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Home » People & Community

Memento Mori a la Balinese  

by on Tuesday, 5 June 2007No Comment | 2,628 views

Memento mori, a Latin phrase that may be freely translated as “Remember that you are mortal,” “Remember you will die,” or “Remember your death”. It names a genre of artistic creations that vary widely from one another, but which all share the same purpose, which is to remind people of their own mortality. Although Balinese culture has no such genre in their art, but the message of memento mori clearly interwoven in all kind of Balinese artistic products even further penetrates to the Balinese daily life.

Balinese philosophy borrows perfectly the gloomy Buddhist philosophy of life and inevitability of death. As Buddhist, Balinese believe all living things are suffering. Life is a suffering. We try so hard to stay alive, enrich ourselves but at the end, all will be swept away by death, an irony of life. As for inevitability of death, the basic principle of rwa bhineda explains everything. Life and death is one, one that is born will surely die. Balinese said that when they are born they bring four treasures: happiness, sadness, sickness, and death.

The message of memento mori is often found in Traditional Balinese literary products. The kanda (prose), geguritan (poetry with rhyme), kidung (hymn) and other literary products, though not much, contain a message of memento mori in them. It can be found in form of conversation between two characters on the inevitability of death, an advice from the author of geguritan, kanda or kidung, or beautifully interwoven in the lyric of the hymn.

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Relief on the wall of the temple sometimes also convey a message of memento mori. The scene of soul’s journey to the netherworld is a favorite topic of the stone carvers. The paintings of various punishments that await the wrongdoers in hell, which decorate the ceiling of Kertha Gosa, is a remainder for the king that though in this world he has great power, he just a mere human who will die and will be punished and rewarded according to his deeds.

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But only in the preparation of cremation ceremony, all Balinese can clearly understand the message of memento mori. A Balinese give his fullest attention, time, and power for the cremation ceremony of other Balinese since soon or later he or his family will hold a cremation ceremony for either himself or his family member. He knows that he and his own family will have to depend upon the help others when death comes to himself or his family.

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