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"Strange as it seems, it is in their cremation ceremonies that the Balinese have their greatest fun. A cremation is an occasion for gaiety and not for mourning, since it represents the accomplishment of their most sacred duty: the ceremonial burning of the corpses of the dead to liberate their souls so that they can thus attain the higher worlds and be free for reincarnation into better beings" ...Miguel Covarrubias
Every 5 years, it's time for Cremations. ("Year" means the Bali year of 210 days, composed of 6 months of 5 weeks of 7 days. The calendar is strange!) People are buried temporarily until this time, but they must be cremated "as otherwise the path to reincarnation is cut off". It's possible to have a separate cremation without burial, without waiting, if your family is willing to pay the substantial cost.
The primary organization in Bali is the Banjar, which is like a parish - size about 300-600 people, with 3 temples. Banjars are organized into Desas , villages. The largest organization within Bali is the kingdom; the kings are no longer recognized, but the kingdoms still exist, and are part of the postal addresses. There's a cremation for each Desa. Each Banjar has 3 temples; the Desa uses one of them for community cremations. In our week in the Ubud area, we saw preparations for 5 different cremations, for as many as 93 people. Of these, the most impressive took place in the center of Ubud. It included a royal cremation, of a cousin (or a sister-in-law? - the Balinese that we asked weren't sure of the correct English) of the former King of the Ubud area.
A parade of gifts for the families of the deceased
During the week before cremation, the members of the Banjar bring gifts to the families of the deceased. In turn, the families feed everybody in the Banjar, and entertain them with a gamelan band. Here are pictures of the parade of the gift givers and their music:
Building a bull as a funeral pyre for the royal
Meanwhile, in the front yard of a house on Ubud's main street, they're building a bull, which will be the funeral pyre for the royal. It's built from bamboo, then covered by velvet and decorated with tinsel and spangles:
Carrying the bull and tower to the cremation site
After the street is washed, the bull and tower are picked up and carried to the cremation site. Holy water is spritzed on the carriers. The course is uneven, with much shaking, to shake off any evil spirits that may be hanging around. It's exciting, which is my excuse for the wobbly pictures.
Moving the body to the bull
The cremation fire
After more white cloth is layered, and wood is piled below, the bull is set on fire -
The next morning, the ashes are taken to the ocean.
Pictures by Sue Wright
There are many posts by visitors to Bali on the Bali Travel Forum, including one by Debe Campbell on "Farewell to a King"
Kurt Vlaminck has a site on Bali with 450 pictures, including a cremation at Dukunbuahan.