BALI CULTURE INFORMATION

 

 
 
The Island Of Bali, Indonesia

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THE CREMATION

The high priest steps onto the platform and recites prayers over the corpse, at intervals pouring pot after pot of holy water on it, dashing the empty pots to the ground to break them, which is one of the rules. The body is so thoroughly soaked in holy water that one begins to wonder how it is possible that it will burn. Next the important accessories,1 together with thousands of kepengs as ransom to Yama, the lord of hell, are spread over the body; costly silks and brocades are piled on it, and the lid is replaced, while the more voluminous offerings are put under the coffin to serve as fuel. The priest stands facing the closed coffin for a final blessing and often he himself sets off the pyre. Fire from matches is considered unclean and it should be procured by friction or by a sun-glass.

The orchestras play all at once, the angklung louder and more aggressive than ever, while the gambang hums solemnly near where the old men and the women relatives have assembled to watch the body burn. The air is heavy with the odour peculiar to cremations, which haunts one for hours after, a mixture of decaying organic matter, sweating bodies, trampled grass, charred flesh, and smoke.

The mob plunders the towers to rescue the mirrors, silks, and tinsel before it is set on fire. Everybody is tense and they dash about excitedly feeding the fires, all except the high priest, who is in a trance, performing the last maweda on a high platform, the elderly men, who drink palm wine from tall bamboo vessels, sitting in a boisterous group, and the daughters and wives of the dead men, who remain unemotionally quiet in the background.

The men in charge poke the corpses unceremoniously with long poles, adding debris from the towers, all the while joking and talking to the corpse. The crowd is neither affected nor touched by the weird sight of corpses bursting out of the halfburned coffins, becoming anxious only when the body is slow to burn. Soon the cow's legs give way and the coffin collapses, spilling burning flesh and calcinated bones over the fire until they are totally consumed, often not without a good deal of poking. Small boys are then permitted to fish out the kepengs with long sticks after the unburned pieces of wood are taken away.

Water is poured over the embers, and the remaining bits of bone with some ashes are piled into a little mound which is covered with palm-leaves. Green branches of dadap are tied to each of the four posts of the cremation pavilion, and surrounded by a rope of white yarn, thus closing it " to forget the dead." The remaining ashes are then blessed and placed in an urn, a coconut inscribed with the magic ong and wrapped in white cloth. It is customary- that this be done just as the sun has begun to set.

A new procession is formed for the march to the sea, where the ashes will be disposed of. On arrival at the seashore, or at the river if the sea is too far away, the priest wades into the water to ask of the sea or the river spirit to carry the ashes safely out. The ashes are then carefully strewn over the waters and the whole congregation bathes, to cleanse themselves before returning home in the darkness.

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