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.