Balinese Hindu performs ‘humble’ funeral rituals amid COVID-19 – Lifestyle
Hindus in Bali believe that the Ngaben The ceremony is essential to free the soul of the deceased and allow him to enter their Sanggah Pemerajan (temple of the house). The soul would then wait to be reborn or to become one with Sang Hyang Widhi Wasa (Almighty God).
The elaborate funeral ritual is usually expensive. Some spend 100 million rupees (US $ 6,950) on it. Others would bury the body of the deceased and wait to perform the ceremony collectively with other families, which usually takes place every five years. The latter option is more affordable at an estimated cost of around Rp 5 million ($ 350) for each family.
The COVID-19 pandemic has hit tourism-dependent Bali hard. Many Balinese have lost their livelihood – and therefore their budget for ceremonies such as Ngaben.
The ritual also cannot be performed for those who have died from COVID-19.
A 47-year-old Balinese man in Bangli, a regency sitting 39 kilometers north of Denpasar, has died after contracting COVID-19 last month. Instead of Ngaben, the body was cremated in a hospital.
“Personally, I am not satisfied,” said the man’s sister, Desak, 50, who refused to reveal the identity of the deceased and asked to be referred to only by his first name.
Desak was unable to see his brother for 15 days while the latter was in quarantine after contracting COVID-19. After his death, the family were unable to bring his brother’s body home to be bathed and rested before cremation day.
Desak reiterated that the family must comply with the regulations. However, deep down, she was concerned with her brother’s soul path to the afterlife, as many details about Ngaben could not be performed.
“Who wouldn’t feel that way?” I’m his closest brother, ”she says.
Even the Balinese who played Ngaben because those close to them before the pandemic felt uncomfortable when asked how they would feel if they were in Desak’s shoes.
Pande Putu Mahagiri, 36, who works as a cultural liaison officer at the Usada Bali center in Ubud, was very close to his grandmother, who died four years ago. She remembers that during the Ngaben ceremony, she almost broke down and her family told her to pull herself together.
“Even then, it was already difficult for me. I just can’t imagine [how I would feel] if my grandmother had died [of COVID-19] during the pandemic and I couldn’t be there for her. I would have been heartbroken, ”Putu said.
The priest’s wife
Ida Pedande Putu Peling Umur took her last breath on February 10 this year at the age of 93 in Ubud, about 20 kilometers from the Bangli Regency in Bali. Surrounded by her relatives, the priest’s wife died peacefully of old age.
The family then waited 15 days until purnama (full moon) and 15 additional days until tilem (Black moon). They then chose an auspicious day to perform the cremation ceremony, called pelebon. Pelebon is the name of the funeral ritual of priests and their families. During the 30 days, her body was put to rest in the temple and the necessary ceremonies were performed for her soul.
Ida Pedande Putu Peling Umur was loved and respected by the community, who called her Ratu Betari Nabe. Ratu (queen) is used to refer to the wife of a Hindu priest. His grandson Ida Bagus Dharmayudha, 45, nicknamed “ Gus De ”, admitted that his mode of death, which was not related to COVID-19, allowed them to perform the pelebon.
“If she [got COVID-19], we wouldn’t have had permission [to perform the pelebon]He said, adding that while many details had to be compromised and simplified, the essence of the rituals was fulfilled.
Saying goodbye: Ida Bagus Dharmayudha, 45, bids her last farewell to her grandmother, Ida Pedande Putu Peling Umur, who died at 93 on February 10. The cremation took place in the parking lot of the Monkey Forest Sanctuary in Ubud, Bali on March 20. (JP / Courtesy of Scott Bauer / Usada Bali)
When they prayed collectively for the deceased in the temple, only a third of the capacity of the place was allowed inside. Most everyone wore masks – even with the pungent smell of incense sticks. Washing hands before entering the temple was mandatory, and Gus De’s family also arranged for the disinfectant to be sprayed regularly.
On the day of the cremation, March 21, around 500 people showed up to pay their respects. When they brought the body of the deceased to the Monkey Forest Sanctuary in Ubud to be cremated in a white lembu (bull-shaped coffin), virtually everyone followed safety protocols. Police officers were also there to supervise.
“When my grandfather passed away in 2017, before Corona, at least 2,000 people showed up,” said Gus De.
“It [my grandmother] belonged to the people. Many apologized because they couldn’t come. So many feelings are involved, but we have to come to terms with the situation. We have to follow government regulations, ”he added.
The cost of the cremation ceremony was not an issue – as many people donated for the ceremony.
“She dedicated her life to the community, so the community felt compelled to honor her on her journey to the afterlife,” he said.
Marina Kolaric, 41, therapist and mindfulness coach who lives in Ubud, observed the importance of cultural and religious ceremonies for the mental health of the Balinese, especially during the time of the pandemic. The Serb witnessed these ceremonies in her village carried out by locals while wearing masks and exercising caution.
“I believe that through these ceremonies, in addition to staying close to their communities, the Balinese remain healthy – both physically and most importantly, mentally and emotionally,” she said.
Asked about his thoughts on performance Ngaben and pelebon with so many details compromised during the pandemic, Gus De said the current situation could serve as a “lesson” for many Balinese.
The Priest’s Wife: The Hindu funeral ritual of a priest’s wife, Ida Pedande Putu Peling Umur, who died at 93, takes place in the parking lot of the Monkey Forest Sanctuary in Ubud, Bali, on March 20. wear a mask to comply with the COVID-19 safety protocol. (JP / Courtesy of Scott Bauer / Usada Bali)
He recalled that in the past, many Balinese performed lavish cremation ceremonies – even if they were not financially secure. Gus De reiterated that the ceremony should not become a burden on the financial future of families.
In addition, Gus De said that in the past many Balinese used the occasion of the cremation ceremony to bet on the side. The current economy had even made it harder to pay their bills, let alone wasting money on gambling, said Gus De.
“Friends can now talk about good things with each other – not gambling,” said Gus De with a smile.
Gus De recognized the sadness of some Balinese who, like Desak, could not perform the Ngaben correctly due to the pandemic. He reminded people that a simple hospital cremation would always be observed by a Hindu priest and, in essence, would further sweeten the soul of the journey after the death of the deceased. The roads might be different, but the destination would still be the same, he added.
“Having a lavish celebration will not guarantee the soul will be at peace. At the end of the day, it’s the person’s good deeds while they are alive that count, ”said Gus De.
Desak also refused to dwell in the past, adding that her brother’s soul was “at peace” and she hoped he would be accepted by Almighty God at her side.
“We also received a lot of help from the hospital given the situation. [The cremation cost was] supposed to be Rp 12 million [$840], but we only had to pay Rp 5 million [$350],” she said.
-Additional report by Gilbert Valentine