Slow-travel Log: Balinese Cremation Ceremony

We had no idea what to expect when we accepted Ketut’s (the owner of Air Sanih Homestay) invitation to join them in a ceremony. Initially, we were filled with joy and excitement, but that lasted only until we were told that it was a cremation ceremony of his eldest brother. Little did we know, we were headed towards one big unforgettable experience.

It all started by gathering of the family, friends and people from the village inside of the temple. We were watching in amazement as people were pouring in. Graceful women, dressed in colorful traditional Balinese clothes, were carrying large bowls on their heads – offerings for the deceased man. Men in sarongs and udengs (Balinese hats worn by the male population) were chatting while smoking and drinking strong coffee. After an hour or so, four men dressed in traditional costumes started to tell a story through their dance, of which meaning is a complete mystery to us (due to the lack of our knowledge in the field of Balinese religion and mythology).

As soon as the dance was over, all the people started moving towards the street and forming a huge cortege. It was led by elementary school students carrying signs and paper wreaths. Right behind them were women with bowls of fruit and other offerings on their heads. In the middle of it all was the funeral tower (Bade) with the body carried by at least 20 men. In front of it was the closest family under a long piece of white fabric and behind it was the rest of the people, including us. The cortege was moving towards the ocean to the beat of rhythmical and very loud music.

Once we reached the destination and solved the problem with fitting the funeral tower under the power lines, the body was taken down and circled around the cremation statue of a bull. The corpse was then put into the “casket” inside the statue and the priest performed a ceremony. When the family had a chance to say goodbye and put the offerings inside the casket, the cremation crew took over. The guys hooked up huge blowtorches to two gas tanks and lit the fire under the bull which burnt the corpse to ashes in a few hours (we weren’t there to witness the end because after an hour in a shining sun and listening to our kids whining about how boring it is, it was clear we had to leave).

As citizens of Europe, we perceive death and funeral as something unpleasant, dark and sad. We don’t really talk about it that much. Here, death is celebrated as a beginning of another life. It doesn’t mean that the closest family doesn’t mourn (they were heartbroken especially during the cremation process). Still, in contrast to what we know, funeral ceremony is filled with radiant colors, hundreds of honest smiles, joy, upbeat atmosphere and great music that gave us goosebumps.

We are so grateful and thankful to be able to attend such an event. Today will definitely have a big impact on how we’ll remember this island in the Indian Ocean.

More pictures are available on our Facebook page.

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