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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Sihamoni crowned new King

Sihamoni crowned new King

sihamoni.jpg
sihamoni.jpg

After a ritualistic accession to the throne, King Norodom Sihamoni is carried through the grounds of the Royal Palace atop a golden palanquin in a colorful procession of silk-clad guards, Brahman Bakus, Buddhist monks and women carrying offerings of miniature silver trees.

N ewly crowned King Norodom Sihamoni has received a warm reception during his first royal visit to the countryside, with farmers flocking to see and touch the little-known monarch just days after he ascended the throne in a spectacular and historic three-day coronation ceremony.

King Sihamoni traveled to Kampong Speu province on November 3, wasting no time in fulfilling promises to serve the nation faithfully and spend a few days of each week visiting people outside the capital.

His symbolic rite of passage into the kingdom's highest office began on October 28, coinciding with the full moon. Brahmanic prayers were uttered to ask the tevadas, or angels, to bless the new king and the ascension process.

Early the following morning, Sihamoni's parents, retired King Norodom Sihanouk and Queen Monineath bathed their son with water taken from Phnom Kulen in Siem Reap province.

Queen Monineath kissed the new king on his shaved head and Sihanouk was visibly delighted during the bathing ritual, described as "touching" and "very spiritual" by onlookers.

In the afternoon of October 29, Sihamoni was carried through the grounds of the Royal Palace atop a golden palanquin in a colorful procession of silk-clad guards with spears, nine Brahman Bakus, 52 Buddhist monks and women carrying miniature trees painted silver to offer to the king.

With the lawns and sculptured hedges carefully trimmed and yellow flowers abundant, the grounds of the palace provided a picturesque backdrop for the regal parade.

As a brass band played, the king passed by a military honor guard to reach the Tevea Venichhay hall, where he walked up the red carpeted steps followed by his entourage, who carried in religious statues, scrolls, animal horns and a cat.

Inside, top government officials including King Sihamoni's half-brother Prince Norodom Ranariddh and Prime Minister Hun Sen respectfully greeted Sihamoni, who wore a white jacket embroidered with gold, an orange and green sash, traditional silk pants and black leather shoes. In the background, traditional Khmer music was played on xylophones, gongs and stringed instruments.

During some of the long chanting of Buddhist prayers, Sihamoni appeared to be joining in, a throwback to his days as a Buddhist monk. His demeanor was somber and his movements slow, deliberate and almost ballet-like.

After the entrance of heads of foreign diplomatic missions in dark suits or traditional costume, Sihamoni returned for the Brahmanic part of the ritual, lighting a candle before one of the nine Bakus placed a leaf from an orange tree behind his right ear.

In a break with tradition, King Sihamoni did not sit upon the elevated throne, said to represent Mount Meru, and did not wear the gold-and-diamond crown or golden slippers that sat among the royal regalia beside him.

Kong Som Ol, Minister of the Royal Palace, proclaimed every aspect of the Kingdom as belonging to Sihamoni as he read from two scrolls and British ambassador Stephen Bridges paid his respects to the new king.

Donning spectacles, King Sihamoni addressed the dignitaries as journalists clambered to listen and take photographs through the windows of the hall.

"As from this happy and solemn occasion, I shall devote my body and soul to the services of the people and the nation, pursuing the exceptional work accomplished by my august father, grandfather and great grandfather," said King Sihamoni.

As the speech ended, the haunting moan of trumpeted conch shells sounded three times, a drum was struck and the first boom of a fireworks display rang out from the Chroy Changvar side of the river.

With explosions of color lighting up the twilight, King Sihamoni walked slowly from the hall to the Chanchaya Pavillion on the palace's eastern wall for a reception with diplomats, government officials and members of the royal family.

Journalists from as far afield as Moscow and Holland were impressed with the tradition-steeped rituals of the ceremony, and longtime Cambodian watchers were grateful for a colorful, good news story from a country known for war and tragedy.

On Saturday October 30, thousands of schoolchildren and soldiers were bussed to the square in front of the palace where they were joined by other citizens eager to see their King's first public address to his people.

Thousands of small Cambodian flags were strung from lampposts outside the palace, streets were cleaned, gutters whitewashed and gardens tended, giving Phnom Penh a much needed face lift. At night, shrubs in the Hun Sen Park gardens glittered with decorative lights.

King Sihamoni did a lap around the square in a convertible Mercedes as crowds cheered "cheyo". Afterwards, he took his place at a balcony in front of the palace.

His Majesty was welcomed by speeches from Chea Sim, president of the Senate, Norodom Ranariddh, president of the National Assembly and Hun Sen.

There was a telling moment when Phnom Penh governor Kep Chuktema welcomed "King Norodom Sihanouk" before quickly correcting himself, "Er, Sihamoni"; showing that even top officials are still getting used to the change.

King Sihamoni's speech quoted his father at length, indicating the deep respect and the continuing influence of Sihanouk.

"I thank you with all of my heart for having come so joyfully and in such great numbers to express your sympathy and affectionate consideration," said King Sihamoni.

"My august father, at the very moment of my election as King of Cambodia by the highly respected Throne Council, said to me:

'My son, you greatly fear having to take on a responsibility that seems too heavy for you who lack experience as a servant of the homeland, the nation and the people. But it is by being in contact with the people and the realities of the country that one learns how to become more and more capable of serving, defending and developing Cambodia and the Cambodian nation'."

Sihanouk told his son that a king must be "uncorrupted" and "humble" and Sihamoni pledged to follow his father's guidance.

"My respected and beloved compatriots, I will always be your faithful and devoted servant. I will never live apart from the beloved people."

"The Royal House will remain a transparent house ... and for me there will never be an ivory tower. Every week I will devote several days to visiting our towns, our countryside and our provinces, and to serving you," Sihamoni promised.

The new king and other dignitaries released white doves and balloons from the crowd floated into the sky, bringing the address to a close.

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