The Island Of Bali, Indonesia



A corpse that is to be kept mummified within the house and not buried before cremation remains in the pavilion destined for it (bale layon), where it is taken care of by female relatives (in old times by a family of slaves), who attend to the collection of the body liquids that flow from the coffin through a bamboo tube into a Chinese porcelain bowl, often a priceless piece of Sung celadon, a family heirloom, to be buried after a sprinkling of holy water.

In old times the slaves appointed to the gruesome task of caring for a noble corpse were regarded as already dead and were treated as such; nobody could talk to them and they could not be denied anything. After the cremation they were set free, but, being " dead," they could not remain in the village. This strange practice, found also among other Indonesians, could be explained as being in the same spirit that caused widow suicides, a symbolical sacrifice of a servant or a slave to accompany his master in the hereafter.

The uncleanliness that emanates from a dead body demands that such preserved corpses be taken outside the village during festivals. Likewise, a carcass of an animal must not remain in the open and must be buried.

The great cremation towers used to convey the corpses to the place of burning are called ordinarily wadah, but that of a nobleman, which has many roofs, receives the more impressive name of bade. In detail the tower consists of a strong bamboo platform ( senan ) by which it is carried by hordes of men; then comes the " base " (dasar), which represents the underworld (bhur). Next come the mountains (gegununggan ) ; three receding platforms that represent our visible world ( bhuwa ) , ornamented with bunches of paper flowers and leaves ( kekayon ) , the forests. Then comes the bale balean, the pavilion for the bodies " not yet in heaven, no longer on this earth "; the whole topped by the number of roofs or " heavens " (tumpang) allotted to the family by caste. These are symbolical of the celestial world (swah).

High priests become merged at death with the sun, and their cremation bier takes the form of a padmasana, a throne for the sun-god. The wadah or bade and the padmasana are, like the stone tjandis, the ancient burial monuments of kings, the modern temple gates and stone sunthrones, symbols of the three worlds (tribhuwana) that constitute the Balinese universe: the upper, intermediate, and lower worlds.

The great serpent, the naga banda, used at cremations of the descendants of the Dewa Agung, the highest aristocracy in the land, is shot and " killed " by the priest to serve as a vehicle for the royal soul in its flight into heaven. The naga banda ceremony commemorates the legend of the strife between the ruling class and the Brahmanic priests, when the Dewa Agung's life was saved by a priest who killed a serpent about to crush him.

In Den Pasar we had occasion to witness the great cremation of the old king of Djerokuta, killed in the mass suicide of rqo6. His body was burned then, hurriedly and almost without ceremony, together with other victims of the war, and it was not until the 12th of February 1934, twenty-eight years later, that his descendants could afford to hold a great ceremonial cremation befitting his rank. He was entitled to use the serpent by a special decree of the Dewa Agung, and the town was aroused because for over thirty years the event of a naga banda had not taken place in Den Pasar. The cremation rites were performed through an effigy, but there were well over a hundred corpses burned on that afternoon because other relatives of the Radja and many of his former subjects joined in the cremation to accompany their prince.

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Seminyak Bali Private Villa