Balinese has one unique ritual ceremony for the deceased, and the ritual is called Ngaben, a cremation ceremony where families send off the deceased known to enter the “reincarnation cycle”. Ngaben is one of the most important ceremonies in Balinese culture. It’s a century-old tradition culminating in the cremation of the deceased body. Ngaben means to separate the soul from the body. Which is done in this ritual through cremation. No tears are shed here because for Balinese people the deceased is only temporary not present and will “reincarnate” or find his/her final rest in Moksha (a state when the soul is free from the reincarnation and death cycle).
What is the process of the Balinese cremation ritual “Ngaben”?
Ngaben in local means ‘ngabehin’ and it’s mean. This grand and lavish ritual is to guide the spirit into its next life cycle and be considered as a celebration. Ngaben processions are often colorful and noisy. The day Ngaben is celebrated was consulted to a priest, a person who specializes in calculating the “good day” according to the Balinese calendar. the more luxurious the Ngaben ceremony, the higher the social level for the families who celebrated it, and the more people attended, the higher the family charisma is.
As the ceremony has a big cost, some families who don’t have that much money need to wait for mass Ngaben or the local language is ‘Ngaben Massal’ to save some expense. The difference between the regular one is, in mass Ngaben, several people are cremated at once. Balinese believed when the deceased one has not cremated right away, it will affect the spirit journey to the next cycle of life. To avoid that happen, the deceased body is buried at the cemetery until the families are ready to celebrated Ngaben ceremony. But there is some special case, high Hindu priests or religious leaders will normally be cremated right away. On the other hand, royal families will need several months to prepare for a special cremation ceremony. This is due to the procession that can take up to 3 days for individuals with higher caste.
The amount of the budget must meet the requirements and prerequisites for the ceremony, including the provision of bade (body container), cloth, offerings, various kinds of offerings, gamelan (Balinese traditional music), food ingredients during the ceremony, to the cost of buying livestock (pigs and poultry) which will be made into an offering in the ceremony. The upper classes or royal families of Balinese society do not have Ngaben. Upper-class funerals are called Pelebon and are even grander and more extravagant. The bade will have nine floors to signify their high status and will take many hours of expert craftsmanship to build before being engulfed in flames.
On the day of the ceremony, the body of the deceased is placed inside a coffin. This coffin is placed inside a sarcophagus resembling a buffalo or in a temple structure made of paper and wood. The buffalo or temple structure will be carried to the cremation site in a procession. The procession of Ngaben is not walking in a straight line. This is to confuse bad spirits and keep them away from the deceased.
Apart from the symbolic tower and special coffin, the family of the person who died may also hire a Gamelan. The word Gamelan refers to an orchestra of percussion instruments, often used in religious rituals. The Gamelan will escort the funeral procession, contributing to the noisy, festival atmosphere.
Before entering the process of cremation or cremation, the pengayah will roll back the bade in the setra (cemetery) area as an expression of the spirit’s farewell to the material world. Uniquely, in each attraction turning the bade, someone or one of the pengayah splashed holy water on the crowd of bade bearers, causing cheers to mark the highlight of the event so that the procession felt even more festive and lively.
The ashes from the cremation will be scattered in the sea. In the 12 days after the Ngaben, the family will build and burn the effigies of the person who has died and also scatter these ashes in the ocean. That concludes the long, intricate process of celebrating death and welcoming new life.
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