Ngaben ~ Balinese Cremation Ceremony
Ngaben, or Cremation Ceremony, is the ritual performed in Bali, by the Hindi community, to send the deceased to the next life. The day of the ceremony is chosen by the spiritual guru’s of the area when the barrier between the worlds is the thinnest. The ceremony I saw was a little over 4 months since the passing of the deceased.
On August 18th, 2011 I got to witness the Ngaben of Anak Agung Niang Rai. She was the third wife of the king of Ubud, Tjokorda Gde Agung Sukawati. She was also the mother of the recent Gianyar regent, Tjokorda Oka Artha Ardana Sukawati.
The ceremony started at 1pm after much standing around and fighting the crowd for a good vantage point. The giant cremation tower, bade, which measured 24 meters and weighed around 10 tons was hand-made and was so beautifully detailed. The bade along with the giant black cow, lembu, which was 7.5 meters tall that holds the body at the time of the actually burning were carried by hand down the streets of Ubud. The distance traveled by these two structures was around 900 meters. It took seven groups of about 300 men to carry the two structures. The streets were packed with people. It actually felt a little dangerous to be close to the moving structures as the crowds were right up against the massive objects.
There was a huge procession of musicians, shamans, women carrying offerings along the streets. The music and the procession is meant to confuse the spirits. They also shake, rotate and throw water at the bade all in attempts to confuse the spirits.
After a ceremony by the high priests of the area and the offerings of the gifts once the bade and lembu arrive at the cremation sight, the body of the empresses was placed into the lembu. Than the whole thing was set afire. The fire is meant to free the spirit from the body to allow reincarnation. After the burning the ashes are taken by the royal family and spread in the ocean.
The spectacle teetered between fantastical and morbid. The colors and details of the hand-made giant structures was exquisite. The mass of people celebrating astounding yet claustrophobic. The burning holy yet twisted. As you sat there inhaling the smoke you help but realize that that was a dead body you were breathing in. It like nothing I have seen before!