Cremation In Ubud: A Cultural Tjok

Cremation In Ubud: A Cultural Tjok

By Marie BEE

A TJOKORDA recently passed away. A great event in Ubud, marked by a colourful cremation ceremony, the Ngaben.

TJOKORDA (or COKORDA following the Balinese phonetics) is the name of the royal family, also friendly referred to as “Tjok”. Like all royals, the genealogy tree is so large and complex that sometimes even the family itself gets confused when asked about the links between them…

The grandchildren are carried on the palanquin and accompany the prince to the cremation grounds.

Tjokorda Gede Raka passed away peacefully as he turned 72. For a good part of his life, he had been holding a high rank position at the Police Department in Denpasar.

On April 25th, his family and relatives joined the death ritual, holding the long cord that connects them to the tower, his son standing perched on it as they accompany him in his last journey. Hundreds of people from his banjar gathered to build the tower and the black bull; women spent days preparing an array of offerings.

The eight-storey tower was magnificent, decorated with cuttings of gold and scarlet paper, carved dragons on each corner. A bit further up the road was the impressive black bull used as a sarcophagus, adorned with gold lacings and a large collar, waiting for the signal.

An oversized bull for the prince's cremation

An oversized bull for the prince’s cremation


The higher the status, the higher the tower.













From the early morning, a crowd of Balinese and foreigners alike started gathering by the Palace from where the procession is due to leave, on its way to the burning gat in Tebesaya. As usual with Balinese ceremonies, no-one really knows at what time things will get into motion and wisely everyone waits, sitting on the steps and chatting, drinking water and smoking cigarettes… a very relaxed and laid back attitude when compared to people in the West who tend to be sad, to cry and be very solemn when it comes to mourning.

For most westerners, attending such cremation ceremony is actually a shock: seeing the laughter and the smiles, the casualness of the participants, sarongs and towels (the personal belongings of the deceased) being burned along with the body, meaning nothing is left after one’s gone… a whole symbol that strikes the mind with questioning and sometimes the grasping for evidence.

After the casket has been eased into the tower, the procession is ready to start. The tower has been bound to a large bamboo platform. In one go, it is lifted on the shoulders of 40 carriers. It’s the same effort from the ones who carry the bull. The weather is hot and humid; beads of sweat are on every forehead.

And then there are the musicians, dressed in red, accompanying the procession with loud cymbals, gongs, drums and flutes. They will keep playing till the fire will have destroyed the bull and the tower and turned them into ashes.

The great Mexican anthropologist Miguel Covarrubias once wrote in his book “Island of Bali” that the ceremony of cremation is the most joyful time in the life of a Balinese, its highlight. Truly, for them this is a very happy moment when the soul can go back “home” to where it belongs. May we understand and share the same philosophy, may we celebrate life so we die in peace.

The Dragon (Naga) is exceptionally shown to the palace for this momentous occasion.

The Dragon (Naga) is exceptionally shown to the palace for this momentous occasion.


Frightening faces are carved and installed on the tower to ward off evil spirits.

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