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Home » Religion

Cremation in Bali  

by on Friday, 8 September 2006One Comment | 3,091 views

Without delving into the in-depth intricacies of the Hindu faith, the Balinese believe in reincarnation and upon death the body is merely a vessel for the soul whereby a series of complex rituals must be performed to detach the two. A cremation ceremony is just part of the process to separate the soul from the body to reunite it with God Almighty. The progression of ceremonies and rituals leading up to a cremation involves a lot of preparation. The deceased’s extended family and members of the local community donate their time to make offerings and concentrate of the death rites.


Cremation in Bali along with all the accompanying rituals is a costly affair where families often put themselves in debt or sell a piece of land to finance the grand farewell of a loved one. Members of the lower caste system often fulfill their religious obligations to cremate a family member in a simple manner. However, the cremation rites for high caste citizens and descendants of Bali’s royal families are often extravagant occasions that cost millions in local currency.


Prior to any cremation ceremony a ritual body washing usually takes place several days beforehand. The corpse is laid out within the family compound; it is carefully washed and wrapped in fresh clothing in a respectful manner. Placed within a crude wooden box and covered in ornate fabric, the corpse is then laid to rest within a thatched pavilion and guarded closely day and night until the cremation date. In the duration everyone associated with the deceased comes to pay their final respects. Several smaller rituals take place in the final days leading up to the cremation, including collecting water from the junction of two rivers to be sanctified by a lay priest.


On the day of the cremation the corpse is placed within an elaborate tower constructed in tiers out of wood, bamboo and gold paper. After a series of sacred mantras and sprinkling of holy water the tower then makes its way to the graveyard carried in a procession by the traditionally dressed young men of the local community. The eldest son of the deceased or a close male relative rides on the top of the tower to safeguard the body. If the deceased is high caste then some villages also include a white or black bull sarcophagus in the procession that is later burnt together with the body.



All traffic comes to a stand still as a cremation procession, accompanied by the cymbals and gongs of traditional music, moves along the street. Upon reaching a crossroad the tower is rotated three times to deter any evil spirits that may attempt to obstruct the ceremony and hinder the deceased’s soul on its journey to the other world. Sometimes the power lines are even cut off to give the cremation tower a safe passage and prevent any dangerous incidences.


Once at the grave land the parade comes to a halt with a throng of well-wishers closely following behind. The casket is brought down from the cremation tower and placed either in the hollowed belly of the bull sarcophagus (in a high caste cremation) or simply atop a funereal pyre of bamboo trunks along with offerings and other tokens. After a series of prayers, everything is set alight with a powerful blast from an oversized blowtorch contraption. The flames quickly eat away at the timber structure and the body within. Family and friends form a circle around the fire and sit for several hours until all that remains are a few shards of bone and a pile of ashes.



According to the Balinese, the human body is made up from the elements of earth, fire, water, air and space. A series of meticulous rites must take place to return these five elements to the macrocosm and a cremation ceremony is the climax, but certainly not the conclusion of Hindu death rites in Bali.

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