A Powerful Celebration in Bali
The most remarkable ceremony that I was privileged to witness, occurred in Bali. There, the families of the deceased's are obligated to throw a spectacular party for the village. They believe that the deceased will return in their next lifetime to this same place. The family wants the villagers to be pleased about return of their loved one; hence the elaborate party for them. It took a year for this family to save enough money to throw the party, so they were in a celebratory mood by the time they were finally able to throw the party. Sadly, a baby was cremated along with this man so that those parents would not be burdened with the expense and time it would take to save the money for another funerary celebration.
The cremation ceremony began with local musicians playing many drums and flutes that created quite lovely music. A procession followed with people offering food, clothing, and exquisite flowers. All of these objects were passed upward to the pier where the wrapped bodies had been placed. Before the fire was lit, these symbolic gifts were removed. Once they were sure the cremation was finished, long wooden tubes of water were taken up to extinguish the hot embers. (Some tubes were made of bright plastic; the influences of modern manufacturing had encroached on tradition.) Then, two elderly women in traditional Punjabi dress, separated out any pieces of bone that had not completely been turned to ash.
The final (and completely surprising to me) stage of the ceremony was that several men hoisted the large bowl of ash by balanced it on two long poles, and headed down the road. They swayed side to side and turned in circles, looking like very intoxicated pall bearers! (And many were!) It was explained that this crazy, strange swaggering was to confuse the departed so they would not be able to come back to the village before their allotted time.
I had never before seen such tender emotion mixed with joviality at any funeral service. I felt so honored to have been welcomed to participate as a spectator to such a full-bodied, vibrantly reverent service and celebration. It changed me. It filled me with the urge to create ceremonies that allow full expression of emotion that Americans, as whole, are not prone to do at funerals.