A Soul’s Last Hurrah

I joined in a pilgrimage around the neighborhood today, Tebesaya. Peliatan. Ubud.

It was a procession unlike anything I’d seen. You’d be hard-pressed to call it a funeral, in the typical Western sense of the word. Which is perhaps why they call it a cremation ceremony, because all the preparations, prayers and parade lead up to a grand funeral pyre on the temple grounds.

But, where’s the funeral? Look at the faces, smiles all around. Look at the clothing, brilliant purples, pinks, whites and yes, some black. The flowers, decorations and back-slapping would be incongruous – some might say out of place – if it weren’t that Balinese rejoice at the prospect of the deceased’s soul being guided into the heavens by spirits.

And so, massive bamboo structures are erected as platforms for carrying the sculpted and decorated bull; a tower that houses the coffin until it reaches the pyre; and handful of men, one astride the bull, the others straddling the tower and platforms.

The procession (which at times more closely resembles a road-race) begins at the community temple by the big banyan tree, ever so slowly making its way up towards the main road of Ubud, at which point the floats and carriers turn past the Bali monument, inching the last few hundred metres to the main temple.

The crowds are swelling, the heat suffocating, yet there is no hint of sadness, not a tear to be seen. The air is laced only with the scent of celebration:  A gathering of male gamelan musicians. Kids running alongside. Women with floral arrangements on their head gossip lightly, while a man standing nearby, with a kris on his hip, carries a ceremonial (stuffed?) bird on a stick – a reminder for the soul to release itself and to take flight from the body.

The Balinese calendar is densely packed with ceremonies nearly every day of the year. Cremation is just that, another ceremony marking a transition in the life of a family, a community.

Therein lies grace. Human and divine.

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