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Pre-Burial and Preparation -
The Procession -
The Burning -
Attending a Cremation -

A cremation is a superb study of all the most important symbols of Balinese ceremonial life, what anthropologist James Boon calls ‘a vast historical and ethnographic musing on the inevitability of death’.

The Balinese believe a person's sojourn on earth is but a short interlude in the long evolutionary process of the soul. Death occurs when the soul escapes from the body, but out of habit it continues to hover around the corpse.

The soul cannot be freed as long as there is a body; only when the corporeal container is destroyed by the elements can the soul be liberated from all worldly ties.

Because the Balinese perceive death not as an end but as a new beginning, a cremation is a time of joyous celebration, the greatest day in a person's life. The 'ngaben' ritual is the last and most important rite a family can perform for a loved one.

Failure to free the soul by neglecting a cremation, or by incomplete or improper rites, renders the soul into a ghost who will wreak havoc on its neglectful descendants. For hundreds of years, cremation was a privilege of the noble classes, but today it is all Hindu Balinese cremates their dead.

Except for the disappearance of suttee, the practice of widows immolating themselves on the funeral pyres of their husbands (the last occurred in 1903), Balinese 'ngaben' rites haven't changed significantly in well over 300 years.

However, the quality and elaborate nature of ceremonies performed today are more determined by the underwriting of overseas film units than by the fees paid to high priests.

A priest's main job is to consecrate the deceased and his effigy with holy water, cleanse the body before cremation, and write letters of introduction (ratnyadana) to open the doors of heaven for the soul. Only high Brahman priests may officiate at cremations of the highborn.

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