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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - For modest king, a modest coronation

For modest king, a modest coronation

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In times past, the coronation of a king would last seven days, with holy men performing

elaborate ceremonies and elephants and horses parading the new regent before his

adoring public.

King Norodom Sihamoni is greeted by massive crowds upon his arrival from China on October 21. He is the son of former-King Norodom Sihanouk who resigned October 6.

But Norodom Sihamoni's accession to the throne will be a more modest affair, taking

into account the country's poverty, lack of royal animals and treasures lost to Cambodia's

violent past.

With Cambodia still struggling to recover after years of unrest and a population

surviving on an average of less than a dollar a day, former king Norodom Sihanouk

asked the government to tone down the ceremony in order to help save the national

budget, said Bou Kry, chief monk of the Thammayut Buddhist order.

"From the coronation program we can see that former King Norodom Sihanouk is

concerned about the poverty of the country and the coronation will be similar to

the former king's in 1993, in which he did not wear a glittering crown," said

Kry.

He said the ceremony will take place inside the Royal Palace at the Throne Hall (Preah

Tinangtevea Vinichhay) and there will be no procession through the main streets of

Phnom Penh.

Sihamoni has asked that participants in the coronation bow rather than kneel in front

of him, according to palace staff.

As was the case for Sihanouk's return to the throne in 1993, it will be a coronation

without the original cone-shaped golden and diamond-studded crown, said Bou Kry.

He said the crown, the sacred sword and spear all vanished long ago.

The disappearance of the priceless artifacts remains shrouded in mystery. Julio Jeldres,

the official biographer of Sihanouk, told Agence France Press that the items vanished

sometime after the former king was toppled in 1970 by Lon Nol.

Lon Nol's chaotic regime was followed by that of Democratic Kampuchea , or the Khmer

Rouge, whose rule left an estimated 1.7 million people dead and many social institutions

destroyed.

But Khieu Samphan, fomer DK head of state, told the Post on October 19 that the crown,

sacred sword, and the spear, were in the palace during the regime's rule.

Nou Van, a 79-year-old Buddhist layman who began his service at the Royal Palace

in 1960, supported Samphan's recollection.

Van left the palace during the Khmer Rouge period, returning again in 1991, but said

he suspected the items went missing sometime after 1979.

The five important items for coronation were the crown, sacred sword, spear, golden

dress and shoes and golden betel nut box, said Van.

While it is understood that replicas of the original items were made and have been

prepared for Sihamoni's coronation, Van said crowning ceremonies had been declining

in grandeur from one generation to other.

Previous coronations took place over seven days and seven nights with a huge street

parade involving hundreds of tusked elephants and horses to let the people greet

the new king.

The Hindu and Buddhist heritage of Cambodia come together in the ceremony with nine

Baku (Brahman) and nine Buddhist layman on hand to bless the king by their own rituals.

The Brahman layman will use a conch shell as a trumpet to signify magic power or

victory. Then the Baku will offer to the King a green sprig of leaves from the Malabar

orange tree - the best one chosen from a tree within the palace grounds - as the

symbol for long life in the throne. The King will place this behind his left ear.

Nou Van said that originally there were 12 Baku, but three of them had died and have

not been replaced. Any new Brahman at the palace must be from a Baku bloodline.

Neang Bun Sowathy, former director of Sarika Film Production (1989-1996), researched

royal traditions for her historical films and is concerned that reducing the role

of royal ceremonies will mean the younger generation might miss out on traditions.

Young people will not understand how strong the king's role is and the importance

of the monarchy, said Sowathy.

She compared current trends to the past reign of King Norodom Suramarit, or the kings

of Thailand and Laos, saying public images of the king in full royal regalia were

more common back then to reinforce the monarch's influence.

"I think that the coronation is rare to see in a lifetime, therefore, the celebration

of crowning is very important for the monarchy and people should see and greet the

king, rather than keep quiet in the royal palace," said Sowathy.

In films produced before the cultural destruction of the KR period, the King was

portrayed in full regalia seated on a sedan chair carried by soldiers into the palace,

said Sowathy.

"I think that there should at least be marching around the Royal Palace as a

symbol of the power of the monarch," said Sowathy.

Prince Norodom Ranariddh announced October 29 as the date of his half brother's coronation,

but this is yet to be confirmed by the Royal Palace or the Permanent Organizing Committee

for National and International Ceremonies.

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