The ‘lembu’ maker
The last two weeks have been a busy time for I Gusti Nyoman Sudara Lempad, a traditional architect specializing in the making of lembu (bull) wooden sarcophagi. As Balinese Hindus across the island prepare to carry out various kinds of cremation rituals, from single, mass, to royal cremations, the demand for wooden sarcophagi has risen significantly.
The wooden sarcophagus is a critical element in the ngaben cremation ceremony. The body of the deceased is placed inside the sarcophagus before being torched. The sarcophagi come in various shapes and colors; white bulls for the high priests, black bulls for members of the royal families, lions or giant fish for members of certain clans.
Sudara was born into an aesthetic family. His late grandfather was I Gusti Nyoman Lempad, a maestro of Balinese traditional painting and respected traditional architect. Naturally, Sudara had learned the art of making bull sarcophagi and other ritual paraphernalia when he was still in grade school. He also had a penchant for tailing his grandfather when the latter was invited by others to craft sarcophagi, bade (pagoda-like towers used to transport the deceased’s body to the cremation), or Balinese style-buildings.
His love for arts saw him pursuing a career as a carving teacher at an art vocational school. Now, the retired 65-year-old Sudara spends most of his time serving his community by creating traditional structures required in religious ceremonies.
“This is my way of helping my community, of showing my gratitude and service. It is also an opportunity for me to pay my debts to those who have passed away. This is more social work than a profit-making enterprise, and it really makes me proud to see the sarcophagus, the creation of my hands, being used by the family,” he said.
Sudara needs up to seven days to finish a single wooden bull sarcophagus. Yet, if the family is in a hurry to organize the cremation, Sudara could craft a full-sized bull in just one day. The inner structure of the bull is usually made of wood from the albizia tree, which is light and easily carved. The structure is wrapped with velvet cloth before being adorned with various shapely colored papers. Sudara uses a special material to make the teeth of the bull, the wood of the white medori tree.
“In this busy season, I could create up to 14 sarcophagi. I am assisted by my sons and in-laws,” he said.
— Photos by Kadek Purnami