100 million for the symbolisation of the body – Balinese cremation ceremonies

Justify FullOn one of our first days on Bali we were spotting the sunset and suddenly found ourselves in a cemetery. I took a look at the modest tomb stones and was thinking how weird it was. I had heard before that on Bali the dead are burnt and the ashes are thrown into the sea – who are the people under ground? Some Muslims? Not very likely somebody else but a native Balinese would decorate his grandfather’s grave with a swastika.

When we were later visiting the greatest and oldest temple on Bali (Mother Temple, two photos above) there was a post cremation ceremony being held. This meant that the ashes had already been thrown into the sea and the relatives had come to the temple for the holy water. This is sprayed on them for purification after all possible sacrifices to the gods have been done. Then I heard that the burning ritual cannot be carried out right after death, it’s usual to wait for about five years. That’s what the cemeteries are for.
The purification ceremony that follows the cremation ceremony, Mother Temple

The reasons for the years long wait are mainly financial – namely, a cremation veremony costs at least 50-100 million rupees (about 5000-10 000 euros!). From where should a poor Balianese get money like that?!

Sure. That’s why the cremation ceremonies are often carried out collectively – they wait for years to have more dead people in the village and the needed 3-4 millions per a dead person is found, somehow. What is more, death is a serious business here and of course a decent person prepares for it. Just like they talk about collecting coffin money in our culture, here they collect for the cremation ceremony.

But what happens if you still don’t have the money? If the body is already buried why should it be dealt with years after, and for such an amount of money? The reason is that otherwise the soul doesn’t become free and a Balinese cannot regenerate, he’ll stay stuck somewhere between being and not being.
In my head there are pictures of grumpy Balinese with shovels and spades who’ve gathered the money needed and now have to start working on the grandfather’s grave to get the necessary bones from under the ground.

But I’m mistaking. It appears the thing is a lot more metaphysical.

They really don’t burn the dead body. Instead they light the body’s symbolisation – be it a bunch of chosen coconuts or a twig. This is what is built at the glorious ceremony which begins from the home of the dead person and with a procession they move to the carnation place where the symbolisation is put into a special dragon headed bed, which then is piled with copious donations and the sounds of the gamelan orchestra. Finally everything is lit. And once again ash falls from the sky.

The next big ceremony takes them to the sea where the ash is solemnly thrown into the waves. And last but not least, they go back to the temple to carry out an even bigger ceremony to give even more sacrifices to the gods and to get some rice grains on your forehead and your nape wet with holy water.

So, 100 million rupees for the symbolisation of the body.
At least the grandfather’s soul is free now.

The “body” of the dead is put into a dragon headed bed. Cremation ceremony in the area of Bayun lake. 
No doubt the dead is rich – this ceremony was held only for the mister in the picture. 
Sacrifices – to insure good next life. 
In minutes the whole beauty of the game is in flames.