Temple in Kubutambahan

Warding Off The Evil Spirits

July 13, 1997


In Bali there are ceremonies for every stage of life, but the last ceremony is the biggest-cremation. My friend Kino, from the temple in Kubutambahan, invited me to attend a traditional ceremony. It has been three years since the last cremation in the village. The cremation ceremony was amazing, spectacular, colorful, noisy and an exciting event. A lot more than a body gets burnt at the cremation. The event last four days. The first day the body is removed from the ground. The second day is for worship. The third day is for the ceremonies and on the fourth day they return to the sea for final prayer and thoughts for the dead. I was attending on the third day of the event. The cremation ceremony was a fine opportunity to observe the incredible energy the Balinese put into creating works of art which are totally ephemeral. In the morning I was at a temple for worship to keep the evil spirits away. In the afternoon, the bodies are carried on a high multi-tiered tower made of bamboo, paper, string, tinsel, silk cloth, mirrors, flowers and other colorful items. The tower is carried on the shoulders of groups of men.

Along the way to the cremation ground, certain precautions must be taken to ensure that the deceased spirits do not find there way back home. To ensure this doesn't happen, the group continually shakes the tower and circles several landmarks three times. The trip to the cremation ground was an event all by itself. Meanwhile, halfway up the tower, hanging on as it sways back and forth, soaking bystanders with water, is a priest. Following in the gamelan (music) group in traditional dress, I could be found. The music is deafening and is played for hours without a pause. At the cremation ground the priest gives final prayer. Then the male and female remains are placed in separate beautiful decorated black cats. Then the cats are burned. I believe for different cast, other animals are used. This was a high cast funeral. Then the bamboo tower is burned to the ground. The eldest son does his duty by poking through the ashes to ensure that there are no bits of body left unburned. The priest has a final offering as the ceremony heads to the beach to release the spirits out to sea. On the fifth day, the party returns to worship from 5pm to 12am at the beach. The gamelan continues, the music non stop to ward off evil spirits. The day was full on culture and being accepted by the local village provide much interest between both parties. The ceremony was much more festive and enjoyable than in western society. The locals seems to have a healthier way of dealing with death.

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