AT ten minutes to seven on the evening of July 11 His Majesty the King, ignited a
firework in the shape of a rat which shot along a wire and ignited a chain of pyrotechnics,
initiating the cremation of Buddhist Patriarch the Venerable Samdech Oum Sum.
A portrait of the Venerable Samdech Oum Sum sits in front of his casket
Fireworks around the casket in the shape of elephants moaned as they burned echoing
the laments from the thousands of mourners who cried out good byes and their wishes
for Samdech Oum Sum to be reborn to a good life.
The depth of grief and sorrow at the death of Oum Sum was a reflection of his life-long
commitment to Buddhism and the community.
Samdech Patriarch Oum Sum died on March 25, 2000 at 1:30 am at Wat Moha Montrei Pagoda
where he had been chief monk since 1991.
His body was held at his pagoda for 100 days before the ceremonial journey to the
center of Phnom Penh for the funeral.
On July 9 thousands of Buddhist monks, nuns, lay people and mourners joined a solemn
procession across the city.
Lead by the Samdech Patriarch Tep Vong and Samdech Patriarch Bou Kry, leaders of
the two main Buddhists sects in Cambodia, the procession began at Wat Moha Montrei
on Sihanouk Bvld then turned on to Monivong Blvd, stopping for prayers in front of
the stupa near the railway station.
The procession then went through the center of the city ending in front of Wat Botum
where the cremation was to take place.
Along the route Phnom Penh resident brought out refreshments for the thousands of
mourners many of whom were elderly.
On Monday evening the final ceremony got under way. Their Majesties, The King and
Queen arrived at 5 pm.
Thousands of mourners walk in procession behind the coffin
The ceremony then began. Deputy Prime Minister Sar Kheng read a eulogy highlighting
key aspects of Oum Sum's history.
Funeral letters were received from the King, Acting Head of State, Chea Sim, Acting
President of Senate, Sisowath Chivan Monirak, President of National Assembly, Norodom
Ranariddh, Prime Minister Hun Sen, and other mourners.
All the correspondents noted that the passing of Oum Sum meant the loss of a scholar
and a great Cambodian son who sacrificed his entire life to Buddhism, the Nation
and the people.
Oum Sum was born on Friday, Febuary 12, 1918 in Chum Nap village, Chiros commune,
Tboung Kmom district Kampong Cham province.
His parents were farmers and he was the youngest son in a family of 12 children.
He had been a monk continually since he was 16-years-old.
Senior monks and a police honour guard accompany the coffin of the Venerable Oum Sum to the cremation site
Even when he was forcibly disrobed during the Khmer Rouge era he maintained the monastic
life-style - never eating after midday and praying in secret once his working day
was at an end.
He returned to the Wat in 1980 and continued his life as a Buddhist scholar researching
and writing books on Buddhism, Pali and the Buddhist perspective.
His commitment, his teachings and his example ensured the large contingent of mourners
at the funeral.
Ouk Yen, 68, a nun from Takeo province was sitting directly on the ground as the
ceremony took place. As the cremation started she clasped her hands together over
her head and cried out: "We will never meet again Samdech. Please, I wish you
to be reborn in paradise."
She continued as tears rolled down her face "I am so sorry he has died.
"He had no wife, no children. He was true to the Buddhist religion.
Sitting with a face wracked with grief at the back of the dais for dignitaries was
Yong Sok, 85, head of the monks in Kampong Cham and the person closest to Oum Sum.
Although older than Oum Sum, Yong Sok regarded him as his teacher
He said he felt a loss personally because he loved Oum Sum like a father loves a
youngest son but the loss for Buddhism and Cambodia was also profound.
"It will be hard for us to find such a well educated monk like him." he
Oum Sum was the most educated of the country's top monks.
His knowledge of Buddhism could be compared to Choun Nath, Cambodian's most respected
literary scholar and, a monk and religious leader in the 1960s.
Oum Sum was a graduate of the Phnom Penh Buddhist University and was fluent in Pali,
French and English. In 1956 he became a member of the Tripitaka translation advisory
group at the Buddhist Academy. He worked on the fifth Khmer dictionary with Choun
From the 1950s almost until his death, he taught in many Buddhist schools in Phnom
Penh and across the country.
In 1993 he became director of the National Buddhist Institute.
Mao Mong, 65 was one of a number of laity and nuns from Tousna Ram Chruy Thmar pagoda
who were receiving donations to assist with the funeral costs.
Mong said he was grateful he had a chance to participate in the funeral of a monk
he admired so much.
"I had to come here. We are Buddhist and respected him because he served Buddhism
all his life," he said.
But Mong was also realistic about Oum Sum's passing.
"Life cannot escape death. Birth, ages, sickness and death; no-one can avoid
it," he said sighing.
Choeun, a monk from Moha Montrei Pagoda said that he would miss the softly spoken,
gentle and peaceful Patriarch.
"He spent so much time educating the new generation of monks. I am so sorry
we have lost him," he said quietly as he clasped his hand and turned back to
the pyre and began to pray.