A Royal Cremation


Prince Tjokorda Raka Kerthyasa with the Naga Banda

By Mark Ulyseas

For The Bali Times

In conversation with Prince Tjokorda Raka Kerthyasa of the Ubud Royal Family and brother of the late head of the Ubud royal family, Tjokorda Gde Agung Suyasa, whose cremation will take place along with others on July 15 in Ubud. I have narrated a simple version of the events of the day. If you want to know more about the customs, religious proceedings, the exact timings of ceremonies or more, call Tjokorda Raka Kerthyasa at 0811385703, his wife Princess Asri Kerthyasa at 08123901142 or email her at asrikerthyasa@gmail.com

In the first half of the last century when an Indian dignitary visiting Bali uttered the words, “I see India all around me but I don’t recognize it,” he couldn’t have been closer to the truth. For instance, when marriages are celebrated in India, families pull out all the stops and go for broke. In Bali it’s the other way round: cremations are like Indian marriages but without the ostentatiousness. However, the common thread between the two cultures is the reverence with which the last rites are performed – the cremation and the subsequent rituals that make up the intricate weave of the religious fabric of a pulsating living culture.

On March 28, 2008, the head of the Ubud royal family, Tjokorda Gde Agung Suyasa, passed away. As it was not an auspicious time to cremate him, the padanda (high priest) of the Klungkung Palace fixed July 15, for the cremation. Since the death of Tjokorda Gde Agung Suyasa his mortal remains has been embalmed and kept in the Puri Saren Kauh – central/west area of the Puri Agung Ubud (palace). It is appropriately placed on a decorated structure surrounded by offerings with the fragrance of incense permeating the air.

Since March, the community has rallied around the royal family every evening at the puri to reminisce, eat food, play cards etc. It is the public sharing of grief by the community for the late Tjokorda Gde Agung Suyasa, who was affectionately called Panglingsir Puri Ubud (the wise one), by the people of Ubud and the surrounding areas. In the words of Prince Tjkorda Raka Kerthyasa, “He believed in the policy of working closely with the community with Bakti Asih (faith and compassion). He always emphasized that the palace could not be a palace without the community.”

On July 15, the cremations of Tjokorda Gde Agung Suyasa, his nephew Tjokorda Raka, aunt Desak Raka and 68 members of the community will take place in Ubud. This is symbolic of the Gotong Royong system (mutual assistance) between the members of the royal family and the community. It is evident to all when cremations are held side by side on the same day.

To enlighten the readers of The Bali Times about the approaching day when people from over 70 villages are expected to descend on Ubud, I met Tjokorda Raka Kerthyasa to discuss the upcoming event the likes of which Bali has not seen for a number of years. Over a glass of banana lassi he told me about the preparations that have gone into the mammoth ceremony and the rituals that will be witnessed by one and all.

He said that the four banjars of Ubud have galvanized 60 to 70 villages for making the decorations, preparing the offerings, producing the two giant effigies of bulls and the three bamboo towers that would be the vehicles for the three deceased royals to the cremation ground. The main tower on which Tjokorda Gde Agung Suyasa’s body will be placed is 27 meters high and weighs over 11 tons. A total of six thousand people in rotation will help carry the tower.

To date, over 125 tons of rice has been used for offerings and to feed people, and an unfathomable amount of steaming cups of Bali coffee, colorful seaweed jelly and other food offered to all visitors to the palace and those helping in the preparations.

On July 13, the gigantic effigy of the bull of Tjokorda Gde Agung Suyasa and the Naga Banda (dragon) will be carried in procession from Peliatan Palace to Ubud Palace after the priests have purified and blessed them prior to placing them next to his body that is in the special bale at the palace.

At 6am on the cremation day, all structures, effigies and decorations, even those of the community, will be cleansed with a ritual blessing conducted by the padanda. About two hours later, the main roof of each tower will be mounted.

The funeral ceremony will commence at noon, when the sun begins its westward journey. At the crossroads in front of the palace the padanda will “shoot” the effigy of the Naga Banda with an arrow to symbolize the killing of the dragon that binds the soul to earthly attachments, including acts committed by the deceased in his or her lifetime. After this the first procession will begin in an easterly direction to Dalampuri, about 1 kilometer from the palace, where the cremation of Tjokorda Gde Agung Suyasa and his nephew will occur.

Over 300 women and children carrying offerings will lead the procession; the bull of Tjokorda Raka and the gigantic bull of Tjokorda Gde Agung Suyasa will follow it. After this will come the tower of Tjokorda Raka, holding his body, and then the Naga Banda, whose tail will be entwined at the base of the main mammoth tower holding the remains of the late head of the Ubud royal family. In the vanguard will be the Bale Ganjur, the musical instruments and their versatile players. At regular intervals in the procession there will be musicians playing various instruments.

When the first procession has left, the second will begin, westwards to the Ubud Village Cremation Ground, about 700 meters from the palace. It will consist of the tower carrying the remains of Desak Raka followed by those of the 68 members of the community.

Often there are Balinese who cannot afford a cremation, so the deceased is usually buried and then exhumed when sufficient money is available and cremated on an auspicious day. It goes without saying that members of each banjar pitches in with money and materials for the cremation of its members.

At the cremation ground, the body of Tjokorda Gde Agung Suyasa, like his nephew’s, will be removed from the tower and placed inside the respective bull that is a representation of mother earth. Each clan has its own animal symbol, like a lion, tiger, elephant, fish etc. Only the holy priests use a white bull. After the bull has been burned, the family along with the padanda will remove his remains from the ashes and rearrange it in the form of a human figure on a white cloth. The padanda will then take those parts that represent the vital organs, grind them and place the ground pieces in a young coconut that has been decorated with great care. The family will carry the coconut and the other remains on the white cloth to Matahari Terbit Beach in Sanur. There they will board a boat to throw the ashes into the sea.

This is the procedure that will be followed by the relatives of all those that have been cremated. So after the cremations, a cavalcade of hundreds of vehicles is expected to depart Ubud for Sanur.

On return to Ubud from Sanur, every family will perform a ceremony called Mepegat: the final severing of the physical/emotional attachment to the pitara (soul) of the deceased. It is the freeing of the pitara from its worldly bondage and also a final goodbye to the loved one.

For three days from July 27 to the 30, the members of the royal family will conduct a ceremony (like all other Balinese), which is the purification of the pitara to enable it to become Dewa Pitara, or one with god. After this the pitara is kept in the house temple – in the form of water, for example. During these three days, the palace will be decorated in the colors of white and yellow that represents purification of the pitara.

Don’t let the crowds or traffic dissuade you. Come to Ubud and be part of a moving spiritual experience that is intrinsic to the living culture of Bali.

And maybe when you return to your country, a part of paradise will remain in your heart, mind and soul.

Om shanti shanti shanti om

Filed under: Paradox In Paradise

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