Cambodians pray for ex-king at festival of dead
- Published: 15/10/2012 at 08:49 PM
- Online news:
Chanting prayers and burning incense, grief-stricken Cambodians paid tribute on Monday to their ex-king Norodom Sihanouk, whose passing fell poignantly during the solemn festival of the dead.
A Cambodian nun sobs as she mourns the death of the former king Norodom Sihanouk outside the Royal Palace in Phnom Penh.
In the unusually quiet capital of Phnom Penh, flags fluttering at half mast were among the few outward symbols that hinted at the death of a man whose triumphs and tragedies loomed large over their lives for decades.
News of his demise quickly spread across the city, where families were already gathering to honour their deceased relatives on the final day of the Pchum Ben festival.
"There are hundreds of people coming to pray for the King-Father," said Buddhist priest Mot Sok, after leading the solemn crowd into a blessing for Sihanouk at one busy temple in the capital.
"He should have lived longer to watch over Cambodians. I personally feel so sad," the cleric said as monks chanted rhythmically in the background.
Sihanouk, who died in Beijing aged 89 on Monday after a long battle with a range of illnesses, towered over Cambodian politics for over half a century.
He became known as the "King-Father" after abdicating for the last time in 2004 in a country where he regarded the people as his "children".
The charismatic and unpredictable former king is especially fondly remembered by the older generation.
For them, he represented Cambodia's golden years of the 1950s and 1960s, when the country won independence from France and enjoyed rare stability before being thrust into conflict culminating in the Khmer Rouge terror of the 1970s.
Sihanouk, who had backed the communist fighters as they seized power, was to lose five of his 14 children during the regime's reign of terror in a tragedy that helped cement his reputation as a ruler who suffered with his people.
Within hours of his death, some local people had written their grief on their bodies.
Sok Samrith displayed her newly shaved head as a symbol of her mourning for Sihanouk as she sat in the shade of a neatly-manicured tree in a park in front of the palace.
The 53-year-old said she wanted to contemplate the passing of a man who was much revered by her late mother and who once gave her a pin shaped like the royal palace.
"To pay gratitude to him, I shaved my hair, and I will pray for him so that he can rest in peace. I am so sad," she said.
Twenty-year-old university student Sochakray Theng lit incense at a pagoda near the Royal Palace and said a prayer for the late king, before offering red grapes, bottled water and some money to monks to mark the end of Pchum Ben.
"I heard from the older generation that he tried his best to help the people of Cambodia," she said.
Traditionally Cambodians go back to their home villagers in the countryside during the 15-day festival, when the dead are believed to emerge to walk the earth.
On the streets of the capital some expressed bewilderment that the former king had died, despite his long health battles and protracted absences in China for treatment.
Credited with helping his country return to peace in the 1990s, Sihanouk remained a much-loved figure even after his abdication in favour of his son.
Portraits of him and his sixth wife Queen Monique still adorn many Cambodian homes, an adoration that has never quite been replicated by current King Norodom Sihamoni.
"Every single Cambodian feels sorry for the King-Father," said musician Sor Phan, 62, outside the royal palace. "I do not know what is going to happen to my country now that he has gone."
About the author
- Writer: AFP
Position: News agency