamboo beds, while twirling them around on every corner. The soul of the deceased has to be confused, so that it cannot find its way back home and thus cause mischief for the family. Finally, the body, now an empty shell, is given back to the five elements in a purifying and all-consuming fire…

All these ceremonies can take days. Those who cannot afford the considerable expenses, will bury their loved ones first. In a later stage, sometimes many years after death, a village will stage communal ceremonies, so that the enormous costs can be shared by many families. Those type of rites however, are equally splendid. One should not forget that no matter what or when, all Balinese should undergo them before a soul can be reborn or definitely salvaged…






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