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Saturday, July 04, 2009

Bali: A Day At The Cremation

Funerals aren't my thing. I go to great lengths to avoid them. So when Made, the cook, invited me to come to her grandmother's cremation, I was a little hesitant. Last time I was in Bali people talked about how unique and fascinating the ceremonies are but I never did go. I felt though that one right in the household I probably shouldn't miss. And it turned out, it wasn't one in the household; it was two. Putu, the housekeeper, also had a grandfather being cremated at the same time. In fact, we drove to a small rural village a bit less than an hour from Ubud-- Pejeng, I think-- and we got there just as a mass cremation was beginning-- 15 people.

When someone dies, the body is temporarily buried until the family finds an auspicious date and the money for the cremation ceremony (something like 5 million rupiahs, $500 in our money, but quite a lot for an ordinary Balinese family). Chipping in with a bunch of other families in the village helps everyone handle the cost.

We got to the village crossroads-- the fount of all evil from the Balinese Hindu perspective-- just as the gigantic, colorful towers holding the bones of each of the deceased was manhandled noisily around in circles, "confusing" the evil spirits of the unclean corpse to prepare for the setting free of the soul from the material world. The towers were carried by dozens of men to the cemetery while hundreds of villagers followed along, merrily.

The whole scene is one of joy, not sorrow. The souls of the departed were being liberated so they could evolve to a hopefully higher state. At the cemetery, the bones are transfered into huge colorful sarcophagi-- bulls, lions, fish... depending on caste. Then hundreds of family members and friends march by, many chanting, carrying offerings, piled all around the sarcophagus. People are eating and drinking and socializing for hours while this goes on and suddenly the pyres start being set ablaze and the whole area turned into a conflagration, ashes flying everywhere.

I was happy to get home and jump in the pool. It's Saturday, 7pm now, getting towards my bedtime. Tomorrow night (well technically Monday morning) Michael and Helen get here around 4am. A few hours later Roland arrives from Bangkok. Once they all shake off whatever jet lag they have I expect my laconic idyll will have ended and we'll be going to temples and volcanoes and beaches and botanical gardens, villages off the beaten path, whitewater rafting, and plantations that grow vanilla beans and cinammon. I'm always up for anything that doesn't bring me within eyesight of a McDonald's or Burger King. The Lonely Planet Guide Bali & Lombok has been useful in helping me get oriented and figure stuff out. And, by the way, that's a photo Michael took of Made and Putu on the left.


VG said...

Thanks Howie- I always enjoy reading your travel reports- fascinating as ever.

novae said...

You beat me to the punch. I have plans to do an 'around the world' trip perhaps as early as this fall, and thought about making a blogspot location named the exact same thing. Well done and happy travels!