Thousands Mourn Top Monk

Thousands of Buddhist monks, nuns and lay people joined a solemn procession across the city Sunday morning, accompanying the body of a revered religious leader to a specially built crematorium in front of Wat Botum.

Samdech Patriarch Oum Sum, one of the nation’s top monks, will be cremated tonight in ceremonies that start at 5. Dozens of sen­ior political leaders are expected to join His Majesty King Norodom Sihanouk in honoring the late monk, before a crowd of thousands.

Organizers have planned a ceremony, erecting a Khmer-style funeral pyre several stories high and draped in white and gold. The $15,000 ceremony is being paid for by donations from private individuals and the government.

Hang Vanny, one of the organizers, said the elaborate cremation ceremony is intended to honor the monk for his spiritual achievements. “To Cambodians, he is a very, very important person because of his spirituality and teachings in Buddhism,’’ Hang Vanny said. “Losing him is like losing one of our eyes.’’

He said the King will ignite the funeral blaze using a novel ignition system. An mechanical rat races along a wire and strikes an mechanical elephant, causing it to scream. The sound of the scream will signal that the fire has been lighted, he said. The cremation will be followed by fireworks.

Hang Vanny said the monk, who died three months ago at 82, “helped restore Bud­dhism in this country after the war.”

Organizers said more than 10,000 people took part in Sun­day’s procession, the largest such ceremony in recent history. Sam Rainsy Party official Kong Koam was among the participants. He said he had studied with the monk during the 1960s.

“I feel very sad for losing Sam­dech Patriarch Oum Sum,’’ he said. “He was a very good Bud­dhist professor and he helped improve the spirituality in Cambodia during his life.”

The four-hour procession traveled from Wat Mohamuntrei, down Sihanouk Boulevard to Monivong Boulevard, stopping for prayer at the shrine to Bud­dha in front of the railway station. The monk’s body then was carried around Wat Phnom and down Norodom Boulevard to Wat Botum.

The procession was led by Samdech Patriarch Tep Vong,  leader of the Mohanikay Sect, and Samdech Patriarch Bou Kry of the Thammayuth Sect.

The thousands of mourners carried incense, flowers and brightly colored Buddhist flags. Many were visibly distressed.

Oum Sum was considered to be the most educated of the country’s top monks. His knowledge of Buddhism was often compared with that of Chuon Nath, Cambodia’s most respected literary scholar and a leader of monks in the 1960s.

He graduated from what is now called the Preah Suramarit Buddhist University and was fluent in Bali, French and English.

In 1956, he became a member of the Tripitaka translation advisory group at the Buddhist Aca­demy. He worked on the fifth Khmer Dictionary with Chuon Nath. From the 1950s almost until his death, he taught in many different Buddhist schools in Phnom Penh and his native Kampong Cham province.

In 1993, he became director of the country’s Buddhist schools in charge of organization and education.






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