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Balinese cremation ceremong

The Balinese ceremony of Ngaben: Turn to Ash

The beautiful Island of Bali in the Indonesian archipelago has a predominately Hindu population, whose belief system varies slightly from the Hindu doctrine in India. And from time to time they hold mass cremations.

The cremation ceremony know as Ngaben (which means ‘turn to ash’) is elaborate and expensive and if a family can’t afford a solitary cremation then they wait and carry it out in a joint ceremony with other families. This is the last and most important rite in the cycle of a Balinese Hindu life. According to this tradition cremation frees the spirit from the burning body so they may reincarnate.

There are distinct aspects of the ceremony, all with meanings and rituals.  After death the family members are placed in individual coffins. They are then typically buried in a temple facing the sea. The coffins are then exhumed three days before the cremation, the date of which is decided upon by the community.

The coffins are places within large Buffalo shaped sarcophagi made of paper and wood. These then make a procession.  The procession then zig-zags so as to confuse bad spirits and keep them away from the bodies.

Children carry a sarcophagus to the cremation site I where it cremated (see picture at the bottom). The ritual involves holy songs and offerings, and in this is considered to be a joyous occasion for mourners who are releasing their loved ones from the restrictions of worldly life. And outward display of tears may hinder the spirit’s passage. After the cremation the mourners collect the ashes / bones of the deceased and place them in white and yellow cloth with flowers

Finally once the initial purification by fire is complete, and the soul is ready for the third and final stage of ritual which is known as the final purification, this usually occurs 12 days after cremation. The ashes are taken to the sea or a nearby river so they may be purified by water in order for the spirit to return to heaven to begin the process of reincarnation once more.

You can’t deny it is quite an event!

hindu bali cremation

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