Burning Bodies in Bali

1998 > Indonesia

There are no cemeteries in Bali, everyone is cremated

The Balinese are a Hindu people, though they do not
practice Indian Hinduism. Maybe a thousand years ago they did, but
the mixture of animism and Hinduism evolving in the isolation that
a Hindu island feels in a Muslim country, puts a intricate spin on the
original belief. One of the practices that survived, albeit with a
Balinese twist, is the cremation ceremony.

The tower containing the bodyTo
be Hindu, is to believe in reincarnation, or the ‘recycling’
of the soul through many life forms and life times. All living
things have a ranking in a hierarchy of purity, with the bull just below
humans. After humans, if your really good, is the convergence of
your soul with the eternal life force, their version of heaven.

Now the soul, when it is in a human body, needs to be released after
death, so it may continue the journey to the next life. The
Hindu’s release the soul through cremation, and in Bali, it is an
amazing, joyful event. It is considered a joyful event because the
soul is released from the pain of this life, and is in transition
to better existence. Tourists are allowed, and to a small degree,
encouraged to attend. Our noise and confusion adds to the
commotion the Balinese try to create so the soul cannot find its way
back to the house it lived in.

This is the tower, quite ornate. Note the spinning action
and the body shrouded in white.

After someone dies. there is a private ceremony in the person’s home,
to clean the body ad the house of evil. Then the body is lifted
onto a colorful tower where it is draped in a white sheet. The
tower, supported on the backs of many men, is carried from the house to
a field. Along the way, there is music, chanting, and the tower is spun
and twisted to confuse the soul as to its whereabouts.

Burn, Baby, BurnOnce
the tower reaches the field, it is lowered and the body transferred to a
wooden bull. The bull is the carrier of the body through the
actual cremation process. After the body is placed in the bull
with the appropriate ceremony, the bull and the body are set on fire.
A dove is released from a cage, then the cage added to the fire,
to symbolize the release of the soul from the body.

The bull and the body aflame. See the bird
cage in the near corner?

Now the body, bull, and tower are burned to ashes, which are
transported by hand to a river or the ocean. Thus the cycle of
life is complete for the Balinese.

2 Comments on “Burning Bodies in Bali

  1. RE: To reincarnation.

    What if you found out in your past life you were once a cockroach.

    Bugs are a world within a world. Infact people don’t live in a real world but the one we created because of the way we evolved. We can’t see microscopic life for example, they are amongst us, but we can’t see them.

    What if we all evolved with the vision of a microscope, and the memory of an ant with is nil. What a world would if be to us. A snake has been on this planet before people, can’t hear, totally different from us. Changes one’s perseption.

    Besides we all evolved from the ape anyway, people have inherited the body language apes use.

    That T.V. Man The Human Animal, by Desmond Morris, looking at man from an animal point of view our body language is universal. Very enlightning, opens up your mind alittle the way we see ourselves.

  2. What if you found out that in your past life you were a king? What if you were a mass murderer like Pol Pot? You can stop by your local medicine man in Bali to find out who you were. (And really, it doesn’t matter, because you don’t carry the memory of the past lives. It is the soul that carries the burden).

    The Balinese believe that you are doing the journey in life now in order to perfect your existence and to reach an end of this reincarnation cycle. Not to reach heaven (and god forbid, nor hell). Your ritual can be realized in daily activity, such as refraining from shooting your fellow humans, not blowing up tourits and locals like the last time in Kuta in ’01, helping others, or creating beautiful art pieces as a form of personal service and sacrifice.

    The Balinese have found that spirituality goes beyond going to some public place and pray once a week or daily. I believe that’s why you may find the Balinese people are especially friendly and peace-loving. (However, you do run into bad apples. The same applies in Bali too.)

    All these are done to enable our soul to return to God and break away from the cycle. Instead of this cycle of life, death, heaven, or hell, that’s what Balinese aim for. And Wayan, maybe there’s something you can link yourself with your birthplace and take it along with you wherever you go. I hope the good spirits that surround you when you were born are accompanying you wherever you go. Perhaps our paths will cross each other someday.

    So, God speed and buenas suerte in your next journeys!!