Royal Cremation Ceremony

I was lucky enough to be in Bali during the Royal Cremation of Ida Dwagung Peliatan, 9th Raja (King) of Peliatan, who passed away August 20th, 2010 at the age of 71. This Balinese ceremony (called a Plegon) is a very important one as it releases the king’s soul from the chains of the material world. I’m told that more powerful and wealthy men need more elaborate ceremonies to break the stronger ties to the mortal world. As you can imagine, the Balinese really go all out for a King. Hundreds of thousands of people came from all over Indonesia to witness the cremation. Since I was learning to speak some Indonesian and met some Indonesian photographers I was able to get a press pass. Having a business card that said “photographer” in Bahasa Indonesia helped too!

Up to 6,000 villagers from Ubud, Peliatan, Tegalpayang, Pejeng, and Taro will take turns carrying this heavy tower (Bade in balinese) between the palace, the cremation site, and the cemetery. This 2.5 kilometer trek is through a busy city in the tropical heat and the tower must be rotated at each intersection. Most of the power is out in the surrounding towns during the ceremony as city workers rush to remove power lines to make room for the tower.

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The royal family members (wearing royal purple) were waiting in the palace by the coffin before the procession began.

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Villagers ready for the ceremony wait with the royalty.

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I’m told this is the King’s cousin, but the person who told me was just as white as I was.

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This hand carved wooden statue was paraded around on a stick in front of the procession, terrifying many small children and some adults. I heard many kids joking “haha pacar anda”, which means “your girlfriend”.

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One of the royal dancers is nervous before the performance.

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Another royal dancer makes sure his new chin hair is still there.

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A priestess blesses the dancers before the dance.

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This kid was really proud to be dancing, his family was off to the sides cheering him on but he tried to remain professional.

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Intense contact lenses, strange natural eye pigmentation, or something cultural?

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A dancer reflects on the King and tries hard to not cry.

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Another dancer smokes before his performance.

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Three generations of Royalty.

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A royal family member happily carrying a portrait of Ida Dwagung Peliatan.

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This was avery joyous occasion, not a somber funeral. The people were all very happy to see their beloved King cremated and sent on.

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While many were paying attention to the preparations, this guy was probably checking out the girls.

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Hopeful Balinese child.

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The ceremony begins as a three meter long dragon covered in gold-leaf is taken out of the palace to the waiting crowds to carry. This dragon is said to transport to the soul after life. This dragon (Naga Banda) will be set aflame at the conclusion of the ceremony, along with the 25 meter tall tower (Bade) and the 8.5 meter tall sarcophagus made in the shape of a white bull (Lembu).

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Even the local gamelan musicians can’t help but take photos.

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After many royal family members are carried through the palace gate, the ivory and gold coffin finally emerges.

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The coffin is carried through the crowd to the Bade.

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Hundreds of villagers carry the extremely heavy coffin up the bamboo stairs to the Bade.

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The coffin is tied in place with an incredibly long piece of white fabric. This fabric was made by the King’s village after his death and must have been hundreds of feet long. It was used to wrap the coffin and tie it to the Bade and represent his ties to the mortal world. These metaphorical ties will be burned with him.

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One family watches the coffin being tied to the Bade from the sidewalk.

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… another family watches from a nearby building…

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… and a local elder watches from the street.

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A man (who has the best seat in the house… literally on top of the coffin) blesses the Bade before it sets off.

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The Bade is an 11 tier 25.5 meter tower build out of bamboo, wood, paper, and gold leaf.

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People carry the Naga Banda to the Bade.

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This kid doesn’t seem to be excited to be part of the ceremony.

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A high priest fires a sacred arrow into the dragon. In doing this, the high priest destroys the worldly desires that tormented the King in his life thus helping to release the King’s soul.

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I wasn’t the only one with a camera, many local Balinese children were snapping away wildly with their camera phones. This child could not get a spot to watch the procession so he tore a hole in a local sign.

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In what felt like 95 degree heat and 95% humidity I felt like passing out. My camera and lens were hot to the touch, my skin was starting to redden, and my shirt was drenched with sweat… not all of it mine. I wanted to get a cab but the roads were solid packed with people for kilometers in every direction. I decided to put my health first and I (literally) stumbled back to my hotel after buying and rapidly drinking multiple bottles of water. Once I got back to the room I planned on taking a quick shower and heading back out but I ended up sleeping straight through the rest of the ceremony.

Special thanks to my Indonesian friends Jessy Ce and Aya de Ligt-Koetje for helping me get the press pass, you two rock!