The Ngaben ceremony is a part of Bali’s cultural heritage that Begawan has documented. Ngaben is the tradition of burning the bodies of people who have died (cremation) and is strongly influenced by Hinduism. One of the influences of Hindu beliefs in the Ngaben tradition is the belief in reincarnation.

Ngaben Ceremony in Hindu Beliefs

The word Ngaben has several meanings. Based on etymology, the word “ngaben” comes from the word “ngabu” which can be interpreted as “turning to ashes”. Ngaben also comes from the word “ngapen” which means purification with fire. In Hindu beliefs, the God Brahma is known as the God of fire, therefore, Ngaben can be considered as an attempt to burn dirt in the form of a physical body that is still attached to the spirit, and thus return the spirit to God.

One of the Ngaben ceremony procession
Part of a Ngaben ceremony

The belief is that humans consist of the physical body, the subtle body, and karma. The physical body is formed from 5 elements called Panca Maha Bhuta, namely Pertiwi (earth), Apah (water), Bayu (air), Teja (fire), and Akasa (ether). These five elements unite to form the human body and are moved by the Atma (soul). When a human dies, only the physical body dies, while the Atma does not. Ngaben (Cremation) returns the elements that make up the physical human body (Panca Maha Bhuta) to their origin and becomes a symbol of the purification of the spirits of people who have died. The spirit is separated from its body as soon as possible and reaches a new form of life.

Ngaben Ceremony at Melinggih Kelod Village

Begawan had the opportunity to record the Ngaben ceremony procession in Br. Bayad, Melinggih Kelod in November. The Ngaben ceremony consists of many events. There are 10 steps or procedures in the Ngaben Ceremony which are Ngulapin, Nyiramin/Ngemandusin, Ngajum Kajang, Ngaskara, Mameras, Papegatan, Pakiriman Ngutang, Ngeseng, Nganyud, and Mangelud/Mangoras.

Ngaben Ceremony at Melinggih Kelod Village
Ngaben Ceremony at Melinggih Kelod Village

During the Ngaben ceremony that Begawan attended, there are 2 important physical elements which are the Bade and the Lembu. The Bade is a ceremonial tower of multiple levels, while the Lembu is a wooden ox, built by the community, and used to hold the bodies that are eventually burnt. The Bade and the Lembu will be carried to the cemetery (in Pakiriman Ngutang), it will be spun around, and will not be carried in a straight line. The goal is to confuse the deceased’s spirit to make sure it doesn’t find its way back to the physical world.

After all of the above procedures were carried out, Begawan recorded the process in which family members and relatives performed Ngeseng, the burning of the bodies. The wooden ox was set on fire, sending the deceased off to their “next” life.

The Last Step for the Family is to let go of Negative emotions

Usually, 12 days after a person’s death, a procedure called Mangelud or Mangoras will be carried out, and the family will purify and clean their home environment as it may still be filled with sadness and grief after the death of a family member. It should be understood that Ngaben is also a form of honour for the family left behind when the souls of the deceased are released from worldly bonds to await reincarnation. The family believes that the soul is not a temporary state, but that it undergoes reincarnation or will find a final resting place/moksha, a state where the soul is free from reincarnation and the wheel of death, and unites with Brahman (God). (Anik Kristina)

× Welcome to Begawan. How may we assist you?