The Island Of Bali, Indonesia



The great towers in which the corpses are carried to the cremation ground and the animal-shaped coffins in which they will be burned, the two most spectacular factors in a cremation, have waited ready for days in some corner of the village, covered with screens of woven palm-leaf.
The cremation tower is a high structure solidly built of wood and bamboo, bound together with rattan and covered with coloured paper ornaments and cotton-wool dyed in bright colours, and glittering with tinsel and small mirrors.

Shaped like the temple gates and the sun altars, the tower represents again the Balinese conception of the cosmos: a wide base, often in the shape of a turtle with two serpents entwined around its body, the symbol of the foundation upon which the world rests, supporting three gradually receding platforms-the mountains, with bunches of paper flowers and leaves on the corner of each platform to represent the forests. Then comes an open space, the bale balean, " rather like a house," the space between heaven and earth. This consists of four posts backed with a board on one side, and with a protruding platform to which the bodies are fastened.

The bale balean is topped by a series of receding roofs like a pagoda to represent the heavens. These are always in odd numbers which vary according to the caste of the family: one for Sudras, from three to eleven for the aristocracy, and none for the Brahmanic priests. The back of the tower is nearly covered with a gigantic head of Bhoma, the Son of the Earth, a wild-eyed, fanged monster with enormous outstretched wings that spread some ten feet on each side of the tower. This mask and the wings are covered with bright-coloured cotton-wool. As many as seventy-five men are often required to carry the great tower and its complementarv bridge, a tall bamboo runway by which the upper stages of the tower are reached.

Strict caste rules also dictate the shape of the patulangan, the sarcophagi: Sudras are entitled only to burn their dead in open cases shaped like a gadjamina, a fantastic animal, half elephant, half fish. Today the majority of the nobility use the bull for men and the cow for women, animals supposedly once reserved for Brahmanas; Satrias were entitled only to a singha, a winged lion; and wesias used the deer.

Towers and coffins are not made by ordinary villagers but by artist specialists who are directed by a master craftsman. The cows are splendidly carved out of wood, the hollow body hewn out of a tree-trunk, the back of which opens like a lid. The whole animal is covered with coloured felt or velvet, lavishly ornamented with goldleaf, cotton-wool, and silk scarfs. Caste again decides whether the animal should be black, white, spotted, yellow, orange, or purple. With true Balinese playfulness, their sexual organs are clearly defined and those of bulls often are made so that they can be put into action by means of a hidden string.

From dawn of the day of the cremation the house teems with excited people attending to the last details; the hosts wait on the notable guests, the women see to the offerings, hordes of halfnaked men proceed to uncover the towers and the sarcophagi and bring them to the front of the house gate. Delegations are sent to the cremation grounds to put the final touches on the bamboo altars and on the platforms of tightly packed earth, roofed with coloured paper and tinsel, where the corpses will be cremated.

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