Information before you go
The Ngaben is the last and most important ceremony of every Balinese life. It's the Balinese word for the cremation of the dead, in which the soul is released entirely from the body to ascend to heaven and to be reincarnated.
The cremation is a big happening in Bali, especially a royal cremation such as in Ubud last July 2008.
But before a cremation can actually take place, there are many complicated rituals, ceremonies and preparations before and after the cremation.
The three major events which take place before the soul of the deceased is fully released are:
Funeral: here the prethiwi (solids) are
placed into the earth by burial
Cremation: the teja (radiance) is released by
burning with fire
purification of the soul: the apah (liquids) is dispersed by throwing the ashes into the water
Before the influence of the Majapahit, which spread the Hindu religion throughout Bali, the Balinese guided the soul of the deceased in a more simple way. The deceased was taken into the forest where the high humidity and the animals would break the body down quickly. Through this way the soul would be released from the body.
Today this burial method only takes place in the Bali Aga villages, such as Tenganan and Trunyan who have never been influenced by the Majapahit before.
In Bali a funeral takes place shortly after a person dies, unlike the Hindu in India where the deceased is cremated immediately.
The deceased is buried at the Pura Dalem, the temple complex facing the sea. The Pura Dalem is also often referred to as 'the temple of the dead'.
The length of the period between the funeral and the Ngaben depends entirely on the financial position of the family, sometimes it even takes years. Only the rich are cremated shortly after they have passed away and once a auspicious day has been determined.
Priests, who always belong to the highest caste, are never buried. They are kept in their own house until the family has gathered sufficient money for the ngaben.
The pura dalem in Monkey Forest Ubud
Before the funeral the body of the deceased is purified according to several ceremonies and then buried. The family can place daily food offerings on a small shrine that is built next to the grave.
At the head and the feet of the grave, the Balinese always place small coconut-leaves. This enables the demon of the deceased to find its way back after wandering at night. If there are no leaves at the grave, then the demon will wander for ever which the Balinese believe will have a negative impact on the village and family.
The whole period before the actual Ngaben is considered as a very sad time as the Balinese believe that during this period the soul is not able the reach heaven yet.
Only when there is enough funding, all the preparations have been made and the appropriate date has been determined by the priests, will the soul of the deceased be released through the Ngaben.
Every Balinese family has the responsibility to ensure that a proper cremation takes place if a family member dies. If this does not happen this will have severe consequences for the deceased and his/her family. Families who can't afford a cremation often await the Ngaben of a important or royal person.
The preparations for these people are always the best one can have, as the best priest is called upon, the holiest water is used and the most appropriate date is chosen for the cremation.
The ceremonies before a mass cremation in Ubud
With everything perfectly planned and set for the big cremation ceremony, other bodies will be cremated too so they can profit from the ideal setting in which the cremation will take place.
The families of the deceased will then know for sure that the soul will be guided to heaven under the best circumstances. It is not uncommon to have a mass cremation of 100 people on the same day as the ultimate royal cremation when money does not play an issue...
Unlike the funeral, the Ngaben is a joyful occasion as the soul of the deceased is now ready to continue its journey to heaven followed by reincarnation.
Before it takes place, numerous preparations need to be organized. The body will be taken out of its temporary grave at the Pura Dalem and carried to its former house three days before the cremation. During the whole process complicated rituals follow a specific order.
The offerings are carried to the pura dalem
A day before the cremation one final ceremony is held at the Pura Dalem. This is when everybody is beautifully dressed in traditional Balinese clothing and when the colorful offerings are carried to the temple.
On the actual day the body is transported to the Pura Dalem in a funeral tower. The tower is made out of wood and bamboo. The village carpenter and carvers create an amazing structure full with bright decorations. The funeral tower can be a couple to 10 meters high.
In the past it was common to see really high towers, however today this is hardly possible since there are to many telephone and electricity cables hanging over the streets...
The body of the deceased is transported in this tower
The tower consists of three levels, of which the platform is the highest. Here the body of the deceased is placed while the priests stands next to it and escorts it to the Pura Dalem.
The base of the tower is built on bamboo poles which is then placed on the shoulders of a group of men who will carry the tower to the temple.
In order to ensure that the soul of the deceased doesn't find his/her way back home the men confuse it by twisting, twirling and making full circles with the tower.
All the men in the village are delighted to take part in this unorganized spectacle. As an spectator you are just surprised that the tower is still standing in the end...
In front of the procession another group of men are carrying the sarcophagus, often in the form of a black bull. It is a impressive structure and the decorations are often very grand as a lot of gold is used in the decorations.
The bull in which the body will be placed just before the cremation
The sarcophagus always arrives first at the temple, and waits here for the funeral tower to arrive. There is a opening on the back of the bull in which the body will be placed. The final rituals are conducted by the priest who sprinkles holy water on the bull and offerings are placed.
Then the sarcophagus is set on fire in order to purify the deceased. In the past the widow would be cremated together with her deceased husband as it was her duty to assist him in finding the right way.
But fortunately, when the Dutch ruled over Bali they forbade these practices...
Once everything is burnt to ashes, is the soul able to leave this world
The initial purification of the deceased is a fact only when the whole sarcophagus is turned into ashes. The white ashes of the bones are separated from the others and then places with flowers into yellow and white cloth.
Only then is the soul of the deceased ready for the final ceremony, in which the soul of deceased is awaken by the priest one final time.
The final ceremony is usually 12 days after the cremation. But because it is another expensive happening, it can take longer before this ceremony actually takes place.
During this ceremony the remaining ashes that was placed in white and yellow cloth is transported on a beautiful construction to the sea.
If the sea is too far, then the ashes will be taken to a river which will eventually carry it to sea.
The ashes will be placed at sea so the soul is fully released
During the Ngaben the soul of the deceased has been purified by fire and resides in heaven where life is just as in Bali but without diseases and problems.
However, during the last ceremony in which the ashes are placed in the water the soul is released to a higher level. From here the soul can follow the final stage of reincarnation.
The Balinese people believe that the soul will return back as a reincarnation of a new family member, such as the first baby born after this final ritual.
Palabon is another word for Ngaben, however this cremation is for the higher caste only. On the 15th of July 2008 the biggest Palabon since 3 decades had taken place in Ubud. It was a great happening, of which preparations had begun months before.
A total of 250.000 people gathered in Ubud to see this huge spectacle and there was a big media attention from all over the world.
The streets of Ubud was full with colorfully dressed people waiting for the procession to pass.
A large crowd filled the streets of Ubud...
During this cremation the souls of two royal elders from Ubud were released: Tjokorda Gede Agung Suyasa and Tjokorda Gede Raka
Parallel to the royal cremation, there was a mass cremation of another 68 people who where members of the community around Ubud and had died in the last 4 years.
Here are a couple of pictures of the events before and during the cremation.
For more than three months the best carpenters of Ubud have been building two towers (bade) for the royal cremation. Vast amount of preparations took place in front of the royal palace in Ubud in order to have everything finished on time.
Everybody helps out to make sure the tower is ready on time
The height is not only impressive, but with its decorations too
The body of the royal Tjokorda Gede Agung Suyasa was placed in this tower and transported to the Pura Dalem in Ubud.
It was so unbelievably high and wide that the electricity cables had to be taken down and trees had to be cut so the tower could reach its final destination.
It was approximately 20m high, one of the highest ever built...
The priest and the body is transported in the tower to the temple
The crowd watched with full amazement at the moving tower. If you take a closer look, you will see the priest in white who is in the tower together with the body.
On the base of the tower a large group of men are carrying the heavy structure on their shoulders.
About 7000 men were involved in carrying the two royal towers, two bulls and the dragon...
The impressive bull (lembu) decorated with golden ornaments was at the temple just before the arrival of the tower.
The body was carried from the tower and placed into the bull, in which it was cremated.
The body is placed in the bull at the Pura Dalem
The dragon (naga banda) is rarely seen in a cremation, even one of royalty. However it was used during the cremation because of the important role of the deceased Tjokorda Gede Agung Suyasa in the Ubud and palace community.
Once everything was in place and the high priest (penanda) made the final blessings before the souls of the two deceased could be released. Then the two bulls were set on fire.
In the past they would use wood to feed the fire, however today modern technology has made the process quicker.
Nevertheless, the fire was still burning till late at night...
The soul of the deceased are released
It was an unforgettable experience and the sense of excitement and joy pictured the day. We felt lucky that we were able to see such a great happening, that even made the newspapers throughout the world...
Not surprisingly considering the impressive and unique event.
The religion on Bali is an influence of various religions, resulting in beautiful yet quite complex number of festivals and ceremonies conducted at regular basis.Read more
This village level organization ensures that all the religious ceremonies and festivals are planned and conducted. Member- ship is mandatory.Read more
Since the Balinese use an other calendar, celebrate each life stage and temples have their own ceremony, you can imagine that there is always something going on.Read more
Now and then people send us inspiring emails and this generates even more enthusiasm to share all of the things we know about this lovely island in the hope that you can plan your tropical holiday properly and have as such a great time as we always have. Hope to see you there!
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