April 13, 2003
The proper attire for these events is covered shoulders and sarongs for both sexes. If you don’t already have a sarong, they will usually provide one for you.
You will arrive by van to the village in which the ceremony is taking place and will often have to wait around outside in the heat with the people of the village for the ceremony to begin. Bring water!
You will notice two structures, one resembling a huge layercake and the other some sort of animal sarcophagus, often a bull. Depending on the caste position of the deceased, the ceremony will be more or less opulant.
Once the ceremony commences, the body, in a sort of a cardboard coffin covered with white linen, will be brought out and placed in an opening at the top of the "cake". A member of the immediate family will climb atop the "bull" and both structures will be carried through the village by the villagers to the graveyard area. All the while this will be accompanied by singing or chanting and a small portable gamelan orchestra. You will be walking through the streets to the cremation site right alongside the villagers, who I found to be quite friendly. Once you arrive at the site, the body will be taken from the "cake" and placed inside the sarcophagus, which will then be lit!
The strangest part of this ceremony for me wasn't so much the physical ceremony itself, but the difference in the attitude toward death. I saw no one crying, and in fact, it seemed much more like a celebration. People were enjoying snacks and beverages and at one point the ice cream man came along pushing his cart right through the people watching the ceremony.
One thing I would like to point out though is that if you go, you are welcome, but please be respectful! Pictures are allowed and I would definitely recommend taking them, but please don’t climb on sacred structures and keep a respectful distance from the body itself. Although these people are friendly and may not seem to be outwardly mourning, please remember this is not a tourist show and the people are experiencing the loss of a loved one.
Definitely an experience worth having!
From journal My love affair with Bali