Wednesday, October 7, 2009

A Cremation and some phasmids

During our drive up to see the first temple on top of the mountain we passed a cremation in process. Gede stopped and we took photos. We felt a bit sensitive about taking photos of this event but were assured that it was quite okay and the family would not mind.

When someone dies in Bali the body is usually buried right away, but the cremation often takes place a year or more later because it is very expensive and takes a long time to organize. Sometimes the buried body is actually disinterred and moved in ceremonial procession for the cremation. But very often only personal items of the deceased and some Sanskrit writing about the deceased are burned in the cremation ceremony and the actual body is left in its original burial spot in the cemetery. Gede’s father passed away last February and his body was buried. In August (the most common month for cremation ceremonies) the family held the father’s cremation. Only some papers with Sanskrit writing were burned in the cremation ceremony, not his father’s actual body.

However, in this roadside ceremony, they were actually cremating the body of the deceased.

The processional tower was set off to one side. The body was placed on a bamboo platform that was surrounded by a bamboo fence of sorts. Then large wreaths of flowers were placed around the fence. This shielded the actual burning body from view of the family and bystanders. Some cremations are fired in the old manner of burning wood and can take all day (or longer) for the corpse to burn. But this particular cremation was fired by a forced-fan propane system, so it was making quick work of the cremation process.

Off to the left of the cremation site were small towers with offerings placed on top. The towers were wrapped with white cloths. Gede told us that these were offerings to the evil spirits which always live at the burial grounds and cremation sites. To maintain the balance of good and evil they must first placate the evil spirits before performing the cremation so the spirit of the deceased won’t be interfered with as it goes to Heaven. Always the balance between good and bad must be maintained both in life and death.

The banjar (village adult married males) sat beneath the trees along the roadside. Almost everyone kept his back to the cremation. The family sat together on the ground beneath the big trees and faced the cremation. No one is allowed to cry during a burial or a cremation because that is considered a sign of trying to hold back the spirit of the deceased from going to Heaven. If anyone feels overcome with emotion and cannot control their tears, then that person must walk away from the cemetery or cremation until they gather self-control.

After the deceased or his possessions/Sanskrit markings are cremated, there is another ceremony for the burning of the decorative tower that was used to carry the deceased (or his stuff) to the cremation place. Twelve days later there is another processional ceremony to take the ashes and spirit of the cremated deceased to the family’s home temple. Every home in Bali has a family temple. Some of these are in courtyards and have several pagodas or carved towers. And some of these are very fancy and impressive. You see these everywhere as you drive around.


Halfway between the large city of Denpassar and the first mountaintop temple we stopped at a butterfly park. We have seen several butterfly parks and aren’t particularly impressed with them anymore. But this one had something entirely different. Something we had not seen since our childhoods and never any this impressive – phasmids.

Phasmids are insects that disguise themselves to their surroundings – commonly known as walking stick insects. This butterfly park has a collection of phasmids that couldn’t be beat. There were the phasmids that looked like brittle brown sticks. These are the ones Bill and I were familiar with from our childhood days.

They also had thick lighter brown phasmids that we had not seen before. And they had a lot of them!

The most interesting phasmid of all was the one that looked like a walking patch of leaves. You literally could not tell which leaf was simply a leaf on that tree and which was an insect pretending to be a leaf.

The only butterfly of interest to me was the Barong Butterfly native to Bali. This is a huge brown patterned butterfly – each wing as large as one of my hands. This beautiful butterfly lives only 5 days.

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