A Coffin for a Hindu High Priestess

December 22, 2012
Category : Local Customs

Driving by, we could see something interesting was being made for an important cremation.  This kind of sarcophagus is only used for a high-caste Balinese as is called a “Wadah”.  Under the awning on a steamy hot day, several men were at work putting the finishing touches to a beautiful white bull.  White is the colour used for the cremation of high caste women so we knew that much before asking for more details.

(The following is a slideshow of the Wadah-making which we hope you’ll enjoy viewing as our story continues. )

The next day was the cremation so finishing touches were the focus right now. The shape for the bull starts out as a woven bamboo frame which is then built upon more delicately with styrofoam or paper mache.   (In this case, the white fabric that covered the frame was a stretch knit, fine towelling.)  The base for this wadah is wood, which makes it very heavy.  The whole structure will then be laced to a bamboo lattice, enabling the men to carry it through the streets to the cremation grounds.

One of the simple tools the men were using was a home-made mallet.   Nothing sophisticated is going on here – no power drills and screws.   Just mallets, blades, bamboo pegs and tons of glue!!

What a beautiful animal!  The price normally for a piece of this kind is around USD$1500 – a fortune here for most Balinese. This wadha (and all the loving care and attention to detail being given to it) is being offered to the family of the High Priestess for free as a mark of respect – and perhaps obligation?

The Balinese love bling!  Ornateness, colour, glitter…. Even the feet have lace & trim glued around the foil as a finishing touch!

Many of the decorative elements are actually made from simple gold foil paper which is intricately-cut and applied to a shape that has been lined with a velvet material.  From start to finish, it will have taken around 1.5 months to complete the piece.

You’ll note too, that not a detail is missed at the rear.  The body of the priestess will be laid inside the bull.  It will rise on its bamboo frame (which will then weigh around 500 kilos), to be carried in shifts by 200 of the village’s strongest men several kilometers to the cremation ground.  To burn the priestess in her coffin may take several hours at the end of which, the ashes will be collected and then taken to the sea to be dispersed – but only on a good day on the calendar which may come some several months later.

For the Balinese, lives stop to see these rituals through.  Something even the most luxurious hotels here still need to deal with when employing Balinese staff.  As irksome as the focus can be sometimes, it’s what makes Bali a VERY special place to be.

We’ve told you a little about the making of the coffin which we hope you’ve enjoyed. To read about the cremation ceremony itself, click on this link:- Cremation in Ubud with many thanks to Roy Stevenson of Seattle, Washington for his observations.

There are no comments yet, add one below.

Add new comment