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Pakraman Village

Mass Cremation

348 sawas (corpses) were burnt during the mass cremation ceremony, also known as ngaben, in Pakraman Village, Bali; a ceremony that has inspired the world.

Ngaben is a sacred, religious ceremony for the Hinduns and one of the main tourist attractions in Bali. This cremation ritual is considered as a completion for the circle of life. A soul is considered for the circle of life. A soul is considered imperfect until the body is cremated. It is an extravagant ceremony that costs a fortune. But it is mandatory for a Hindu to have this ceremony, thus most Balinese work their whole lives saving money for it, or join a mass cremation ceremony likes the one in Pakraman Village.


Since I was a kid, I had always wanted to witness a Ngaben. And the opportunity finally came. As I arrived is Pakraman Village, people were preparing for the ceremony that would be held the next day. I took the time to chat with one of the locals and found out that, apparently, for a few causes of death, one is not allowed to give this ceremony. People who died of an accident, murder, suicide or reasons of insanity cannot be cremated right away. They have to be buried first. Then, following ancient customs, after the body decays the bones can be cremated. The ritual is also considered as a token of dedication to parents. The ceremony usually cost between Rp20 million to Rp22 million, and that’s only for the equipment and facility. To have a complete ceremony, one can spend hundreds of millions os rupiah.

Joining a mass cremation is one way to have a ceremony without being burdened by the high cost. Mass cremation is advantageous for those who are not financially capable of holding a Ngaben of their own. Many of them have more than one family member that has not been cremated yet. Nyoman Pasak, for example. The middle-aged man told me that he had been waiting for 35 years to cremate 40 of his family members. Not four, but forty! His happiness was apparent knowing that soon he would be able to perform his long awaited duty. I was amazed and touched.

I walked around the village some more and observed the preparation of Bade and Lembu. Bade is a conffin and Lembu is a replica of a buffalo where the corpse is put into before it is cremated. Watching them, I could sense no sorrow or sadness. No one cried for the deceased. The atmosphere was one of togetherness.


The next day I woke up feeling fresh and looking forward to witnessing a Ngaben for the first time. After breakfast, I left for Pakraman Village, located not far from my hotel at Lovina Beach on the northern coast of Bali. I was told that there were 348 corpses to be cremated that day. As I approached the village, I saw hundreds of tourist and locals waiting for the ceremony to start. I was not the only one getting excited!

A few police officers started to temporarily close the roads that would be used for the procession. Closing down roads is a common thing here n Bali, especially when they are observing a religious ceremony.

Not too long after, the gamelan started palying. Gamelan is a traditional musical ensemble that usually consists  of metallophones, xylophones, drums, gongs, bamboo flutes and string instruments. The sooting pentatonic sound of the gamelan was escorting a parade of hundreds of people carrying Bade and Lembu. At an intersection, the carriers of Bade and Lembu stopped and then walked in a circular motion, in an effort to confuse bad spirits. Afterwards, the headed towards a rice field where others had waited. A Hindu priest gave a few words followed by a prayer. Then the Ngaben began. The Lembus were set on fire.


The gamelan continued playing. As the sun got brighter and the day got hotter, the corpses turned to ash. Even then, the ceremony was not over. The ashes were collected and scattered in the sea. Everthing in this ceremony – the sea waves, the fire, the wind and the soil – will take spirits to an eternal, final resting place.

Althought it was really crowded, the ceremony still felt intensely spiritual and deeply emotional. It is forbidden to cry during a Ngaben because it is believed to block the spirit’s way to the perfect place, but obviously for me it was not easy to do. I quickly wiped a tear off my face.

Nyoman Pasak did not shed a tear but he looked over whelmed indeed. He never thought that he would be able cremate his family members. But thank to the mass Ngaben, he was finally able to “pay his debt”. I was very happy to finally witness a Ngaben, but mostly I was happy for Nyoman Pasak. I wiped a tear off my face again.

Source: Journey Indonesia magazine – www.thejourneymagz.com