Reinterpretation of Cultural Practices: The Case of Ngaben in Santhayana Crematorium

I Gde Pitana (Universitas Udayana)
Ni Nyoman Sri Natih (Universitas Indonesia)


Cremation (ngaben) in Bali is very expensive ritual that is to be born by the Balinese Hindus. They often sell their property, notably land, to finance the cremation ceremony. More so, ngaben ceremony is a stressful event for the family, as any feel of anger, revenge, humiliation, etc found its room to be brutally expressed, especially for those who were not physically active in the village because of some reasons
(such as live or work outside the island). In some cases, those who died outside are not accepted by the village, or the cremation becomes arena for expressing revenge. This situation prevents the Balinese from taking job outside the island.

To minimize the impact of this practice, the progressive Pasek clan-based organization (MGPSSR, Maha Gotra Pasek Sanak Sapta Rsi), initiated the development of a modern crematorium in 2004, whereby Balinese can undertake ngaben ceremony. Ngaben ceremony organized in this crematorium (named Santhayana crematorium) brings about a number of benefits for the family of the dead, such as (1) free from the fear of being not well accepted by the village; (2) free from preparing materials for ngaben offerings, which is very complicated; (3) much cheaper compared to conventional way of ngaben in the village; and (4) convinced that the procedures, offerings, and activities are already ‘correct’, i.e. in line with the philosophy and ethics of the ngaben ceremony.
At the beginning, the existence of Santhayana Crematorium attracted a lot of criticisms, but gradually accepted. The crematorium, which was initially meant to be used merely by Warga Pasek clan, but now a lot of non-Pasek (including Anak Agung, Ida Bagus, Dewa, etc) have used the service. The case of Ngaben ceremony in Santhayana crematorium shows the adaptability of Balinese society to preserve the culture dynamically, with its pros and cons. This paper is also significant for illustrating how the clan, which is Pasek could fight for the status and standing in society through simplification ceremony and interpretation of cultural practices.

Keywords: cultural practices, Ngaben, Warga Pasek, reinterpretation.