I was lucky during my time in Bali last December 2009 when accidently found Ngaben procession. It was my last day in Bali before got back to Jakarta at night. From the information that i got from the people whose about attended the Ngaben procession, the procession was about to be held in Kuta beach. Not everyday people in Bali happened to held Ngaben procession. So this was my lucky day.
What exactly Ngaben is? Ngaben is a purification ceremony for Atma (spirit) as the first phase of Balinese Hindu sacred obligation to their ancestors by bodies burning procession. As written in the article about Pitra Yadnya, the human body consists of coarse body, subtle body and the karma. Human coarse formed from five elements which are Panca Maha Bhuta or Pertiwi (solids), Apah (liquid), Teja (substance thermal), Bayu (wind) and Akasa (space). These five elements are fused to form a person’s physical and mobilized by the Atma (spirit). When a man died, whose died is just the body, not the Atma. Ngaben is a process to purified the Atma as it leaves the body.
There are several opinions about the origin Ngaben word. There is an opinion who says Ngaben is from the word of Beya which means stock. While other opinion says that the word of Ngaben comes from the word of Ngabu which means become ashes.
In Hinduism, it is believed that Brahma beside the creator god, also is the god of fire. So Ngaben is the purification process for the spirit with burning process using flame as the media to return to Brahma.
Ngaben ceremony or also knows as Pelebon is considered very important because the family was able to liberate the spirit of the people who died from his worldly ties to heaven, or transformed back into the world through rienkarnasi. No tears are shed, because the deceased is only temporarily not present and will reincarnate or find his final rest in Moksha (freeing from the reincarnation and death cycle).
Because of this ceremony requires effort, expensive cost and takes relatively a long time, this is often performed so long after death, mostly for lower caste members. To bear the burden of cost, labor and others, they often performed the Mass Ngaben or sometimes in a group ceremony for the whole village. But for higher caste members it is normal to perform the ritual within 3 days or waiting for a good time. During the period of storage in the house, the spirit of the dead became restless and always wanted freedom.
A good or proper day for Ngaben usually given by the priests after going through the existing consultation and calendar. Preparation is usually taken away before the good day for Ngaben defined. At this time that families prepare a Wadah (or Bade) and Lembu made of bamboo, wood, and paper from various colors according to the class or socioeconomic status of the families concerned.
The Lembu and Wadah (or Bade) will be carried to the cremation site in a procession. The procession is not walking in a straight line. This is to confuse bad spirits and keep them away from the deceased.
After the ceremony day is set, the family will spend the first ritual that is Nyiramin Layon (bathe the corpse). The body will be bathed by the Brahmins (people from the Brahmana caste) whose because of their social status have an obligation to do so. Finished bathing, the body will be weared a complete Balinese traditional clothes. Next procession is Ngajum, which is a procession to release the spirit by making symbols using cloth pictorial elements of sanctification of spirit.
Arriving at the crematorium will be carried out, the corpse was removed from Wadah to Pemalungan, the place to burned the corpse that made of a banana tree trunk that stacked resembles an ox.
After that a ceremony to purified the spirit namely Pralina conducted by a priests or people whose considered capable to do so (usually from Brahmana caste). Pralina is a burning procession with an abstract fire in a fusion spell form to clean the spirit (atma in Balinese) dirtiness from the the corpse body. Then performed a burning procession using a concrete fire to the corpse body. Nowaday, this burning procession is no lenger using a firewood. People in Bali now are using kerosene to make the fire.
Generally the process of combustion from the body intact to ashes takes an hour. The Ashes then collected in ivory coconuts for assembled into Sekah. Then the member of family will throw (Larung) this Sekah to the sea, because the sea is a symbol of the universe as well as consider as the entrance door into the house of God. The climax of Ngaben is the burning of the whole structure, together with the body of the deceased. The fire is necessary to free the spirit from the body and enable reincarnation.
There is another note for their baby who dies under 42 days old, the remains should be buried. The Ngaben ceremony will be carried out following the Ngaben of other family member who also died.
Status of the spirit of rebirth for those who die closely related to karma and deeds as well as the behavior during the previous life. In general, the Balinese feel that the spirit is born again into the world only within the family circle who have blood relations with him. Circle of life and death for the people of Bali is related with the ancestors.