His Majesty Preah Bat Samdech
Preah Norodom Sihanouk,
King of Cambodia
to the Phnom Penh Post in celebration of his 79th birthday, October 31, 2001
A royal coronation
The royal coronation of a Cambodian monarch can take place several days, months
or even years after the election of the sovereign. In effect, the king assumes functions
immediately after his election and the coronation is essentially a religious and
symbolic ceremony designed to bring divine blessings upon the elected monarch.
Following the election of the new king, the court astrologers are requested to
determine the most auspicious date for the coronation ceremony. In accordance with
the Kram Preah Reachea Prapdaphisek (Law on the Coronation of Kings, promulgated
in the second half of the 18th century) the appropriate date is chosen and the preparations
for the event begin.
The Appisek (Ceremonial Bath)
Following seven days of rites and ceremonies performed by the court Bakus, during
which the fire is blessed and water to be used for the ceremony purified, the sovereign
is solemnly presented to the people in the Throne Hall. A special, white, bathing
pavilion has been prepared in front of the Throne Hall; the sovereign takes off his
ceremonial robes and exchanges them for a light white bathing robe. The chiefs of
the Buddhist Order then proceed to drop the water previously purified and consecrated
on the Sovereign's head. A light shower is then released from a canopy above through
the petals of a golden lotus, giving celestial significance to the shower.
While the ceremonial bath is in progress the Bakus play their ceremonial music.
The sovereign then dons his ceremonial robes and addresses the Buddhist monks present
declaring that he is the servant and protector of Buddhism and that he will always
be loyal to Buddhism.
At the end of the Buddhist ritual, the Buddhist monks withdraw to allow the Brahman
ceremony to take place.
The Brahman Consecration
Three Bakus lead the sovereign to the audience hall within the Throne Hall and
ask him to be seated on the elevated throne, the symbolic representation of Mount
Meru. The king turns to each of the eight principal directions of the living space,
each represented by a Brahman priest, and then drinks from a conch shell, washes
his face with the reminder of the water and blows the shell to produce a sound like
The sovereign then welcomes in his arms a statue of Shiva and one of Vishnu and
swears in front of the Brahman idols kept in the palace to maintain the ancient national
traditions. The king then receives his kingdom: earth, waters, mountains and forests
which the chief Baku presents to him on behalf of his people. The chief Baku then
places the crown or Mokot on the Sovereigns head, and the king dons the golden slippers
and symbolically takes possession of the other items of his regalia by touching them.
The Brahman ritual ends with the sovereign coming down from the elevated throne
and sitting on the ordinary throne, where he receives the function with sacred oil
from the chief Baku.
The Pradakshina (Circular Procession of the Nobles)
The last part of the coronation ceremony is the Pradakshina. The ladies of the
court, the princes and princesses, the mandarin and nobles, each bearing a lighted
candle circulate around the throne three times, keeping their right shoulder towards
the sovereign. Just before the end of the ceremony the mandarin and other senior
court officials place the insignia of their rank in front of the throne. The sovereign
will return them the following morning thus giving the officials a new mandate to
continue in their respective functions. The ceremony ends with the king travelling
in a royal cortege through the principal avenues of the capital, where the people
have their first contact with their new sovereign.
The consecration of the queen used to be held in private. Normally it took place
only in the presence of the ladies of the court and with their assistance. After
three days of chanting by Buddhist monks, on the third day the queen received the
lustral water and sacred oil from the king.
Cambodian royal regalia
THE ROYAL REGALIA together with the Cambodian court's ceremonial items are essential
parts of the Cambodian monarchy, which give stature to the office and bring home
to the people the high respect accorded to the Cambodian sovereign.
Among the ancient items of the Cambodian Royal Regalia which were used in former
times, we find the following: The Preah Moha Mokot Reach (The Great Crown of Victory),
The Preah Moha Svetrachhatr (The Great White Umbrella of State), The Preah Khan Reach
(The Sacred Sword ), The Preah Lompeng Chey (The Victory Spear), The Preah Soporbatea
(The Slippers), The Kriss, The Preah Veal Vichani (The Fan) and The Betel Nut Set,
The Receptacle, The Water Urn and The Libation Vessel.
The Preah Moha Mokot Reach
The Great Crown of Victory is the royal crown worn by all Cambodian sovereigns
since the time of the Angkor empire. As shown in the reliefs of Angkor Wat, this
kind of multi-tiered cone culminating in a tapering spire - symbol of the sacred
mountain Preah Meru, and made of solid gold and precious stones, was worn by the
sovereign for important state ceremonies.
The Preah Moha Svetrachhatr
The Great White Umbrella of State is a nine-tiered white silk umbrella with
gold thread which stands behind the throne. The tiers indicate the person's rank.
In the past, in Cambodia, the Uparaja or Deputy King used a five-tiered umbrella
and the King himself prior to his coronation used one of seven tiers, switching to
a nine-tiered umbrella after the coronation. Similar umbrellas are found in Burma,
Java and Thailand. They are said to be of Indian origin, where it appears the umbrella
had greater importance than the crown itself.
The Preah Khan Reach
The Sacred Sword is considered to be the "Safeguard of the Kingdom"
and was kept in a small pavilion called "Pavilion of the Sacred Sword"
within the Royal Palace near the Throne Hall, under the care of the court Brahmans,
known as the "Bakus", who are the descendants of chaplains from the Angkorean
The sword is reported to have been crafted by Vishnu and Shiva in A.D. 70 at the
request of the God Indra, in order to be entrusted to the first Khmer king to ensure
prosperity of his kingdom.
The French scholar Georges Groslier wrote in his book: Research on the Cambodians,
"Because of its decor, I date this weapon as being from the neo-Angkorean period
and I would not be surprised if this is the same sword about which Chinese envoy
Chou Ta-Kuan wrote in the 13th century."
However, the sword's existence was only confirmed in the 16th century and costumes
of the figures decorating its sheath appear to indicate that it could not have been
crafted before then.
The blade, inlaid with gold and silver, was regularly checked by the Bakus of the
Royal Palace, who were in charge of its safety. Should the blade show any traces
of rust, evoking the colour of blood, it was interpreted as being a disastrous omen
for the country.
The Sacred Sword left its pavilion on only one occasion-for the coronation of
a new Cambodian king. The Sword and the Preah Moha Mokot Reach (Great Crown of Victory)
were the principal insignia of Cambodia's royalty.
Following a Siamese invasion in 1783, the Preah Khan Reach was taken away to Bangkok.
It was solemnly given back to Cambodia in 1864, on the occasion of the coronation
of King Norodom.
King Rama I of Siam ordered the creation of a sword similar to the Cambodian one
for use by the Siamese monarch. It was first used in his own coronation in 1785.
The following chronology of Cambodian kings has been compiled from different sources,
mostly works by French scholars and explorers, which are duly acknowledged in the
bibliography of this book.
From the end of the Mahidharapura period the record of subsequent Cambodian kings
becomes rather confused and the documents available give contradictory accounts of
the reigns of some of them, while the dates of their rule do not appear to be accurate.
It is known that Angkor ceased to be the capital in 1431 following a Siamese invasion.
This period of the Cambodian monarchy was marked by the interference of Cambodia's
two close neighbours, Siam and Annam, in the selection and appointment of monarchs
and by conflict among the Cambodian rulers themselves.
The author of this book has reconstructed this period as best as he could from the
little information available, but he is unable to give precise dates of the rule
of the monarchs that followed the fall of Angkor:
Chronology of Cambodian Kings
c. 877-889 (Builder of the Temples of Pra Koh and Bakong)
c. 889-910 (Establishment of Yashodharapura or Angkor as capital.)
c. 1050-1066 (Builder of Baphuon Temple.)
c. 1080- 1107 (Builder of Phimai.)
c. 1107- 1113
c. 1113- 1150 (Builder of Angkor Wat.)
c. 1160- 1166
c. 1166- 1181
c. 1181 - 1219 (Builder of Angkor Thom.)
Chey Chettah II
The Regent Outey
Ang Non I
Chey Chettah III
Chey Chettah IV
Thommo Reachea II
Thommo Reachea II (2nd rule)
Ang Em (2nd rule)
Thommo Reachea II (3rd rule)
Thommo Reachea III
Chey Chettah V
Ang Non III
Queen Ang Mey
c. 1835-1841 (Only female ruler appearing in records, never crowned.)
c. 1841-1847 (Foreign ruler.)
c. 1841-1859 (Unified Kingdom & reformed administration)
Norodom (Ang Voddey)
c. 1860-1904 (Established capital in Phnom Penh and began construction of Royal Palace.)
Sisowath (Ang Sar)
Norodom Sihanouk (1st rule)
c. 1941-1955 (Obtained independence from France.)
(The Cambodian monarchy was abolished on 9 October 1970 after the coup d'etat and
restored in 1993 after UN-supervised elections.)
Norodom Sihanouk (2nd rule)
Text and chronology from:
"The Royal Palace of Phnom Penh and Cambodian Royal life"
- by Julio A. Jeldres & Somkid Chaijitranit