A Traditional Hindu-Balinese Cremation Ceremony: The Pelebon

A Ngaben, or Pelebon ceremony, is a traditional Hindu-Balinese cremation ceremony to send the deceased into the afterlife while showing respect to the family and the local community of the deceased.

This one was very special. It was to honor Anak Agung Niang Agung who was the second wife of the King of Ubud and passed away on January 14, 2018, at the age of 96. She was known as a real “spit-fire” and advocated for women’s rights and education throughout Bali in her day. It one of the largest Pelebon ceremony in Bali history according to Indonesia’s Tourism Ministry.

Ceremony start from The Ubud Palace. In the days leading up to the ceremony, dozens of men gather to build a Bade—a cremation tower—25 meters tall with a giant ramp leading up to a small room near the top. Around the corner from the tower, a Lembu—a giant bull figure nearly 8 meters tall —waited for the day of the ceremony. Both giant figures were built on top of a series of huge bamboo grids that allowed for crowds of men to carry the structures through the streets.

The giant bull was moved in front of the tower to scare off any demons that may follow Anak Agung Niang Agung into the afterlife. Chanting began, then a cohesive sound of prayer echoed through the crowd as dozens of men lifted the giant bull and the huge tower simultaneously.

Women dressed in brightly colored lace tops carried baskets of offerings for the deceased. Teenagers in sarongs and checkered jackets carried spears and chanted as they marched down the street. Men wearing all white marched and played metal drums that hung from bamboo sitting across their shoulders. And random locals joined in the parade too, carrying small offerings they brought with them.

Although the intention of the parade was a little gruesome—to burn a body—the local people were buzzing with a happy, lively energy.