Here in America and in most of Canada, we have funeral traditions that have stood the test of time for decades, even centuries.
But our traditions are vastly different from those in other countries and cultures.
This article looks at Balinese funeral traditions and is part of a series that highlights how different cultures care for their dead. Other parts of the series are about Madagascar funeral traditions and Amish funeral traditions, among others.
Note, these traditions may vary depending on the individual and their own beliefs.
Religion in Bali
Bali’s most common religion is Hinduism with about 93% of the population according to The Bali Today’s demographics. Balinese people believe in reincarnation — the cycle of birth, life, death, and rebirth until the soul is unified with God. To break the cycle, they need to achieve Moksha, the perfection, and holiness of the soul.
Three Funeral Events
A Balinese funeral has three important parts: the funeral, cremation ceremony, and the purification of the soul.
A temporary burial occurs during the funeral service until it’s time for the cremation ceremony. Families may leave food, flowers, or other items as an offering to a shrine next to the burial site. The time before the cremation ceremony is sad for families since the soul hasn’t been purified yet.
To free the soul from the body for reincarnation, the body burns inside a coffin during the cremation ceremony. The releasing of the ashes into the water purifies the soul.
Balinese Funeral Ceremony
Traditional Bali funerals had the deceased decompose in a humid forest environment so the soul releases back into nature. But today, the cremation ceremony, or Ngaben funeral ceremony, sometimes occurs immediately after death or a few days after. Families who can’t financially afford the ceremony may come up with a low-cost option for burying the deceased. Then, they cremate them in a mass ceremony with the whole village.
The ceremony is a time of remembrance rather than sadness. There’s often talking, eating, music, and laughter. Everyone dresses in traditional Balinese colorful clothing and there’s usually a funeral feast after the ceremony.
Although the deceased have burials in Pura Dalem, the temple of the dead facing the sea, this is just temporary until the cremation ceremony. Cremation is an important part of the journey to the spirit world. To ward off evils spirits, the procession to the cremation site isn’t usually in a straight line. A ritual washing of the body occurs before the cremation. After the cremation, the ashes and bones are collected to offer to the sea.
The purification of the soul usually occurs 12 days after the cremation ceremony. Or, it may be later if the family needs to save up money for the purification ceremony. A white and yellow cloth holds the ashes until they enter the water to release the soul.