Tuesday, 6 May 2014

Three Cremations and a Birthday

The Balinese people believe in ruwa bineda; it means that every situation has two sides.  This was another of Aji's lessons on Balinese culture. For example, when a baby is born, the family is happy and joyous, yet the baby might be crying.  On the other hand, when a person dies, they may die at peace, happy, after living a long and fulfilling life, yet the family may be devastated and grieving.  There are always two sides in every situation.

We experienced ruwa bineda first hand during our time in Ubud. The day that inspired this post, happened to be a good day in Bali.  Good days and “not so good” days are dictated by the Balinese calendar, called the Wuku. The Balinese calendar has 30 weeks of 7 days, each with it’s own meaning. It is a complex calendar and Aji spent 30 minutes explaining the basic facts to Mark. Perfect understanding and interpretation of the calendar is left to the priests. Being a good day, made it appropriate for a cremation ceremony. When a Balinese person of Hindu descent dies, the body must be cremated.  Sometimes the family must wait until they have saved enough money for the ceremony, so the body may be 'temporarily' buried. The burial could occur for a short period of time, or in some cases, years. The ideal is to be cremated as close to the date of death as possible; however, it must occur on a 'good' day. Today there were three cremation ceremonies at the community temple and it happened to be Ally’s birthday; today was a good day indeed!  We were invited to attend Aji’s aunt’s celebration, and we were a little skeptical at first.  Attending a cremation on a birthday would not likely be considered a desirable learning experience at home, but we considered it an amazing opportunity.  Ally’s 14th birthday turned out to be a birthday that she would never forget!

After our morning yoga and breakfast with our Families on the Move Facebook group, we rushed home late (somethings don't change) to dress for the cremation ceremony.  It is a good thing that Bali operates on jam karet, which translates into “rubber time”! We were required to wear traditional Balinese clothing.  Ibu, (Aji’s wife) outfitted us for the celebration.  We wore sarongs on the bottom and a kabaya on top, which is similar to a long fitted blouse, often made of lace.  Tied at the waist was a sash.  Men wear a regular shirt and sarong, but a second sarong called a saput is layered on top and is slightly shorter than the first.  Men also wear a hat which is called an udeng. After we were outfitted, we headed off to the home of the deceased.

All dressed in our temple clothing!
Aji’s aunt had passed away ten days prior and her cremation was very quick in terms of Balinese culture.  In this case the body of the deceased remained at the family home until the day of cremation, and there was no need for a temporary burial.  Following the blessings, she was paraded through the streets in a tower called a bede.  The family lead the tower through town to the temple, and members of the community carried the bede and followed along.  The tower often represents the financial well being of the family and in Aji’s aunt’s case, the tower was quite ornate and very tall.  So tall that men had to push up the hydro wires with long bamboo poles to allow the tower to pass through the streets.  Mark cringed as the tower leaned, at risk of toppling over completely, not to mention that it made contact with the wires several times.  The walk to the temple was similar to a parade with live music and a brisk pace.  Considering there were three live people riding on the tower, the deceased, and the weight of the platform alone, the porter’s urgency was understood. Once the tower arrived at the temple, the deceased’s body was removed from the coffin and placed inside a decorative bull statue, called a lambu.  Tradition calls for the eldest daughter to sweep out the inside of the lamb with her hair, and prepare it for her mother’s body.  Once complete, the body was then covered with sarongs, other items of clothing, and offerings which had been given as last gifts to the departed.  Finally, the lambu was set on fire with the crowds watching.  As you can imagine, the cremation process takes a while and all but the family move back to their homes.  This was when we made our quiet exit as well, and left Aji to remain with his family.  To complete the ceremony, the ashes would later be collected and formed into the shape of a body.  The priest would bless the ashes along with offerings given from family members and the community. Finally, the ashes would be scattered in the ocean. It was quite a spectacle to behold.

Transferring the body from the bede to the lambu
Although people were in mourning, the event was quite celebratory.  Tears may have been shed, but they were not shown in public.  Never would you let your tears fall on the deceased as this is believed to be bad luck and create bad karma.  I have loved learning about the Bali-Hindu culture and traditions, where karma is held in high regard.  As Aji explained to us, one strives to become one with God, which is quite difficult.  You must always be aware of karma. He explained that if you are walking along and you step on an ant, it is considered to be bad karma.  It is believed that if you ‘do good’ during your life you will be reincarnated into a person and have another chance to become one with God. If you ‘do bad’ you will be reincarnated into an animal, which is not considered a desirable reincarnation.  You must always try to ‘do good’.  Becoming one with god is the ultimate goal and is called Moksa.

The tower on a lean, trying to pass under the hydro wires.
It was quite a celebration with a professional photographer capturing every moment.  It
reminded me more of a wedding rather than a funeral.  Everyone was taking photos and video with their smartphones.
You can see all of the layers of sarongs, and the lid of the bull is placed back on top. 
The community all leaves with the exception of family which has also moved a little further away due to the heat.
This was the third cremation procession that we saw.  As you can see the tower is
still very ornate, but much smaller than the previous.  It certainly made travelling through the
streets with the hydro wires much easier.
As is the case with ruwa bineda, there is always two sides. Despite having just attended a cremation ceremony to celebrate a death, we had a 14th birthday to celebrate! Luckily for Ally, it was a good day!  As it goes with Canadian birthdays, Ally had a few requests.  She asked for a jar of peanut butter, Nutella and toast, to relax and read in the afternoon, and to have pizza for dinner.  An interesting selection of items, but a perfectly sensible order for a teenager on the road, I’m sure!  So, after picking up some birthday treats, that was exactly what she got!  It was certainly a birthday to remember and a good great day in Bali!

Some of the items a 14 year old traveller requests on her birthday
A Tree of Life pendant for our daughter who is full of life. 
Pizza dinner! 
Mark met this amazing artist while out on a walk, and he agreed to give Ally some lessons.
She was thrilled with this birthday experience! 
She was to choose the subject and decided to paint a photograph that we took
while in South Africa, on safari in the Addo Elephant park.  


1 comment:

  1. Fabulous, fabulous, fabulous!! What a memorable day!! I hope you paid close attention to all that occurred cause this looks like the perfect way to exit this world and move on to the next. I will be updating my exit plans to include my wish to have a celebration like this!


Hi, we love to read your comments. It may take awhile for us to publish them so don't worry if they don't appear right away. Thanks for taking the time to read about our adventures!