The doors to the crematorium at Phnom Penh’s Wat Ounalom, one of the capital’s busiest pagodas, were shut for good Tuesday as part of citywide drive to improve air quality and traffic congestion.
Great Supreme Patriarch Tep Vong said by telephone that he instructed operators of the wood burning crematorium at Wat Ounalom to stop all cremations.
“From now on, I don’t allow dead people to be cremated in my pagoda,” Tep Vong said. “But anyone can use the space in front of the temple to celebrate funeral ceremonies.”
In 2004, municipal authorities, citing air quality and traffic control concerns, announced a plan to close all of Phnom Penh’s crematorium sites and build four massive electric cremation machines just outside the city.
The installation of one such machine behind the 200-year-old Russei Saang pagoda in Dangkao district is nearly complete, according to Maa Theary, the pagoda’s chief monk.
The 28-ton machine, which the municipality paid more than $100,000 for, was inserted into the pagoda’s crematorium building on Feb 8, and is nearly operational, Maa Theary said by telephone.
When municipal authorities first announced their plan, Phnom Penh monks complained that mourning families would have to go far out of their way for cremation, and bemoaned the loss of income they would suffer when the city’s ban on traditional cremations took effect.
Wat Langka abbot Sao Chanthol said Tuesday that he had not yet closed his crematorium because of the adverse effects on his monks’ livelihoods, saying his pagoda performed at least 10 ceremonies each month.
“I will continue cremating until I receive a formal letter from the municipality,” he said.
Sao Chanthol also said the pagoda and its traditions were an important cultural icon.
“I will not oppose City Hall’s plan to stop cremations in Phnom Penh,” he said. “But I need to preserve the crematorium building at my pagoda as heritage.”