Bali's timeless tradition: Witnessing this ancient ritual of open-air burials in Trunyan village

The indigenous residents of Bali, known as the Bali Aga people, live at Trunyan Village.

Bhaskar Chakravorty
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Courtesy: X/AFPphoto

There are numerous traditions for cremating deceased bodies all around the world. Some could seem familiar, but many would sound incredibly bizarre, startling, and even a little frightening. But, in general, any tradition or custom is based on a variety of beliefs. For instance, many people in Indonesia choose not to perform any final ceremonies or bury their loved one's mortal remains. Rather, they are abandoned to decay in the forest. What comes next is an equally bizarre rite.

Indonesian mystery!

Located in central Bali, Indonesia, Trunyan settlement, often referred to as Terunyan, is a secluded settlement. The Bali Aga people, who are the island's indigenous population, live there. This community is well-known for its unusual burial grounds, where the corpses are buried in the open for everyone to view and decay. The skulls that adorn the sidewalls of the graveyard give it an unsettling and menacing atmosphere. These folks follow their own laws and regulations. It is not the case that the remains are abandoned to rot, despite the appearance that they are. The folks that take care of it work really hard. 

Taru Menyan's lore

To keep vultures and crows from eating the dead bodies, they are covered in bamboo cages. There is a belief that an animal or bird consuming the corpse will dehumanize it. Normally, a dead body that was decomposing would smell, but not in this instance. The deceased are positioned close to a Taru Menyan, or banyan tree. This refers to a fragrant tree, whose pleasant scent masks the smell of the rotting corpses.

The deceased are encased in bamboo cages to prevent crows and vultures from consuming them. According to popular belief, an animal or bird consuming a dead body will dehumanize it. Normally, a decaying corpse would smell, but this one didn't. The dead bodies are positioned close to a banyan tree, or Taru Menyan. This translates as a pleasant-smelling tree whose pleasant scent masks the stink of the rotting corpses.

The peculiar case of Trunyan cemetery

The skull and other bones are removed by the people and placed on a stone altar for decoration after the flesh has decayed away and the bones are visible. Situated atop Mount Abang, an active volcano, the Trunyan Hill Cemetery can only be reached by boat. Three cemeteries are located close to the Trunyan settlement; however, only one is often accessible to visitors. This is not the place to bury someone who committed suicide or died in an accident. Reports state that this tomb is not used to store the remains of children.

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