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Royal Cremation in Ubud

by Susi, 16 July 2008

Pelebon Puri Ubud July 2008

The royal cremation in Ubud yesterday was the biggest ever, and the best publicised. A media centre was set up for the event, marshalled by Edelman PR Indopacific. I think this must be the first cremation in Bali to have its own publicists and press office. And its own blog, too. The wires picked up the story and images, and the New York Times did a big feature, which I feel is the best piece (for mass consumption) yet written about this event.

Image © 2008 Imp Winartho (detail of original)

We were in Ubud for the event, but chose to avoid it. Our purpose for being in Ubud was to give a lecture to the Jade Circle of the San Francisco Asian Art Museum in my gallery. That was exhausting enough, so we chose to avoid the crowds and head back home to Mengwi at mid-day. 

I lived in one of the palace compounds in Ubud for six years, and have seen and participated in many royal cremations, so there was no novelty value for me in yesterday’s event. I also knew the deceased, Cok Agung Suyasa. His son Cok Wah and I have been friends for years, and have worked together on a number of projects. His daughter, Cok Alit is my business partner in Ubud, and a lovely, kind woman. I often met Cok Agung himself during temple ceremonies and palace weddings over the years, and I always enjoyed our conversations. In particular, I recall the numerous times he asked me to read his palm. This is a kind of party trick I used to perform when in the midst of a clutch of royals waiting for the next stage of a ceremony or for the priest to arrive, which happens often. Cok Agung especially enjoyed this little amusement, and I think he also had a genuine concern about what the future held for him.

He was respected by everyone who knew him, admired by the people of Ubud, and succeeded at balancing within his life the political mind of a leader with the soul of a healer. He was an extraordinary man who faced many extraordinary challenges in his life. My thoughts and feelings about Cok Agung are what really kept me away from the ceremony. The scale, expense and “wow” factor that surrounded this cremation felt too much in conflict with my memories of the man himself. I could not have dealt with the spectacle and the Hollywood atmosphere, or the throngs of tourists in appalling pseudo-adat dress gawking and taking snapshots. It just felt too “off”.  So I didn’t go, but I certainly felt the energy during the day, as we went about our work, only a few hundred meters from the centre of the event.

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      • Doris Suits
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      • July 28, 2008

      I feel your disparaging comments about tourists attending the cremation were uncalled for. Do you remember the first times you were in Ubud and how interested you were in their rituals, how forthcoming the people in Ubud were in informing you about their traditions? Granted most tourists were not nearly as informed as you are, but the fact that they were witnessing an incredibly important event, notwithstanding the fact that they weren't dressed as you would have liked them to be, surely have given them a memory they will never forget. The attendance of the Balinese was their way of showing respect for those who had died, something the tourists probably weren't aware of. I'm sorry you felt you couldn't partake in the rituals because you felt your living memories of the Cok were enough. But try to remember that once long ago you, too, were a tourist who was in awe of the myriad of rituals you must have witnessed.

      • Susi
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      • July 28, 2008

      Ooooo! Vitriol! What were you wearing Doris? It couldn't have been that bad. I've just seen Made Wijaya's superb photos from the cremation and subsequent ceremonies, and there were some European-blooded attendees whose sensitive, sartorial splendour stands unrivalled - - dressed with respect, panache, and integrity. Dressed to be exactly who they are, no more no less. Any person with sensitivity and education always understands who they are, where they are, and what is the what. Regardless of longitude, latitude or attitude.

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