Ubud Royals Cremated in Spectacular Ceremony

UBUD ~ The remains of two Balinese royals were cremated on Tuesday before some 250,000 loyal subjects after being carried through this hillside town in huge spinning pyres representing the universe.

The bodies of Ubud royal family head Tjokorda Gde Agung Suyasa, who died in March after a long illness, and a lesser relative were cremated near their palace here in one of the largest royal funerals in local memory.

“This is the biggest ceremony that I have ever seen in my life. I don’t think there’ll be anything like this again until I die,” said artisan Wayan Suta, 42, who was in the crowd with his six-year-old son.

“They are our kings so I needed to attend to express my respect.”

Thousands of people from all walks of life took part in the preparations, including the construction of the papier-mache pyre towers which formed the centrepiece of the spectacular funeral procession.

The two-kilometer funeral march took the bodies from the town’s main temple, where they had been lying in state since Saturday, to the royal cemetery where the pyres were set alight.

The royal family of Ubud, the heartland of traditional Balinese arts, is one of the most revered in Bali.

It is descended from royalty from the neighbouring island of Java who fled the fall of the Hindu Majapahit Empire in the 15th century.

Until Saturday the bodies had been lying in state at the palace, waited on by members of the royal family with offerings of food and coffee.

The remains of 68 commoners, many also dead for months, were exhumed and cremated on the weekend for inclusion in the procession.

The royal remains were loaded via bamboo gangways into the multi-tiered, demon-covered towers called bade which symbolise the three levels of the Balinese Hindu universe.

Carried by hundreds of bearers, each tower – the tallest of which is 28 meters high – was spun during the procession to ensure the spirits of the dead were too disoriented to return home.

Also winding through the streets was the Naga Banda, a seven-metre-long “dragon” reserved for the highest royals.

In preparation for cremation, the bodies were placed in sarcophagi representing black bulls bedecked with gold foil, which were then wrapped in the Naga Banda.

Priests in white poured holy water on the bulls and royal women brought offerings of fruit and incense in bowls on their heads.

Then the pyres were set alight, sending flames soaring into the evening sky and, according to local belief, return the body to the fundamental elements of fire, air, water, earth and void.

The souls were then released to God before being reincarnated.

Organisers said the ashes would be taken to eastern Sanur Beach and cast into the sea later on Tuesday night.

“(The soul) doesn’t stay in the body; it’s probably around the body,” explained Tjokorda Dge Raka Kerthyasa, the successor as Ubud’s royal head.

“The process of cremation separates the attachment of the soul to the physical being, the world. I think… I haven’t died yet so I don’t know.”

Tjokorda Raka Swastika, nephew of the late Ubud royal family head, said “only the blue bloods” were honoured with a cremation featuring the Naga Banda.

“(The family) is not only respected in Bali, we are related to the royal families in Java, South Sumatra, all over Indonesia … Our family is respected by great people all over the world,” he said.

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