Ngaben – The Cremation Ceremony in Bali
Ngaben, a Balinese sacred ceremonial ritual, is one of the most important cultural events. It’s a cremation ceremony where families send off the deceased known to enter the “next” life. In Hindu, ngaben means to separate the soul from the body, which is done in this ritual through cremation.
Before the main ceremony begins, family members of the deceased prepare a wooden ox that is used to hold the bodies that are eventually burnt. As the wooden ox (or temple structure) is carried to the cremation site, Balinese will try to confuse the deceased’s spirit to make sure it doesn’t find its way back home.
Balinese shake the temple, spin it around, throw things at it and will not carry it in a straight line, simply to confuse the spirit. Families then go through a series of rituals conducted by a priest. After completing the rituals, the wooden ox is set on fire, sending the deceased off to their “next” life. Families pick up the ashes and spread them in the ocean.
Unlike other death ceremonies, Ngaben is celebrated merrily by the Balinese as this ceremony shows that family members have completed their duty. There should not be any tears of sadness as Balinese believe that it will hinder the spirit reaching their next life.
This ceremony normally isn’t taken immediately after one’s death. It must take place on a particular day as calculated by the Balinese calendar or recommended by the priest. A lot of time will also be required for the preparation, ranging from weeks until months for bigger ceremonies. Some families also wait a few years after their family has passed away, since a lot of money is needed to pay all the expenses.
Every few years a collective Ngaben ceremonies, also known as Ngaben Masal is held. The difference between the regular one is, in Ngaben Masal, a number of people are cremated at once. One of the purposes is to help reduce the cost. However, 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.
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