Fire Sets the Soul Free

Fire Sets the Soul Free

Funerals in Bali

One of the most spectacular and moving events I have ever seen was a Balinese cremation. While visually dramatic, I was most deeply struck by the highly complex, detailed and loving preparation and care that is given to the dead. The other aspect of Balinese life that made a profound impact on me was how intricately interwoven their unique branch of the ‘Hindu religion’* is with everyday life.

In Bali, physical and spiritual lives are inseparable. For all of us, our spirits are housed in this physical vehicle we acquire upon our arrival on earth. When we have no more use for it, when our spirits are called elsewhere, or when we have simply worn it out, the spirit moves on. This is the case for most the world over, except for the Balinese.The spirit is bound to the corpse until the flames of cremation release it to the heavens.

The cremation ceremony is so elaborate, that many Balinese cannot afford to host the ritual immediately. In many cases, the deceased remain buried for up to three years before a cremation ceremony can be arranged. After that point, the spirit can ascend to heaven only with the help of deities.

The Balinese cosmological is not so very different from many other world religions.It is three fold and the highest realm, the swah, is where gods and the freed spirits dwell. The earthly realm, or bwah, is for the living or our physical world, and the lower realm is called bhur, where demons roam.Reincarnation is central to the Balinese belief so the release of the spirit is crucial.

After the funeral tower is burned and the spirit released, effigies are lovingly made, bundled into beautiful packages and burned.The ashes of the deceased and the effigies are scattered in the sea. It is these details, the decoration of the funeral towers, the effigies, the ceremonies, prayers and a lifetime of preparation, that speak of the Balinese strong and inseparable connection with spirit.Such high regard for the importance of death, to me, indicates a value of life that goes far beyond the physical.  The funeral ceremony in Bali that raises the value of life by honoring it with importance, celebration and joy.

You might enjoy the New York Times article on a Royal Balinese Funeral.

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