A series of ceremonies will be held in Ubud, Bali, this coming month,
culminating in a unique Royal Cremation (pelebon) procession and Celebration of
Life, which will take place on July 15th, 2008. This Royal Cremation Ceremony
promises to be an unforgettable event for spectators.
The Ubud Royal Family will hold this ceremony for the bodies of two prominent
elders of the family:
TJOKORDA GDE AGUNG SUYASA, who was head of the Ubud Royal Family and the leader
of the traditional community in Ubud since 1976, and
TJOKORDA GEDE RAKA, who was a senior office in the police force in Denpasar
until his retirement in 1992
The effigy of GUNG NIANG RAKA, whose body was cremated in a smaller ceremony in
December soon after she died, will also now be given a full cremation ceremony.
The cremation procession and associated ceremonies are important rituals in the
Hindu rites of passage. The bodies of the deceased will be carried through the
streets of Ubud by thousands of local people on top of a nine-tiered tower
called ‘bade’. The procession will be accompanied by an elaborately
decorated and venerated bull effigy (Lembu) and a mythical dragon-like creature
(Naga Banda), with a five meter-long tail. The naga is reserved for only the
elders of the Royal family and is thus seldom seen in cremation ceremonies.
Ngaben is the principle funeral rite in Bali's Hindu society which aims to
return the remains of the deceased to the elements from which all living things
are created and to release the soul from all ties to this life.
Ngaben is comprised of many rituals, culminating in the burning of the corpse
in an animal-shaped sarcophagus, as well as the burning of the cremation tower
(bade) whose sole purpose is to transport the corpse from home to the cremation
The Ngaben is not a sad event, it can even be happy, it is a way to make the
spirit of the dead happy, and to avoid disturbing him by crying. However it
requires an enormous amount of time, energy, and money! All of the relatives
and friends share the cost but often months, or even years, will be required to
gather enough money and to make the mountains of offerings involved. One
solution is for ordinary community members to join the funerals of wealthier
individuals of high caste, or to organize ngaben massal (mass cremation) among
the villagers, to reduce the costs.
In Ubud, such ‘mass’ cremations are held only every 3-5 years. On
15 July, 2oo8 three members of the Royal Family of Ubud will be cremated along
with approximately 70 other deceased from the local community.
This ceremony is very much a public one and visitors are welcome but everyone
is reminded to dress appropriately, with legs and arms covered, and to abide by
any instructions and announcements.
Background information for Ngaben: cremation ceremony in Bali
The Ngaben is the Hindu cremation ceremony necessary for the transition of the
soul from its body recipient to heaven when the body is dead.
In the Balinese Hindu tradition, the body is merely a microcosm recipient for
the soul. When a person dies, the spirit (atman) remains around the body. The 5
elements that constitute the body (fire, air, water, earth and void/ether) have
to return to the macrocosm and the soul released to find its way to heaven and
God. This is the purpose of the ceremonies held during the Ngaben. The soul may
go to hell (neraka) or heaven (surga). The pengabenan represents the long
process of ceremonies held before and during the cremation.
Preparations before the cremation
The Balinese calendar always rules over when events may be held and a proper
date is chosen by the pedanda (high priest). Waiting for the ceremonies to be
performed, the body is sometimes kept lying in state in the deceased's
household, but in most cases the body is buried in the cemetery. Daily
offerings are made and symbolic meals given to the corpse. Coffee and tea is
also prepared, and comb, mirror and toothbrush are left nearby. The numerous
offerings made of colorful fruits and vegetables keep evil spirits away from
the body's spirit, give pleasure to the deified ancestors, and please the gods,
especially Siwa, the God of Death.
Dozens of women, for several days, are required to prepare the offerings. Men
prepare notably the cremation tower (bade or wadah). The tower represents the
Balinese universe. First the lower world (Bhur) with the world turtle (Badawang
Nala) at its base and the two dragon-snakes around it. Above is the world of
man (Bwah) and at the top is heaven (Swah) built of little roofs like the tiers
on the temple's towers (meru).
In the day of the cremation, the body is placed between heaven and earth in the
tower. A Bhoma (fierce-looking mask) is placed behind the tower to scare evil
spirits away. A mass of men carry the tower and the long procession begins. The
tower is turned around and around (3x) in all directions to disorient the
spirit of the dead so that it can't find its way back home to haunt the family.
The procession proceeds towards the local pura dalem, temple dedicated to Siwa
and the dead. It is accompanied, like with all Balinese ceremonies, by a
balanganjur, traditional gamelans, that will offer this repetitive music all
along the way and during the ceremonies. The body is placed in a sarcophagus in
the shape of animal.
Offerings and holy water are poured on top of it. Then begins the cremation
itself, burning the body (and also the tower in a different place). Nowadays,
help is given from fuel or gas to sustain a good fire. By the end, the pedanda
rings his bell and chants mantras to aid in the soul's release and to help it
Later on, the ashes, impurities of the body, are drawn to the sea. The final
series of ceremonies or Nyekah are held to return the soul to heaven, a few
days after the cremation day, and pacify the soul at the family temples.
New offerings are given to thank God and the family visits all the participants
to thank them as well. As a note, it is also believed that the now released
soul, after a time in heaven where it might reach oneness with God (moksa),
will return and reincarnate (samsara) in a different life.
For more information, please contact:
Director for International Promotion
I Gde Pitana
Jalan Medan Merdeka Barat No.17, 9th floor, Jakarta 10110
Tel. +62 21 383 8303
Fax. +62 21 348 833 602