A Balinese cremation ceremony includes a grand procession with a gamelan orchestra, a tower holding the remains, and a sarcophagus, usually in the shape of a bull. The bull is opened to insert the remains of the body plus gifts from the family, and then burned.
On this particular day, a commoner cremation ceremony took place in a village near Gianyar with one hundred bodies being feted all at the same time. It’s quite an assault to the senses with incense burning, music blaring, and villagers buzzing.
Then, all of a sudden, the first bull is torched and within minutes all 100 artful creations generate a storm of smoke. This is tame compared to the past. Suttee, the practice dating from at least the 1400s, whereby wives of dead Balinese rajas sacrificed themselves by jumping into the flames, was outlawed by the Dutch in 1895. Still, today you often see women cutting locks from their hair to put in the sarcophagus.
I was very fortunate to have access to this particular ceremony. This is one more reason to consider hiring a local guide for a day tour of some of the hidden treasures in Bali. You can typically find a guide on one of the main streets in Ubud, Kuta, or any other sizable towns. My favorite guide is Made Jiwa and can be reached at JiwaMade@hotmail.com. I typically pay him $100 per day—more if we’re going to cover a larger region (more gas cost for him).