Mon, Jul 26, 2004 - Page 5 News List

Crowds bid fiery farewell to princess at cremation in Bali

THE GUARDIAN , UBUD, INDONESIA

It was a painstakingly prepared farewell to a much-loved and revered 94-year-old princess. The end of an era. A spectacular ceremony whose grandeur, pomp and pageantry will never be seen again.

Such were three of the descriptions of Saturday's dramatic cremation in Bali's cultural capital, Ubud, of the island's last active royal, Tjokorda Istri Muter. The remains of her relatives were cremated at the same time.

Tens of thousands of people -- standing 25 deep in places -- lined the half-mile route of the royal procession from the palace where Tjokorda Muter's family had ruled for generations until first the Dutch colonialists and after independence the Indonesian government stripped them of their formal powers.

Tjokorda Muter's corpse was strapped two-thirds of the way up an ornately decorated 22m, nine-roofed pagoda-style funeral tower complete with two huge wings attached to either side.

Preceding it was a 5m dragon, a 6m wooden black-and-gold bull into which the body would be transferred for the cremation, several gamelan orchestras and two young family members carrying holy water.

Such was the weight of everything that almost 5,000 pallbearers were needed. Electricity and phone cables and overhanging branches had been cleared from along the roads so the cortege could pass unhindered.

Tjokorda Muter's ceremony was so grand because she was dearly loved and one of twins of different sexes. While such twins born to commoners are considered almost a curse on the predominantly Hindu island and, until recently were separated, they are considered a great blessings if born into a royal family.

In honor of this, she was the first female member of the family to be given a dragon as part of her cremation.

"She was born special and lived a very special life," said her son, Tjokorda Gde Agung Su-yasa. "She loved to help people. She did whatever she could, regardless of how low their caste was or how insignificant their clan."

Evidence of this could be found everywhere. Wayan Juri, a village chief from the eastern tip of Bali, was typical. He had spent much of the previous two weeks crouched in a corner of the palace where the body lay in state.

His job was to keep the sandalwood-and-spice incense burn-ing constantly. "If she can keep smelling such sweet scents as these, her body and spirit will remain calm," he said. "Many years ago the princess arranged for her son to employ my son. This is how I am repaying my debt."

After the spectacle of the procession, the cremation was curiously low-key. To the accompaniment of sporadic gam- elan music, Tjokorda Muter's body was placed in the bull, the dragon placed next to her, and clothes, coins, food, flowers and decorations placed on top of the body. Priests said a blessing as the edifice was set on fire.

"This might seem an anticlimax, an unusual way to end things," said Tjokorda Suyasa afterward. 'But the family had said their final prayers last night. There was no need for anything else. The cremation itself and the journey of her spirit are what's important.

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