Cremation in Bali

PhotographerPaul A Thompson
PrizeHonorable Mention
Entry Description

This series of photos was taken whilst I was living in Bali, with my Balinese wife. We had learned of the passing of a family member – a great aunt. The cremation would take place the following day, and so with very little daylight left we set out to Singaraja, Bali’s second largest city. Given the small size of the island, it takes an inordinate amount of time to get just about anywhere. This is especially true when having to traverse the mountains which divide the North and South of Bali.


Cremation in Bali Family members and village elders burn incense and look on as the body is loaded onto the bade (cremation tower). Final preparations are made before the procession gets underway: A young boy, like a jockey mounting his steed climbs atop the bade; and the Gamelan orchestra, which has been playing for much of the morning, becomes mobile. Far from the somber tone associated with funeral processions in ‘Western’ cultures, the low-key, contemplative mood that prevailed in the morning soon gives way to a raucous, festive atmosphere. In order to ensure that the deceased’s spirit does not dwell in the Earthly realm, certain precautions must be undertaken in order to confuse the spirit as to its current whereabouts before it can move on. The almost hypnotic sound of the Gamelan takes on a frenetic quality in concert with the chaos that breaks out on a given signal: The bade is tipped from side-to-side and spun around in circles, while the ‘jockey’ hangs on for grim-life, all to the sound of uproarious cheering and laughter. These scenes are repeated several times along the way, before a last minute dash as the cremation ground approaches. A bountiful array of offerings, liberal quantities of holy water, along with prayers from priests and the congregation help prepare the way for the deceased’s spirit. The idea of cremation is to return the body to Panca Maha Bhuta (the five elements) consisting of; pertivvi (earth), apah (water), teja (fire), bayu (air), and akasa (ether). The shade of a tree provides refuge from the midday sun, while the flames of the funeral pyre add to the oppressive heat. One ‘door’ closes as another opens: The spirit ascends to another realm. R.I.P. Ketut Bagianing 1933-2011

About Photographer

Originally from England, Paul Thompson’s interest in photography was ignited whilst living in Bali, Indonesia where he immersed himself in the local culture - the tradition, dance and landscape are a photographer’s dream. In 2015 he started to enter competitions, to date his work has now been shown in 39 salons in 27 different countries. Paul was a finalist in the Fremantle International Portrait Prize (FIPP) and has received a number of international awards from the International Federation of Photographic Art (FIAP), the International Photography Awards (IPA), the Prix de la Photographie Paris (PX3), the Monochrome Awards, the International Photographer of the Year Awards (IPOTY) and a number of others. Now living in Perth with his young family Paul whilst having an inherent affinity for the genres of photojournalism and street photography now wants to take the next step from ‘taking’ photos to ‘making’ photographs in the area of portraiture and fine art.