Belly of the bull: Bali's Hindu cremations for peace in the afterlife

Tabanan (Indonesia) (AFP) –


Flames engulf a wooden bull with the body of an elderly Balinese man inside its belly, an elaborate cremation that many on the mostly Hindu island see as crucial for peace in the afterlife.

Following the blaze, the 81-year-old's ashes are spread on a large piece of fabric dressed with flowers. Villagers in traditional sarongs march to a river where the remains are released into the gurgling water.

Called Ngaben, the ceremony is intended to set free a person's soul so it can enter a higher realm where it will be reborn or liberated from evil spirits.

In the village of Tabanan, hundreds of friends and relatives came together to witness the cremations of two elderly cousins at the end of a days-long ritual.

A band plays traditional music with prayers as the bodies are washed and dressed in colourful attire.

The coffins are paraded through town so people can say goodbye, and also to confuse evil spirits that might want to disturb the solemn ceremony.

Relatives come together to prepare offerings of flowers, money, fruit and holy water to be placed around the coffins, which are later moved to the belly of the four-metre (13-foot) tall wooden animal.

Cows are sacred throughout Hinduism, the religion practised by most of Bali's residents. But Ngaben is distinctive to this Indonesian island.

"To us Balinese, there has to be Ngaben," said I Gusti Putu Artayasa, the son of one of the deceased.

"Because without Ngaben, it's not perfect yet. The spirit will be everywhere."