Often referred to as one of the most spectacular and interesting Balinese ceremonies, the “Ngaben,” or cremation, is a religious rite of Hindu descent, although it’s quite a bit different to death ceremonies found in India. In order for the deceased’s soul to move on to the afterlife and into the ancestral divine realm, a number of funerary rites and rituals must be carried out to rid the dead of all of their earthly impurities, and no expense is spared in a ceremony which involves the entire community. Several stages within the funerary rites denote the purity of the dead. The first stage, “Pirata,” refers to the soul before cremation, when it has yet to be purified. The second stage, “Pitara,” is a partially purified soul, after the cremation process. The final stage for full purification of the soul follows the funeral ceremony, and the rites are carried out at the dead’s home.
Before the cremation purification process can begin, the dead are usually buried in a local cemetery, where they await the priest to make a decision for the date of cremation. Once a date has been decided upon, the family of the deceased perform the first ceremony at either the cemetery or within a temple of death, to inform the soul of the dead. Often, the dead may be exhumed and, in their place, an effigy is buried.
Before the cremation ceremony can begin, a three day long celebration takes place, which includes a number of funerary rites as well as mourning the dead. The first day sees that the corpse is properly washed, bathed in holy water by the priest. On the second day, offerings are made, one of which includes a wooden funeral tower known as a “bade.” On the final day of the funerary ceremonies, the body is placed in the bade, the height and grandeur of which matching the caste position of the deceased.
The bade funeral tower is usually intricately decorated and represents the whole of the universe. While the base, typically constructed from bamboo, represents the lower world, the mid-section represents the world of man and usually contains a model of the mythological Hindu bird, Garuda. The funeral tower is topped off with several roofs, the number of which depends on the caste of the deceased.
As the funeral tower is carried through the village in a procession, loved ones are said to enter trances where they may cry, shake, or scream. The tower is spun around in circles several times in order to confuse the spirit, so that he or she may not find their way home again and haunt the living. Upon reach the funerary site, the tower is burned and the actual corpse cremated, the soul having be purified.
The Hindus believe in reincarnation and that the dead’s soul will go on to live another life on Earth.