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Subject:  Processions, cremations, weddings, anniversaries
Date: 23 Oct, 2003


Dear family and friends,

We have been in Ubud for a week now, staying in a room in a family compound named Homestay Ruma Roda. The place was recommended to us by a Swiss couple staying in the first place we stayed in Bali, who told us only that it was a nice place to stay. It has turned out to be an amazing experience, since, serendipitously, Darta, the head of the household, speaks excellent English, is gregarious and outgoing, knows about everything that is going on in the area, and is eager to explain anything and everything about Bali and to include us in the various activities. Further, the family runs a wonderful restaurant, where we've had some of the best food we've eaten in Bali, including their twice-weekly buffet where we got to try all sorts of different Balinese food.

In our previous message we talked about the dancing he took us to. In the following days and evenings, he has either directed us to or taken us to 2 weddings, a cremation, a temple procession, and other traditional Balinese dancing, and we have participated in the ceremonies marking the anniversary of the family temple in his compound.

Weddings apparently go on all day (or more), with various types of ceremonies at various times. At one of the weddings (the groom was somehow related to our host), the bride and groom were dressed in beautiful and elaborate ceremonial outfits, gold brocade, gold headdress for the bride, velvet jacket and gold brocade robe for the groom (ceremonial sword strapped on his back), and both bride and groom were heavily made up, much like the male and female Balinese dancers. There was a huge food operation going on at the back of the compound (pigs and chickens having been slaughtered the night before) and they expected to feed 3000 (yes, three thousand) people over the course of the entire day and evening. People come and go all during the day, bringing food and gifts, all dressed in beautiful sarongs and tops. We, of course, were in our sarongs and sashes as well, but were pretty plain compared to the Balinese. Ron has not learned yet how to conduct himself gracefully while wearing a "skirt"! At the other wedding (a neighbor of our host), we watched a different part of the ceremony, where the bride and groom were dressed in ordinary but elegant sarongs, and where they were blessed by the priest and performed various rituals.

One evening we went to the local temple, where we waited for a group to come from another nearby temple, and then everyone processed together to a third temple, about a 45 minute walk away. The procession included the gamelan groups (drums, gongs, etc) from the two temples, the barongs (huge representations of the protective spirit that look vaguely like a furry dragon and are worn/carried by two people -- head and tail), and the other representations of the gods from each temple. There were about 1000 people in the procession, all walking up the gradually sloping road to the other temple, in the dark, walking to the beat of the drums and gongs. The reason for all this was the the temple to which we marched was having a special anniversary, and the representations of the gods from the other temples were brought for the celebration. They would spend the night there, and then would be returned to their own temples the next day. Although some people would leave and return the next day, others would stay all night. It was an atmosphere almost like a fair, with stands selling food, and we understood there would be traditional dancing at various points during the night. We did not stay!

In the family compound where we are staying, about 20 members of the extended family were busy for 3-4 days preparing for the anniversary celebration of their own family temple that is part of the compound. Everyone was chopping and preparing food, preparing beautifully woven and constructed decorations made of palm fronds, decorating the various shrines with elegant cloth wrappings, and preparing offerings of arranged fruits, eggs, cooked chicken, and cakes. (Local cats were most interested!) Finally, on the appointed day, everyone waited for the priest to arrive (all events are on "Bali time", which means approximate -- and it may happen much earlier or much later). We were invited and included in both the special meal and the ceremonies, and Ellen was asked to carry one of the containers of water into which palm fronds were dipped to sprinkle on the shrines. The first part of the ceremony involved placating the bad spirits -- we were told that the bad spirits are like mischevious children, so you placate them first with sweets and other things so they will leave you alone. The second part of the ceremony calls on the good spirits to protect the household, the guests, the business, and all aspects of life.

Then there was the cremation. We were taken in a car to a village about 45 minutes away, where a man who had been a doctor was being cremated. Cremations are not a time of mourning, but a ceremony in which the body is returned to its various elements of earth, air, space, and fire; after the cremation, the ashes are taken and thrown into the sea. There were two huge structures waiting at the temple, one a black bull with gold hoofs and horns and decorations, made of a wooden frame covered with cloth, and the other an elaborately decorated tower-like thing. Both stood about 18-21 feet (6-7 meters) high, and were on large platforms made of bamboo. The tower is to carry the body from the temple up the road to the cemetary where the cremation takes place, and the body is then transferred to the bull for the actual cremation. The eldest son of the man who had died climbed up onto the bull's back, and with much shouting and cheering, the entire platform with the bull was lifted up by a huge crowd of men, who ran up the road, carrying it to the cemetary. Then they came back and carried all the elaborately designed floral tributes from the temple to the cemetary. Then they came back a third time, and the body was brought and placed in the compartment at the top of the tower, and the platform with the tower was lifted up by a large number of people and carried up the road, again accompanied by cheering and applause. The procession of people followed, along with the usual accompanying orchestra. At the cemetary, the back of the bull was cut open to expose a compartment to which the body was transferred from the tower. Blessings were said over the body, and offerings were put into the compartment with it, and then it was covered again. The bull was ritually set on fire with incense sticks, and then propane torches were used to do the actual burning. We were told that propane is used now because wood is scarce and it takes a great deal to make a hot enough fire, so the propane is better and more efficient. Within half an hour the bull and the body within had become ashes.

Yesterday, for a complete change of pace, we hired a driver to take us and our bicycles to the top of Mt Bratan, where we explored the beautiful lake and temple and then rode our bikes downhill, along quiet and shaded lanes, through the beautiful green rice fields and terraces back to Ubud. This is the way all biking should be! However, we did have a few steep ups and downs because we had to cross several rivers, and we had to go south of Ubud in order to reach the one bridge across the Ayung river -- which meant that we had to bike back uphill about 6 km to Ubud at the end of the trip! The entire trip down took us about 4.5 hours, most of which was downhill.

Tomorrow we plan to leave Ubud and spend a couple of days biking from Bangli to Rendang to Bebandem, and then back to Padangbai on the beach.

Love to all,

Ellen and Ron


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