Monday, August 22, 2011

Pelebon: Ubud's Royal Cremation

Waiting for the procession: because no Balinese cremation is complete without a SpongeBob SquarePants balloon.
Crowd gathering as they purify the streets.

The royal cremation ceremony last week (known as a pelebon) may be best described through photos. From 12:00 on I watched the procession and then fought my way through the crowds to join the journey to the cremation grounds. A few friends and I stayed there until the fire was finally lit around 7pm. I wish photos could do more to capture the spirit of the day. I can safely say I’ve never seen anything like it. It took 1500 men to carry the 100-foot tower from the palace to the cremation grounds and they rotated in several shifts because they could only manage to carry it a few feet at a time. The crowds were massive and were composed of Balinese people and tourists who had heard of the event. There was so much chaotic joy. The cremation seemed to be both an exuberant celebration of this woman's life and a vastly important tradition that was carried out with the solemnity that was required at times. Helping to carry the tower was considered an honor for the men who were doing it, and many people pitched in regardless of what village or family they were from. There was a strong sense of pride in tradition and in that way it didn't feel very different from a 4th of July parade in the United States (balloons, junky souvenirs, street food and everything).

Members of the royal family get carried on chairs in the procession. These are two children who are said to be leading the way for their ancestor.
Close Up of the tower.
There it goes!
Men carrying other animals to confuse the spirits on the way to the cremation grounds.

I have been thinking a lot lately about what has made Balinese culture thrive so much despite (or in spite) of a massive tourist industry. So many other places have not been able to maintain a strong local culture as a result of so many visitors, and it amazes me how many Balinese ceremonies and daily rituals (traditions that seem like gold to tourists) would exist (and do exist) completely independent of them. It is a really fascinating place to observe the intersection of western travelers and a distinct local culture. I think part of why it still thrives is that the local culture itself seems built on public spectacle—glitter and gold are not a part of entertaining tourists but are a matter of showing respect and following some deeply rooted beliefs. The cremation seemed to be the ultimate demonstration of this intersection. I shared a laugh with a Balinese man during the cremation because he looked at me and my American friends who were all dressed in proper sarongs to enter the temple. He was wearing blue jeans.

The bull and the tower at their final destination.
Waiting to give offerings.

The casket was carried through the crowd before being placed inside the bull to be burned.

The burning began around sunset.

©nabj 2011

1 comment:

  1. Simply amazing and how special for you to be able to participate. Love you honey!