Behind the scenes of modern, busy, sexy, Bali, the lives of the island’s royal families trundle on, embracing the modern world, yet continuing traditions that have lasted for centuries.  Ubud’s Royal house has been inviting tourism since the 1930’s, which has helped to place Ubud  firmly on the tourist map and to become the amazing place it is now. When one of the illustrious royal family dies, all stops are pulled out to give a right royal sendoff. Pomp and pageantry come into play. Recently on the 1st November 2013, Tjokorda Istri Sri Tjandrawati of the Puri Saren (Ubud Palace) was given a funeral ceremony fit for a queen. 

TEXT & photos by ayu sekar

Behind the scenes of modern, busy, sexy, Bali, the lives of the island’s royal families trundle on, embracing the modern world, yet continuing traditions that have lasted for centuries.  Ubud’s Royal house has been inviting tourism since the 1930’s, which has helped to place Ubud  firmly on the tourist map and to become the amazing place it is now. When one of the illustrious royal family dies, all stops are pulled out to give a right royal sendoff.

Pomp and pageantry come into play. Recently on the 1st November 2013, Tjokorda Istri Sri Tjandrawati of the Puri Saren (Ubud Palace) was given a funeral ceremony fit for a queen. 

Since Independence came to Indonesia in 1945, there have been no kingdoms in Bali, so the royal families, while they still weld huge spiritual power, no longer have the political strength they once had. The Rajahs or Kings now go by the correct titles of Tjokorda or “Penglingsir” (which means “family head” or “elder”).  Their position in the communities is still one of great spiritual power and respect. 

Sitting in the palace grounds before the procession, it is easy to see the modern day royalty dressed in white for the immediate family and black for the larger group – standing talking politely, drinking coffee and small snacks. A few invited onlookers, the huge extended family, dancers, attendants, mingled inside the palace grounds to the beguiling notes of the Gamelan orchestra.

Some of Ubud’s very best dancers came to entertain the crowds, or was it the gods? Lunch was served to the family members before the procession was underway.

Looming high above every building in town the procession made its way down the main street. Once the looming 25 metre Bade (cremation tower) got moving, it was surprisingly fast. The groups of men standing, waiting to take their turns to lift and carry the almost 600 tonnes, executed each move smoothly and without fuss.

Time stands still and the streets fill with invited guests, onlookers and teams of helpers to carry the royal tower to its final resting place.

Miraculously, these huge processions passed with no more than a few tiny incidents as people scrambled to get out of the way of the oncoming monolith. 

The walk from the royal palace (Puri Agung) to the Pura Dalem Puri Peliatan temple – no more than 900 metres – was as spectacular as one could hope for.

The stately procession included members of the extended royal family, pipers, punters, gawkers, gamelan and gong, as it moved its way down the broad main street of Ubud. People lined the street, some with great vantage points, others squeezed to the sides of the road. Crowded and hot as it may be, the power of the moment makes you forget any discomfort that may appear.

The procession arrived at the temple where more preparations had been made. After more time, more rituals and prayer, everything was ready and in order. Then, engulfed in flames, the Bull shaped Sarcopagus sent up whirling clouds of dark smoke as her soul was set free, liberating all five elements for the next journey. The smoke swirled upwards until it became just a trickle, a moving moment. 

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