Portraits of a Balinese Cremation Ceremony

I recently spent a week in Bali, Indonesia, for a quick get-a-way. Travelling with a companion, photography was not the focus of this trip (sorry, bad pun). But the camera came with me most places, of course, and a few good images came home with me.

One of the joys of travelling for me is the surprises that often arise, unexpected events and unplanned cultural experiences, that make a visit to a place more than just a beach holiday. In this case it was stumbling upon a cremation ceremony for a member of a Balinese royal family. Unlike most of Indonesia, which is primarily Muslim, Balinese are predominantly Hindu and the custom is to cremate bodies after passing on to the other side. Still a caste society, the process and ceremony involved with cremation varies according the the caste level you are in. A lowly worker? You can look forward to your body being dumped into the ground and then five years later being dug up again to be burned in a mass cremation with all the other deceased workers.

If you are a member of a royal family, you get a much better send-off, such as the one for an Ubud royal family member who had passed away back in February. The body had been stored for two months until the ceremony could be organized and take place in May. A number of processional floats were constructed by volunteer community members, the primary one being an elaborately decorated bamboo tower close to three storeys tall on which the body was loaded and then carried to the burning grounds. After cremation, the ashes were to be given to the family to be spread in the sea. The procession and burning were public events; however, the water gods were apparently not happy with the fire gods this day and during the procession it began raining…hard, as it is often wont to do in the tropics. These are some portraits of participants and observers I was able to get before the skies opened up.

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