Snake’s Funeral Draws Flock of Mourners

kien svay district, Kandal province – Crowds bade farewell Sunday to Cambodia’s newest film star, while authorities said he will be preserved behind glass so future fans will see him, too.

Chamroeun, the python star of the just-released “Child of the Giant Snake,” died Thursday at his home here, even as the film played to packed houses in Cambodia and Thailand.

The snake lay coiled in state Sunday before a hastily built shrine at the Andeit Prash Vesan­dor pagoda, where his owner, Kong Lun, is chief monk. The snake was submerged in a tub of fluid under a protective sheet of glass.

“This was a magic snake,” said Kong Lun, who has owned the snake for more than 10 years and said he could communicate with him. “He created no problems. He was friendly with everyone.”

The snake’s sheer size—he was 5 meters long and weighed 185 kg—bothered some. But those gathered to honor him said he was a very amiable snake.

His funeral ceremony was certainly flamboyant. Four young men wearing short scarlet skirts and matching headscarves stood guard over a lavish feast featuring a ruddy roast pig. Each man brandished what looked like a medieval mace.

The military theme was continued by a dozen stern-faced women dressed in fatigues who danced before the snake’s shrine as Cambodian musicians played funeral music.

While carvings of nagas, or large multi-headed snakes, are common sights at Cambodian pagodas, concrete snakes of all sorts are everywhere at Andeit Prash Vesandor.

They slither up the pillars supporting the roof, linking their tails artistically over the doorways. They loop protectively over the barrel-shaped roof. Inside, on the altar, old men lean on snake staffs as they journey towards enlightenment.

For Kong Lun, the giant snake changed his life. He was married with six children in 1994 when a friend offered him the snake, saying he would be kinder to it than a zoo.

In short order, Kong Lun had divorced his wife and turned his back on secular life. He named the snake Chamroeun, or Pros­perity, which he said the snake has brought to all who met it.

Now, Kong Lun is not the average Buddhist cleric with a shaved head and simple orange robes. Dressed in a transparent lace blouse and scarlet-and-gold silk skirt, his lips are stained red by betel.

Midway through an interview, he unfastened his chignon, letting his thick wavy hair cascade nearly to his waist. He also sparkles with jewelry: a gold watch, elaborate rings and a large ruby pendant.

His followers, utterly devoted, started helping him build the temple in 1998. So far, it has cost about $380,000; he only needs a few thousand more, he said.

That leads into what actually killed Chamroeun. Worshippers said the snake seemed his normal self just after lunch last Thursday, when he went for his daily bath.

At 4 pm, he was found dead in the water.

Kong Lun thinks the snake killed himself, distraught over the fact that neither King Norodom Sihanouk nor Queen Norodom Monineath will be able to attend the formal ceremony opening the temple in March (The King may be traveling to Beijing).

Others say the snake sacrificed himself to prompt people to contribute enough money to finish the temple. Still others think Chamroeun simply died of natural causes.

No one, however, blames the snake’s demise on his foray into film. It was nearly a year ago that he left the temple for three days to shoot his scenes; he seemed his old self once he returned, those living at the temple said.

The entertainment community, meanwhile, seemed as stricken as the religious community.

“He was a good performer and helped me reach a perfect performance,” said actress Ampor Tevi, 31, who plays the human woman who falls in love with the giant snake in the movie.

She said she was afraid at first, because he was so big and she had never before acted with a snake. “But he was a gentle snake, and I was not afraid of him,” she said. Chamroeun “really seemed to understand what the producers wanted.”

Fay Sam Ang, the movie’s producer, said, “I am so terribly sorry about the snake” and noted that it would not be easy to find another like him.

Initially dubious about any magical powers attached to the snake, he said, he began to wonder when he saw how well it performed on the movie set.

Phnom Penh Radio FM 103/TV3 broadcast memorial messages all day Sunday. “We are sad and wish the snake to be born as a good person, or a good snake, in the next life,” the message said.

The television station is one of three venues—the others are the French and Russian cultural centers—where the movie is being shown in the city.

For the first three days the movie played in both Cambodia and Thailand, station officials noted, “We have already collected $100,000.”

(Additional reporting by Ham Samnang)



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