Ngaben – The Balinese Cremation Ceremony

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Ngaben - Balinese Cremation Ceremony
Image by Agung Atmaja from Pixabay

Ngaben – The Balinese Cremation Ceremony

Ngaben is the Hindu funeral custom practiced in Bali, Indonesia. It is also referred to as Pitra Yadyna, Pelebon, or cremation ceremony. A Ngaben is a ritual used to free a deceased person’s soul from the cycle of reincarnation and allow it to ascend to the upper realm, where it can await rebirth or release. According to Balinese Hindu theology, this soul is being chased by malevolent inhabitants of the lower domain, and cremation increases the likelihood that it will reach the upper realm.

Although a quick Ngaben is ideal, but typically too costly. In Balinese culture, there is a transitional period during which the deceased are interred for a while, generally close to Pura Prajapati, monies are collected, and numerous recently deceased individuals are cremated on the same day in a grandiose ceremony known as Ngaben.

When the families are able to afford it, they choose a day of auspiciousness, construct Bade (coffins) to convey the deceased, and publicize the ceremony throughout the village. In addition, the families construct a Wadah (a wooden temple-like building), or a Lembu (a bamboo-wood-paper coffin styled like a bull or other mythical animal), to be burned with the dead.

Ngaben - Balinese Cremation Ceremony in Bali
Photo by Narendra Dinata on Unsplash

When the body is prepared for cremation, family members and friends say their final goodbyes with prayers, wash it, dress it in traditional Balinese clothing, and transport it to the cremation site. They transport the bodies to the kuburan (cremation grounds) in accordance with rituals, wearing traditional clothing and singing and gamelan music. To mislead the evil inhabitants of the bottom realm, the coffin is spun three times if the trail crosses over large road crossings.

Final chants are sung, the cremation fire is lighted, and the body is deposited into the temple- or bull-shaped wadah at the burial site. The Balinese music group performs the beleganjur melody as the corpse burns. This combat song represents the soul’s struggle against the wicked underworld in order to attain the worry-free upper realm. Twelve days following the cremation, the relatives gather the ashes, place them inside a coconut shell, and transport the shell to a neighboring sea or ocean to expose the remains to the elements once again.


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