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An Unusual Cremation in Bali

An Unusual Cremation in Bali
By John Hughes
ISBN 978 1 902544 10 6

An Unusual Cremation in Bali is about a family cremation in 1996 when this family had to remove the souls and remains of their four dead family members from their private graveyard, where some had been buried for almost twenty years. Many fascinating rituals and practices took place to please the spirits of the dead and to ward of evil spirits and all black magic attempts to ruin the cremation.

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An Unusual Cremation in Bali  takes a layman’s curiosity on a surprising journey into beliefs and rituals about the after-life. John Hughes was asked to film and photograph an unusual family cremation ritual in Bali. While researching the subject, some fascinating and related practices were unearthed, many of these rituals take place everyday - in Bali and other countries.

We are all going to die sometime, that is a certainty, and despite all  human experience, faith  and science, we have no certainty of the afterlife - or do we?  Rebirth, reincarnation, transmigration or resurrection - do they exist and do we have a choice? In Bali, cremation is the single most important ritual and it is the sacred duty of every Balinese to cremate their dead so that the souls can go to heaven or join the cycle of rebirth.

Bali is a small island, an exotic, tropical, paradise for tourists and the only Hindu province in Muslim Indonesia. Balinese Hinduism involves worship of the Hindu Trinity, the ancestors, fertility Gods and the natural world.

Tourists and visitors seldom discover why the Balinese are always celebrating some religious ceremony, why they perform cremations with such commitment and community involvement, or that a village Barong dance is not only entertainment for tourists but a trance experience for many of the performers!

In Bali, black and white magic is part of everyday life. Balinese take precautions against black magic spells and demons on a regular basis, much as Europeans take vitamins. Being both religious and superstitious,  the Balinese  make offerings to both the good and bad spirits to create spiritual harmony.
What beliefs or fears compel a family to dig up the remains of their father, mother and two brothers - almost 20-years after death of the oldest brother - and to dismantle the skeletons, wash the bones and burn them?

Can people really communicate with the dead and how can they be certain that they are in touch with their family from the spirit world?  Every stage in the life-cycle is affected by Bali’s cultural heritage and families regularly consult the spirit world to seek approval for weddings, special events and cremations. Requests from the spirit world are never ignored.

Why should a modern Balinese family spend a small fortune to provide Bali’s best performers to entertain the souls of their dead, their ancestors and the good and evil spirits, as well as the villagers?

American Indian ‘medicine men’, shamans and African ‘witchdoctors’ claim to have the ability to make rain - in Bali, the rainmaker can also stop the rain!

In western societies, ‘spiritualist specialists’ are often exposed as rip-off merchants and fraudsters - in Bali, the Balian are highly regarded as gifted mystics and an essential element of daily life. One family asked the Balian to keep flies, dogs and demons away from their cremation rituals - during their rituals flies, dogs and demons were notably absent.

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Review by: gatla on Oct. 20, 2014 : (no rating)

I read An Unusual Cremation in Bali. I found it very good. From the Asian background and particularly from Indian background, I could identify so many things to my culture. Even though I did not hear about this ritual in India, there are some practices I could identify. In chapter 3, I like the dilemma of one village needing the rain another with ritual did not want. It is a human experience. In India and in same locality some are praying for rain and others are praying to stop rain. It is all depends on what crops they sowed.

The Chapter 8, reminded of the puppet show in our village during my childhood.

Another interesting fact I read in your book is the female priestess performing the rituals and being part of the rituals. In Indian culture, only men perform these rituals, called pujas. Only recently a month ago Tamilnadu, government appointed a first female Dalit priestess.
I like your book as it has lots of information and is educative.

I would recommend this book for those with Asian background. It is worth reading. I would highly recommend It as it explains many traditions and sentiments of Bali and Asian people. It is worth reading, when these traditions in a modern world are disappearing.

Pratap Reddy Gatla, Chicago, USA.


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