We were fortunate to witness a cremation ceremony while we were in Ubud. Rather, I should say “part of a cremation” as the ceremony itself is spread over a period of time. Balinese believe that the body is returned to the five elements after death, merely a carrier for the soul. Cremation ideally would happen immediately, but it’s too costly for most families to hold the elaborate event on their own, so cremations are joined to share expenses.
The body is purified and buried until cremation can take place, often for years, and then brought home to be prepared for the ceremony. We saw the remains being brought to the cremation site in a loud procession, wherein they (now placed within a sparkling tower) were spun around to confuse the soul. Much attention was given to the sarcophagi (large bulls and other animals) by members of the family and community, before it is closed and set ablaze.
The whole affair is very celebratory. In fact, grief doesn’t have a place there as, it was explained, the soul may not want to leave.
At first we were hesitant about watching and taking photos, not wanting to intrude or risk trivializing the activity. But we were assured that while this is an authentic religious event, visitors are warmly welcomed. Honestly it was one of the most spectacular things I’ve seen. I’m so glad that we went.
The event was so celebratory, in fact, that there were vendors selling items like sparkly toys and cotton candy to children—the sorts of items we are accustomed to seeing at sporting events in the U.S.
It’s unfortunate that I can’t share the sounds of the day. It was quite loud and stirring; there was even a sort of “battle of the bands” between Gamelan ensembles from different families and communities.
But while the cremation was certainly the largest of the ceremonies we witnessed, religious ceremony was happening around us at any given moment. It was not uncommon to pass a procession on the roadside.
One of the other large events we had a glimpse of was a temple Odalan (anniversary celebration) in our base village of Lodtunduh, just beside Harvest Moon. The entire village was in attendance and we enjoyed seeing everyone in their temple attire.
We did our best to tie our sarongs properly and dress in a way that showed respect, but this gregarious fellow with the large tattoo teased us quite a bit about our poor sarong skills.
Though I am in no way endorsing the practice, I found the gathering of men for the cockfight (Tajen) which is staged at these celebrations to appease demons requiring blood, fascinating. For the most part, they seemed to be waiting.
I didn’t dare look too closely, and we moved just beyond to the rice paddies soon enough, where boys were running with kites and where we found a footpath back to our home.
Next up: Excursions around Ubud.