Feb 01 2013
On the first day of the former King Sihanouk’s funeral weekend, a procession of 2,000 people led the King Father’s coffin on a six kilometre-route around Phnom Penh. The streets were lined with mourners in black and white, who watched as the cortege made its way from the Royal Palace, via Wat Phnom and the Independence Monument, to the final resting place in front of the National Museum.
The day started before 07:00, as people across town found a place on the kerb with a reasonable view. Outside the Raffles Hotel Le Royal, a member of staff paid his respects at a large portrait of the King Father.
The police and security forces have spent days rehearsing, checking the route with sniffer dogs and planning the roadblocks. There was a little time for relaxation in the Wat Phnom park before the procession began.
Mourners — wearing black ribbons and often clutching lotus flowers, incense and candles — prepared themselves under the shade of the trees.
The proceedings were heard before they were seen, as large tannoys broadcast chanting monks and the gunshots fired as the procession began. Heralded by drums and gongs, members of the armed services and civil service began walking by in sombre file.
The train of chosen mourners included guides and scouts, personnel from the Cambodian Red Cross, Cham Muslims, Chinese musicians dragging large drums in ornate red carts, and members of the Phnong tribes from Mondulkiri and Ratanakiri.
Sadly, the tradition of including live elephants in royal funeral parades was not continued, but the train did include three floats representing the animal kingdom, to demonstrate the sorrow of all King Sihanouk’s subjects.
The crowds fell silent as golden floats passed by carrying books, statues of Buddha and a pile of cremation firewood. Along the road, people put their hands together and bowed heads while the King Father’s coffin went past, appearing to be pulled by a many-headed Naga.
Once the two kilometre-long procession had passed, mourners formed up to walk behind it down Preah Norodom Boulevard, continuing its solemn pace towards the funeral grounds outside the National Museum, where the cremation will take place on Monday February 4.
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