A few days ago, while driving to Padang Bay, we passed a cremation ceremony, also known as Ngaben. In Bali, a formal ceremony is held for just about everything, including funerals. We hopped out of the car and our Balinese friend explained the ceremony to us. When a death occurs, the entire village comes together. If the village is very small, neighbouring villages are asked to help in the ceremony. Funerals are extremely expensive, with families spending all of their life savings, some times, on the ceremony. Their belief is that the soul can only return to heaven, and reach Moksha by burning the body and returning its elements to the land. Moksha means release, emancipation, or freedom.
The family seeks advice from priests or specialists to know what is the best day to cremate their loved ones. Once the day is chosen, the body is transported. We did not witness the first part of the ceremony, but the latter, when the body was brought over to the cremation tower. There were hundreds of people. And at least 50 men carrying the altar, with the eldest son leading the way. The body is in a coffin, at the bottom of the tower. At the top are 1 or 2 male family members guarding the spirit. There is a white blanket covered in flowers and treated with the utmost care and gentleness. Here is where the spirit resides during the ceremony.The cremation is meant to restore the body back to the natural resources of the land.The ceremonial tower with the body is walked around the cremation tower three times and in a circle. The body is transported to the giant horse, placed inside and cremated within it, then the ashes are brought to the ocean to be washed away into eternal peace.
This isn’t a sad event for the Balinese Hindus, because the spirit will be reincarnated to reach their final resting place. There are children playing, friends chatting and smiling, family eating and spending time together.
My friend, Amalie, and I, felt very uncomfortable to intrude on such a private matter. Our friend, however, told us that it was completely ok. After seeing some of the family take photos and videos, I felt alright to do so too. It really was a beautiful, colorful, ceremony. We didn’t stay for the cremation and spreading of ashes, but I feel so fortunate to have witnessed just a glimpse of the the Balinese Hindu celebration of life and death.