Life and Death in Bali…

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Cremation LionAs I start to write this, sitting atop a hillside in the beautiful Amed region on the east coast of Bali, yet another local cremation ceremony is underway. This time for a young woman (mid-fifties) who died after a long illness, leaving behind her two children (20 and 10), now orphans (their Father passed away two years ago, also from illness), to be looked after by Grandparents and Uncles in this small fishing village.


She passed away on Saturday and for the last four days and nights the sound of prayers have been heard rising up from the village below. People have been coming and going to the house, with offerings, paying their respects, leaving donations of food and money for the family.

Embalming with formalin is carried out by the family. A permit from the Police is required and then the chemical is injected into the body as required. At 10.00am they brought her body down to the beach, prayers and offerings made and then the cremation fire lit.

Amed Cremation

Simple cremation ceremony in Amed

Two hours later, they gather again, collecting her ashes and bones for the final farewell into the ocean. More prayers, blessings and offerings, and then she is finally released into the sea, the currents carrying her soul away into the afterlife.

This was a very simple ceremony. Each and every one that I’ve seen is very different. The ‘wealthy’ have large bulls, dragons and the like, elaborate decoration and many, many offerings. Sometimes the body is cremated, sometimes it is symbolic.

Mass Cremation Ubud

Mass ‘symbolic’ cremation in Ubud. This cremation represented 78 deceased people.

Generally if the family are poor, the body will be buried and then every few years there will be a mass cremation, where the bones are dug up, cleaned, purified and then cremated. Sometimes the body stays in the ground and it is totally symbolic – pictures drawn on thin timber to represent the body, soil collected from the burial site and together with many offerings, cremated.

Mass Cremation Ubud

Offerings and symbolism in this mass cremation in Ubud

Whatever the process, many days (and sometimes many weeks for a large mass cremation) of preparation are involved. Attention to detail is paramount, with special symbols, offerings and prayers involved to ensure the loved ones are passed into the afterlife with the best blessings possible.

Payangan Cremation

3 Villages and 80-odd deceased represented at this ‘symbolic’ cremation in Payangan, near Ubud.

Symbolism at Cremation Ceremony

If the body or bones are not being cremated they are symbolised in other ways to represent the deceased and send them to the next world with blessings.

I have been fortunate enough to witness five cremation ceremonies this year in Bali. Two of them I watched as the bodies were burned, two were mass symbolic cremations for up to 80 people from three different villages and the last one, the day before my departure from Bali, this simple one in the bay, viewed from the hill top. All cremations end with a final ceremony at the sea or river, where the ashes are placed in a brightly decorated tower and pushed into the water – water is purifying and carries the spirit away…

Payangan Cremation

Mass ‘symbolic’ cremation ceremony at Payangan.

All are beautiful. All have profound meaning and respect. It has been a privilege and honour to be able to witness these sacred practices. Everyone is welcomed. They welcome your interest and respect of their process and are very happy to help you understand what is happening and why.

Sideman Cremation

Cremation parade in Sideman

Sideman Cremation

Final offerings before cremation. The white roll of fabric that the women hold was used to wrap the body when she was at home. This gets put with the body for cremation also.

None of what I witnessed was horrible or marcarbe.  In fact I came away with a great respect for the Balinese and how they deal with death…being a very natural part of life. The Balinese sacred spiritual practises of life and death is complex but beautiful…every step of the way…

Sideman Cremation

The whole process is full of spiritual symbolism, ritual, and rites of passage with the whole village being part of the process…

Retreats in Bali 2015:

Women’s Retreat – feed your senses…feed your soul…

Writing Retreat

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