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NOTES ON DEATH AND CREMATION

The naga banda itself consisted of a long rope bound in green cloth with an elaborate head of carved and painted wood and with a great mane of Wang grass. It measured one hundred yards, although I was told that according to regulations it should have been 1,6oo depa (a depa is about one yard). The naga handa is made alive by a pedanda bodda, and a pedanda siwa kills it, in a sort of battle of wits between the magic of the two sects, but in Den Pasar the ceremony had not taken place for a decade and the older priests were afraid to attempt it.

The formulas employed for this are the most difficult tongue-twisters and they claimed that the slightest mistake would result in the death of the priest himself. Nobody would undertake it except the young but mystic pedanda Gede of Pemetjutan, of whom it was said he was so studious that he once lost his mind temporarily, trying to learn a difficult mantra. He agreed to perform both, give life to and then kill the naga banda, a great test of his powers.

 

On the day of the cremation the great serpent was the most spectacular part of the procession; hundreds of people clung to it, and the priest himself, dressed in full regalia, rode on its neck, the bow and arrow with which to kill it in his right hand, in the left his bell, which he rang all the way to the cemetery. The tail of the serpent was held by the present Regent of Badung, a descendant of the old Radja, while in the other hand he held the effigy; he rode on the tower where the corpse should have been.

At the cremation ground the priest shot imaginary arrows to the four winds and then towards the serpent. That was a moment of suspense because the great throng watched breathlessly to see if the red hibiscus on each side of the snake's head wilted. It is believed that should the flowers remain fresh until the end of the ceremony, the priest has failed to kill it and he himself will die instead. It was a hot afternoon, the hibiscus soon wilted, and all was well.

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