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
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
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
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
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
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,
"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.