Preparations for community ngaben or cremations are intense.
Every day, men, women and children head to the community bale banjar to create the specified offerings — to build the great bamboo platforms that will carry the sarcophagi or make endless baskets to carry the flowers, fruits and rice of offerings.
Gusti Mangku Batur of Tengkulak Kaja says the women of the village make thousands of offerings during the 17 days leading up to a cremation.
“We come together from morning until night every day,” says Mangku of the thousands of man hours spent creating the offerings that, like the sarcophagi, will be burnt during the ngaben.
“This is a time of gotong royong in our community. Collective cremations are more economical. Most of the women here are housewives, but after school is out the young girls also come along to help. This is when they learn how to make the banten, to understand our traditions, so it is also a time of learning, so it’s a very important time,” Mangku says.
There is, she says, an added incentive in volunteering their time for the cremation preparations — ghosts.
“We hope never to be disturbed by ghosts. These are of people who have not been cremated and sent home to the gods within five years of dying. That is why here in Tengkulak we have collective ngaben every year — or every three years at the longest. We have never seen ghosts, but if we do, there is another special ceremony for them so they too can return to their roots,” says Mangku of the Bali Hindu insurance policy against ghosts.
So seriously is this notion taken that every Balinese community receives financial support from both the regional and provincial governments.
“Our local government donates Rp 3 million and we receive Rp 10 million from the provincial government,” Gusti says.
Alongside this are the donations from every family, says Wayan of Banjar Juga.
“Every man donates one bamboo pole, two coconut leaf stems and whatever else we have in abundance, so if someone has a lot of coconut trees they give coconut fronds and fruits,” says Wayan of the traditions of sharing that keep Balinese communities alive and well, even during their rituals of death.