Funeral of the Century

"Strange as it seems, it is in their cremation ceremonies that the Balinese have their greatest fun," ethnographer Miguel Covarrubias wrote in his book "Island of Bali," published in 1937.

And they certainly had a lot of fun Tuesday, in one of the biggest royal cremations on the island in recent years. Thousands gathered for the grand Hindu ceremony, unique to Bali, in which three members of the Ubud royal family were cremated along with 68 of their most prominent subjects.

Balinese men carry the coffin of a deceased member of the Ubud royal family during the cremation ceremony, Tuesday, July 15, 2008, in Ubud, Bali. Balinese royalty and dozens of other prominent Balinese from Ubud were cremated in a ceremony that took months of preparation.

Balinese priests, left, say prayers for a deceased member of the Ubud royal family.

Although this was a royal cremation ceremony, some commoners were also cremated on the same day but in a separate location. The bodies of the commoners had reportedly been set aside months ago, even years, in order to participate in this spectacular ceremony.

Balinese men carry a relative of a deceased member of the Ubud royal family down from a 91-foot ceremonial tower prior to the cremation ceremony.

The star of the ceremony was Agung Suyasa, head of Ubud's royal family. Suyasa died on March 28, after which his body was embalmed for more than three months. As the people of Ubud paid their respects, royal family members submitted daily offerings, including symbolic meals, to Suyasa before the final goodbye.

An effigy of the naga banda mythical dragon goes up in flames, inside of which are the sarcophogi of the most senior royals. The Balinese believe the cremation releases the souls from their bodies before being reincarnated.

In the final stage of the elaborate ceremony, the ashes of the deceased are scattered in the sea.

Ammu Kannampilly and Zoe Magee contributed to the reporting of this story.