BALI CULTURE INFORMATION

 

 
 
The Island Of Bali, Indonesia

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DEATH AND CREMATION

Between incarnations, until the time comes , for its return to this earth, the soul goes to Indra's heaven, the swarga, a reservoir where " life is just as in Bali, but devoid of all trouble and illness." But this process does not go on forever; when the individual has attained the highest wisdom and has reached the highest position among men, that of a Brahmana who has been ordained as a priest, he hopes to obtain liberation from this cycle of births and become a god. The man of low caste attributes his state to former misconduct, redeemable in future lives only through a virtuous existence, which entitles him to be reborn into a higher and higher caste.

A man's life on this earth is but an incident in the long process of the soul's evolution. The grand send-off of the soul into heaven, in the form of a rich and complete cremation, is the life-ambition of every Balinese. He looks forward to it, often making provision during life with savings or property that can be pawned or sold to finance his cremation.

The greatest happiness that comes to a Balinese family is to have, in this way, accomplished the liberation of the souls of their dead, but complete cremation ceremonies are so costly that a family of limited means have to wait often for years, haunted by the fact that their dead are not yet cremated, and are sometimes obliged to sacrifice their crops and their lands in order to pay for the ceremonies.

The expenses of a cremation are enormous; besides the priest's fees, the great amounts of holy water used, and the costly towers, coffins, offerings, and so forth, there is the food and entertainment provided for days for the hundreds of guests and assistants that help in the ceremonies.

A rich cremation adds greatly to the prestige of a well-to-do family, giving occasion for gay, extravagant festivities that are eagerly anticipated despite the financial burden they represent A good average for a great cremation is seldom less than a thousand ringgits or about two million kepengs (a ringgit is worth about one gold dollar in normal exchange) , but there have been cremations of princes that cost as much as fifty thousand guilders (at the time of writing, about twenty-five thousand dollars).

The cremation of the mother of Naseh, a former servant of ours, was the poorest we ever witnessed. She was burned three days after her death with only the most essential rites, but even then the costs amounted to more than the fifty guilders that Naseh had succeeded in borrowing. A unique and rather improvised cremation of a nobleman of Pemetjutan cost only three hundred and fifty guilders because the body had to be burned on the same day the death occurred and I was told by the relatives that had the corpse been kept for the reglementary fortytwo days, the cremation would have cost over two thousand guilders.

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