Cultural Spotlight - Balinese Hinduism and Cremation

Cremation has been a part of human burial practices for thousands of years, but not every culture's cremation practices are the same, both in their specific traditions and in the meaning behind it. Hinduism is one such culture that views and practices cremation in a very specific way. There are many sources for discovering this information, here are a few points that are good reminders of how significant cremation can be:

  • First, as opposed to Western practices, where funerals and cremations are often an event reserved only for family and close friends, Balinese Hindus hold a large celebration of life that involves a large part of the community.
  • In addition, while Western funerals take anywhere between several days and many months to organize, it is recommended in Hindiusm that the cremation should take place as soon as possible, traditionally, by the next dusk or dawn, whichever occurs first. Unfortunately, this is not always possible; sometimes it can take years after a person’s death for a cremation to take place. Poorer families save money over time to be able to pay for the ceremony and they have mass cremations together. Their passed loved one's are temporarily buried until the day arrives.
  • Hinduism views cremation as a freeing the soul so that the loved one can move on to their next life, as Hindus believe in reincarnation.
  • During the preparations for the ceremony, family members place a small piece of gold on each of the seven gates or “openings” of the human body to help the soul identify its way out. Pandita Barran shared that “Mauritian Hindus believe that the soul exits the body upon death through one of the seven gates, which are the two eyes, two ears, two nostrils, and one mouth. The crematory fires will devour the corpse and all impurities held within it, just as fire purifies gold.” 
  • Finally, here is a quote from a description of the Agni Sanskaar or “fire ceremony” in Hinduism:

    “That is not to imply that the families are not sad at the loss of the deceased, but this convivial atmosphere is rooted in three factors. One, a significant amount of time may have lapsed from the time of death and burial to the time of cremation, allowing the family ample time to come to terms with the loss of the loved one. Two, death is seen as a release of the soul, hence a time for happiness. And three, the Balinese Hindus hold a unique belief regarding reincarnation, that the deceased will be born as the fourth generation in the family; knowing that the loved one will return soon to earth provides comfort in dealing with the death. “

No matter our individual or cultural beliefs about cremation, death, and the afterlife, it can be helpful to remember that different cultures view this process in different ways. New perspectives can help individuals and families to process their grief and perhaps turn the mourning process into a positive experience.



Photo By: Taveller_Nepali on Instagram