Thursday, April 21, 2011

Balinese Ceremony

Yesterday I had the honor of being invited to a Balinese ceremony by my friend Anak Agung Gde Raka, my translator when I studied in Bali years ago. Here is a summary of the occasion, that lasted from early morning until evening.

The ceremony is at Raka's home and I am the only non-Balinese person present. Surprisingly, it is a cremation ceremony for his wife, who died four days before I arrived on Bali. We would never invite an outsider to one of our funerals, but Bali is the only Hindu island in Indonesia (the rest is Muslim, or older traditions) and believes in reincarnation. Unlike our Western funerals, these are lively occasions with complex rituals to send the deceased person on their way to the next life. Of course family and friends are sad, but there is no weeping, no overt mourning. A less final, more accepting view of death is observed.

Water is essential to every Balinese ceremony, with sacred water collected from specific temples, springs and lakes, then used often in the ceremonies for purification. In the photo below, a priest is blessing the family members with an arc of sacred water called tirtha.

Balinese priest uses sacred water at ceremony.

As a sign of respect, I wore traditional Balinese ceremonial garb for women, a blouse called a kebaya with a sash and sarong. Both the white kebaya and the yellow sash symbolize purification. The women gave me many compliments and approving smiles, so apparently I did it correctly.

Mara in Kebaya at ceremony
Mara & Wati

This high caste Brahman family is honored by taking their final journey in the sacred bull. During the procession, the tower that carries the body to the temple cremation ground is turned rapidly so the demons will not follow the deceased to their next life (or so I understand it). I ran ahead and captured this video of it.

The body is in the tower in a simple white box. It is transferred into the bull at the temple. Offerings from the family are also placed inside, with mantras from the priest.

Sacred water is thrown over the body one last time, the fire is lit (with gas these days, not wood) and the family watches the loved one released from earth into water, fire, air, and ether.

Burnt bone shards are ground and mixed with sacred water for the final stages of the ceremony, and a last water journey when the ashes are floated on a small decorated vessel out to sea. Born of water, returned to water.

(No fire and last water images here yet -- the Flip camera battery ran out and I had to use another video camera not as easy to upload here.)

1 comment:

  1. This is amazing, Mara. Makes me long for rich, communal rituals in my life. Thanks for sharing!


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