Friday, October 29, 2004

Cambodia's New King

Cambodian culture is simultaneously beautiful and mysterious with just a dash of danger, yet the nation is rarely covered in the West. The Corsair has been a Cambodiaphile for years, particularly regarding matters related to Theravada Buddhism. Today was a big day for Cambodia. National Assembly members, Prime Minister Hun Sen and a throng of foreign diplomats attended the coronation of the new King of Cambodia, which was broadcast on live tv. Reuters reports:

"In a ceremony full of pageantry and hope, King Norodom Sihamoni has ascended the Cambodian throne, ushering in a new royal era for a country still trying to draw a line under its bloody, genocidal past.

"In accordance with Buddhist tradition, the 51-year-old Sihamoni, a previously unknown ballet aficionado, took triple oaths of dedication to Cambodia's 13 million people in a spectacular ceremony in the capitol's gilded royal throne hall."

The only head of state who can do an arabesque. Although he is being reported as 51 years old, according to Cambodian astrology, he is 52, and, ceremonially, 52 Buddhist priests chanted for a few minutes in his honor after the coronation.

"'As from this happy and solemn day, I shall devote my body and soul to the service of the people and the nation, pursuing the exceptional work accomplished by my august father, grandfather and great-grandfather,' Sihamoni said on Friday.

"His hastily arranged coronation came after the shock abdication of his ailing father, Norodom Sihanouk, this month."

Although the former king stepped down for health reasons, what he really wanted to do was direct.

" .. At Buddhist temples across the country, monks banged huge wooden drums on the stroke of 6 pm (1100 GMT) to usher in the new monarch.

" ... Diplomats say it is unlikely Sihanouk will set his son, who has never held political office, loose in Cambodia's fractious and often bloody political arena without considerable guidance.

"'I think we will see the hand of Sihanouk on the tiller of the monarchy for some time to come -- certainly until Sihamoni has found his feet,' said one Western diplomat."

"A day replete with pomp and circumstance started with Sihanouk anointing his son, resplendent in traditional gold raiments, with holy water taken from a spring near the 800-year-old temples of Angkor Wat (see below):

"Flanked by saffron-robed Buddhist monks and black-suited North Korean bodyguards, Sihamoni then clasped his hands in Buddhist supplication and offered prayers to the morning sun rising slowly over the Mekong river. "

Read the rest of the fascinating story here.

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