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Memukur : Balinese Last Rite of Passage

Memukur 1

The chain of ceremonies that follow a cremation, the memukur, best translated as escorting one’s soul to heaven is actually a much more delicate and costly ritual than the grand cremation ceremony itself.

The cremation ceremony on this island has always been very fascinating for visitors to Bali. So grand is every cremation ceremony that only a family with a large bank account would ever be able to stage it right after they had lost a family member. Those who have no money would have to wait for months—often years—until enough cash is saved for the ceremony.

That quite makes sense, as the cremation itself is merely the beginning of a series of ceremonies that a family must carry out until the soul of the deceased eventually enters heaven, instead—as they believe—of wandering and therefore constantly unsettling the family members.

Indeed, frequently beyond sight are the many rituals that follow after the cremation—such a grand procession ending with every delicately decorated item, including the dead body inside the structure, set on fire. If a moderate cremation will cost a family roughly Rp. 15,000,000 (US$1,600), it means they have to spend a lot more money for the following ritual, the memukur.

In short, cremation is described as the ritual of burning a body into ashes, and then releasing them into the ocean or a nearby waterway. Memukur, on the other hand, is the ritual of calling in the soul (from the thrown ashes) from the sea, purifying it and then escorting it to the family temple where it is joined by the other ancestors in heaven.

Cremation is to clean the physical body, whereas Memukur is to purify the soul of the body and escort it to heaven.

Therefore, memukur is actually one of the most important parts of the Balinese life’s passage, without which no one is believed to be able to ever enter heaven, swarga. A cremation ceremony will never be considered complete until this most important rite is performed. So important is this rite that it requires the most complete set of offerings, costing the family years of income.

Unlike cremations which normally is carried at mid day, a memukur ceremony is held from midnight until dawn, so it hardly attracts much public attention. And all the villagers will not participate but rather only close family members.

If a moderate cremation costs a normal family roughly US$1,600 and the same or double as much for its memukur, you can just imagine how much it would cost for a royal family.

Memukur 2


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