Witness a Cremation Ceremony in Bali

Sometimes we have been very lucky in our travels.  Many times we end up in a place just in time for a festival or celebration that we had no idea was even going on.  We don't normally plan our travels around these events. They just seem to work out that way.

Bali was no exception.

The sacred cow at a Cremation Ceremony in Bali

A large crowd circles the sacred cow

Cremation Ceremony of Bali

We had heard of the famous cremation ceremonies of Bali in the past and seen them on T.V. but we never thought that we would actually witness one. The cremation ceremony is a sacred right of passage in Bali. It is a time for celebration and a time for the deceased's body to be burned and set free from its worldly ties. It is the most important ceremony and celebrated stage in a persons life in Bali and no expense is spared.

Balinese Girls at Cremation Ceremony. Bali

Girls dressed in Traditional Costumes

To Witness a Cremation ceremony is very rare.

Sometimes it can take years after a persons death for a cremation to take place. Poorer families save money over time to be able to pay for the ceremony and they have mass cremations together.  The bodies are temporarily buried until the day arrives.

Well, it just so happens that we were in Ubud, Bali when a very prominent priest passed away and could afford to have his own elaborate cremation ceremony.

Men carry sacred cow at Cremation Ceremony, Bali

Many men carry the sacred cow

We didn't even know that a cremation was taking place that day. However when we were out earlier, everyone was asking us if we were going to see the cremation ceremony. Shop owners, waitresses even the clerk at the Internet café told us that we must see the cremation. We didn't know if we should but after being reminded by everyone to ho, how could we not?

A Cremation Ceremony is a Festive Event

We arrived to a mass of people dressed in traditional ceremonial clothing. Bands were playing and people carried ornate offerings on their heads and others walked through the crowd selling sarongs and chess sets.

Women carry offerings at a Balinese Cremation Ceremony

Women Carrying offerings

Soon the procession appeared at the end of the street and the ceremony began.  It was led by a massive white sacred cow carried by dozens of sarong clad men.  The crowd fell into place and the procession grew.  Thousands of people filled the street.

Cremation Ceremony in full swing, Bali, Indonesia

The Balinese music played and the tin drums could be heard from everywhere. The atmosphere was festive and exciting. People yelled and cheered and the energy was intoxicating.

Priest oversees the cremation in ubud bali


The high tower containing the body followed. A priest stood beside the shrine along with another man who could have been the deceased eldest son or relative. priest and man at cremation ceremony in Bali

It too was resting on giant bamboo poles being carried by dozens of men.  At this point we joined the procession following it all the way to the temple where the actual ceremony would take place.

The Cremation Ceremony in Bali is a time to celebrate life

Every so often the men carrying the tower would stop and turn in circles.  From what I understand, they were trying to confuse the spirit.  They don't want it finding its way home so the long route is not only just for show it is actually a part of the ceremony and their beliefs. It is to mix up the spirit, they don't want him finding his way back to the family to haunt them. It must move on. a

It was a very hot day. The sun beat down and the concrete burned through the soles of our flip flops. We were sweating in the intense sun, but we could not miss this once in a lifetime experience.

Preparing the body at the alter at cremation in bali

The band found a spot to sit where it continued to play as the body was prepared.

Wreaths were displayed in front of the alter and the body was transferred from the tower to be burned inside the statue of the white cow.  I could not see exactly what was happening, but they took great care wrapping the body and filling the shrine with offerings.

After and hour of anticipation, quite suddenly and silently the fire was lit.  I had my back turned and it wasn't until the cow was engulfed in flames did I realize that the cremation was taking place.

cow engulfed in flames at cremation ceremony in Bali

The Sacred Cow is engulfed in flames

The intense heat caused even the most curious to step back.

The cow took a long time to burn and the head never did. Eventually the body fell underneath the cow and that is when they really fueled the fire to burn the bones.  The intense eat focused on the body to finish the cremation.

Charred body under burning cow at cremation ceremony

Body falls under burning cow to finish off cremation

It was strange.  You could see the skeleton burning and morbid tourists, myself included, rushed to the front to take a closer view.

The band played on and people cheered as the cremation ceremony came slowly to an end.

It was yet another surreal experience in our Asian Adventure.

However it really was a spectacular sight and awesome to see how death can be about celebration as well as grieving. A cremation ceremony in Bali shows that life is worth celebrating. We all have to die one day, we should embrace the afterworld and pay tribute to a life lived.

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