Cultural Lessons from the Balinese Ngaben Ceremony

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Published on August 28, 2020 | Activities, Bali Culture, Culture, Travel

An initial spark grew into a raging inferno. Yet standing around the blaze, the Balinese smile with joy and calm as their deceased, encased in a beautiful papier-mache sarcophagus, becomes one with the flame. One of the most unique cremation ceremonies in the world is found in Bali, and it is called Ngaben.

Death in Balinese Hindu is not considered the end of a person’s life, but rather as a transition to the next stage. There are only two possible destinations for the soul after death – reincarnation, a return into the family line at a different time, or ultimate dissolution of the soul, called moksa, that frees the soul from ‘suffering’ another lifetime.

For members of the deceased, either possibility is great news. Balinese teachings state that nobody should cry in a moment like this, because tears can become a hurdle for the soul to finish the process. After all, it takes a blazing fire to separate the soul from the body.

Interesting lessons can be learned from the Balinese Ngaben ceremony, even if you don’t believe in karma, reincarnation, or joyous funerals.

Cultural Lessons from the Balinese Ngaben Ceremony
Photo Source : (Claraprili)

1. To treat others with kindness, is to treat ourselves with kindness

Human beings are social species, and one way or another, cooperation has been the key to our success on the planet. Psychologist Robert Cialdini wrote, “Sophisticated and coordinated systems of aid, gift-giving, defense, and trade … [brings] immense benefit to societies.” This allows us to specialize and focus on what we are good at, and exchange our creations to each other in a mutually beneficial relationship.

Something as simple as being kind to a stranger, or “paying it forward” can bring a positive effect to swing right back to you. The opposite can be true, so the Balinese people try to create a community that nurtures good-will and compassion so that together they can eventually achieve moksa.


2. Everyone is born free and equal in dignity and rights

If that sounds familiar, it’s because it is a direct quote from Article 1 of the UN Human Rights Charter. Even long before Eleanor Roosevelt finalized the draft of this wonderful document, the Balinese people have already practiced this philosophy of ethics.

When the deceased soul is to be reincarnated, the prime destination of the soul is newborn kin in the family. Since many families have great ties to each other in the same village, treating the younger members of society well is to honor a deceased descendant. Nobody knows exactly which body possesses the spirit of which descendant – what is more important is to treat everyone with respect.

If you would like to learn more about Balinese culture to its heart and core beliefs, you’ll need to stay in the right place. Gianyar and Ubud are two cultural centers that are far from the airport, but very close to Mara River Safari Lodge. You may consider booking a room with us, as we provide more than just accommodation. Stay and learn with us.