I joined the early morning crowd who had gathered around the central temple in Ubud for the royal funeral. The crowd was noisy and the sound of the chatter of tourists mixed with the beating of the drums and the chanting of the priests, two of whom sat outside the temple on a specially constructed podium in front of the funeral pyre – a five meter high purple buffalo. Both of the priests were dressed in white robes and wore traditional Balinese hats.
One of the priests chanted quietly as he placed flowers in scented waters, his hands heavy with large gold rings. A woman walked up to him and he blessed her, flicking the scented water over her with, before handing her a flower, which she stuck to her forehead. In front of the woman, fifty people sat cross legged under the rays of the sun facing the funeral pyre. They all wore traditional black clothes, but almost without exception everyone was wearing sunglasses; it was a moment of contrast.
The opening ceremony came to an end when a group of 20 soldiers marched out of the temple grounds. They were accompanied by a band, playing flutes, drums and cymbals. The men, who were dressed up as soldiers, each held a two meter tall wooden spear and had a large traditional knife tucked into their belts. After the soldiers had filed out of the temple grounds, one-hundred people gathered round the funeral pyre and lifted it slowly up – they would need to carry it one kilometer to the funeral ground.
It took more than two-hundred people to lift the coffin, which rested twenty-meters above the ground in a traditional Balinese pagoda. The structure had been painted in bright pink, yellow and orange and had been decorated with sculptures of lions, dragons and gargoyles. The whole structure rested on a lattice of bamboo, which had been bound together and was being used to lift the coffin.
The people lifting the funeral pyre and the coffin could only do it for very short periods of time. Once the structures were balanced, the crowd carrying the structures would run forwards as far as they could before collapsing in exhaustion. Like a relay race, every 100 meters there were a new team of volunteers waiting to fill in for those too tired to carry on.
In total the ceremony lasted more than three hours – though I didn’t stick around for the cremation. Without a doubt, the royal funeral was one of the highlights of my road trip. If you’re interested to learn more, check out the photos below.