Ngaben preparation can be observed while exploring town and villages near and far from your Bali hotel or other accommodation. These celebrations take quite a long time to plan and execute and are very expensive. Once the towers and animal sarcophagus take shape one can easily identify them as part of the cremation ritual.
One morning I told Kathy that I wanted to travel up to Lake Batur to see a specific event that was announced in the news. On the way there, in Ubud, traffic was rerouted and we went in circles until we ended up on the main square in front of the royal palace. And that is when I saw the huge tower and bridge made out of bamboo and decorated with colored paper and a stately bull beautifully crafted and ornamented. I immediately knew this was for a cremation ceremony or Ngaben.
We parked and I went to see and gather information. We were in great luck this was a royal ceremony splendid and grand and it was about to start. To my surprise Kathy immediately agreed to stay and watch this unique and rare spectacle. She had never seen Ngaben let alone a royal one and the sight of these incredibly elaborate structures standing in the street made her curious.
The police was there making sure everybody including traffic was orderly. Tourists were plenty and the Balinese do not mind them, as long as they/we are dressed conservatively, no bikinis please. A Gamelan band also gathered and started playing.
Members of the family came out in their best Sarongs, Kebayas (blouse) and a typical hair knot for the ladies and Sarong, white shirt and headgear for men. They carried offerings and walked around the tower several times. The body of the deceased was brought out of the palace (she had been laying in a pavilion to await her last ritual) and placed on the top and fastened just under the tiered roof representing the levels of the universe.
It was time to lift up the tower and bring the deceased to the cremation ground which was quite a distance away. These are sturdy constructions, weigh a ton and many men are needed to carry it forward. Little by little they made headway with twirls every once in a while to confuse the spirit, so it would not come back home and hunt the living.
The haulers had to be exchanged once in a while during breaks. It was very hot and even we who followed had to have plenty of drinking water with us. The Gamelan orchestra too had to keep on playing; all in all it was a happy and merry haul.
When we finally arrived at the cremation grounds, the body was removed and placed gently into a bull coffin that preceded the convoy. After all the rituals and offerings by family and priests were complete, the bull was set on fire. Thus releasing the spirit from the body and this world either to be reincarnated in another body or attain Moksa oneness with the Godhead. The ashes are collected and at an auspicious date thrown into the sea with more rituals and offerings.
Ngaben is a ritual the Balinese perform for themselves, for their religion. There is no staged cremation. Therefore it is not easy to find information. Drivers and hotel staff sometimes report the preparation, the signs they have seen in villages. If you are interested and absolutely want to see one, big or small, please ask a travel agent or your hotel to find information as soon as you arrive in Bali.
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