Photos from the Shoebox: Cremation in Bali 1993
If you had a 35mm camera you probably have a shoebox full of pictures that you never got around to sorting and putting in an album. In this series “Photos from the Shoebox” I take them out of the closest and shine light on them once more.
When I think of Bali, I will always remember the colorful rituals, the ever smiling Balinese people and the feeling of peace and spirituality that I found in a little village called Ubud. There, I stayed in a small losmen run by a family of artists. The youngest of the sons, Made, would often come and sit with me on the concrete stoop in front of my room to talk about Balinese life. He explained to me about the Hindu religion, the 5 philosophies and the ritual of cremation.
Sometimes the dead aren’t cremated right away. A priest is always consulted to find out which days are good. If a family has no money to conduct the ceremony the body is buried until the money is raised even if it takes 20 years.
I was lucky enough to witness a cremation in a village not far from Ubud. Foreigners are always welcome to attend. I found it amusing the villagers went around selling cold drinks and souvenirs as if it were a sporting event.
There were four towers and four animals in the ceremony. Offerings were made by the women. Then the cows were set on fire followed by the towers. I was told it can take 4 hours for a body to burn to ashes.
The towers are built by the villagers. When the ceremony starts the men hoist the towers on their shoulders, shout and shake the platforms. This ensures the spirit becomes disoriented and doesn’t come back to the body. The bodies are then taken from the top of the towers and placed inside the cows to be set on fire.
After a good deal of burning there is smoke and ashes everywhere and always the smiling Balinese in their sarongs, temple scarves and black shirts. This is not an occasion for sadness.
Finally the ashes are removed for the next step in the ceremony. I notice some of the ashes are placed in a cup and a sort of altar is made on the fire platform. Again more offerings are made.
After a few days I visited Goa Lawah, a temple with thousands of bats beside the beach. Another ceremony was taking place. It was the final step of the cremation when the ashes are taken to the sea to be scattered. The whole process is intended to cleanse the body for all the wrongs done in life.