When Kang Nhien knew he was going to die, he called his son, Kang Kein, to his side. He had something very important to say.
“He advised me to carefully serve the King, and continue his work, and to pay great attention to keeping the Brahman tradition alive,” Kang Kein said Tuesday.
“I will not disappoint him. I will uphold his reputation and his record of achievement in serving the King.”
Kang Nhien died last Thursday at the age of 87. Like his son, he served as a member of the Bakou Borahet team at the Royal Palace—an ancient tradition of Brahman priests who serve and protect the Cambodian king.
The tradition stretches back to the roots of the Khmer empire, when the king was believed to be the divine link between his people and the Hindu gods who ruled the universe.
Khmer kings were always advised and protected by a group of Brahmans, who did everything from shade the royal head from the sun to conducting the most sacred ceremonies on which the fate of the nation depended.
Although Cambodia is now predominantly Buddhist, its people have never turned away from the early Hindu influences, which can be seen most vividly in the temples of Angkor.
Kang Nhien was the leader of the Bakou, a group of nine men who, dressed in long gowns with their flowing hair tied behind their heads, blow conch shells in Brahman rituals such as the annual Plowing Ceremony.
He first served under King Sisowath Monivong, and was honored by King Norodom Sihanouk with a silver medal in 1964 and a bronze medal in 1966. His service was disrupted during the war, but resumed in 1992 with the King’s return.
Kong Som Ol, who represented the King and Queen Norodom Monineath at the cremation Sunday, told the family: “The King is sad for the loss of this noble old man.” The royal couple awarded him the Thebdin Medal, Cambodia’s highest honor, at the cremation.
The Bakou Borahet is now composed of men in their 40s and 50s, said Kang Kien. The new leader is not yet known.