The Queen is Dead

In August, Ubud had a mass cremation. Sixty some Balinese people who may have already been buried for years, were fetched, cleaned up, and cremated. In October there was a mass tooth filing. The ceremony was performed on over 200 Balinese people. Holy men were carted in from the far reaches to have enough holiness to perform the rite for all those people in one day.

Cremations and tooth filings, weddings and the ground touching ceremony at a baby’s three month birthday, are very expensive events. A tooth filing costs approximately $1000 U.S. In Bali, where the average income weighs in at about $40/month, providing these all important rituals for the family would be impossible without a mass event. When the cost is spread out over enough folks, it becomes affordable.

But if you’re the queen, the game changes. This account of today’s cremation appeared in The Jakarta Post. The photos are mine.

The palebon agung, a term reserved for the cremation ceremonies of royal family members — as opposed to ngaben, the ceremony for normal Balinese — will be conducted for Tjokorda Istri Sri Tjandrawati, the late wife of the Ubud palace’s penglingsir (family leader) Tjokorda Gde Putra Sukawati. She passed away on Oct. 14 at the age of 59 at the Mount Elizabeth Hospital in Singapore after a year-long fight against stomach cancer.
Her embalmed body has been lying in state in a pavilion inside Ubud palace in preparation for the palebon agung since Oct. 15. Alongside her were her belongings, such as a comb, small mirror and toothbrush. Family members also brought offerings every day, such as coffee and tea, which were the deceased’s favorites during her life.
Two Hindu high priests will lead the cremation ceremony. They are Ida Pedanda Lingsir of Padang Tegal and Ida Padanda Aan.
The palebon agung will be held Friday. Various rituals will start around 12:30 p.m., when the body of the deceased will be transported on the bade (cremation tower) to the Dalem Puri royal cemetery east of the palace.

The purple and gold bull waits in readiness outside the palace

The procession will involve two major props; a 7.5 meter-tall (24.6 feet) wooden sarcophagus in the form of a purple buffalo and a 25 meter-tall (82 feet) bade with nine tiers. In Bali, the eleven-tiered bade is reserved only for a ruling king.

The body of the deceased will be moved from the palace to this tower via the scaffolding on the right, then carried through the streets to the cemetery.

Main roads in Ubud will be closed to vehicles during the procession, while electricity will be shut down starting from around 9 a.m. as cable poles will be dismounted to prevent them blocking the bade. Around 5,000 men from Ubud will take turns carrying the heavy tower along the 1 kilometer road from the palace to the cemetery. Upon reaching the cremation site, the body will be transported to the sarcophagus and then burned into ashes.

The tower has been connected to the second scaffolding. Now the body of the deceased will be removed and placed into the hollow body of the bull.

The nuduk galih ceremony will follow after the procession completes. The remains will be cleaned with coconut water to be blessed again. After this ceremony, the remains will be rearranged to shape a human form on a piece of cloth.

The fire raged and debris flew through the air as people scrambled away from the heat.

The whole process ends when the remains — including the ashes, bones, and all other parts — are covered with the cloth and floated out to sea. The deceased’s remains will be disbursed off Matahari Terbit beach in Sanur.

The streets were jammed with vendors, tourists and three, shiny, red fire trucks.


It was a little like a street fair. Thousands of people, Balinese and tourists alike, turned out to pay their last respects.

No matter how many cremations I witness, I am still struck by the lack of mourning. Not that sadness doesn’t exist when a loved one passes. But good-byes are said in private, surrounded by family and community.

And then it’s show time. The tower and bull are carried through the streets accompanied by the percussive pounding of gamelan. Water hoses are trained on the straining bodies of the pallbearers who glisten with sweat under the crushing weight.

Add to that scene, the colorful carts of food vendors, women selling sarongs piled high on their heads, bouquets of flashy mylar balloons, bright colored sunbrellas, and tourists looking like they’ve worn their bedspreads in an attempt to fit in, and you have a royal cremation. P1050110

6 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. sageblessings
    Nov 01, 2013 @ 10:10:07

    Love this story.



  2. Barb Garland
    Nov 01, 2013 @ 13:24:09

    It’s still a WOW for me. love you



  3. heysherrifaye
    Nov 27, 2013 @ 10:03:45

    Fascinating story…



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: