A little less than four months after Great Supreme Patriarch Tep Vong ordered it closed, the crematorium at Phnom Penh’s Wat Ounalom pagoda, where generations of Cambodians have been cremated, is being destroyed.
A monk at the pagoda, who asked not to be identified, said demolition of the crematorium be-
gan Sunday, and that the space will be used to construct additional monks’ quarters.
The Wat Ounalom crematorium—built in 1955, according to a sign on the wall of the building—was ordered closed by Tep Vong in February, in compliance with a plan announced in 2004 by muni-
cipal authorities. That plan, which cites air-quality and traffic-control concerns, required the closure
of crematorium sites in central Phnom Penh, with all future cremations being handled four massive electric cremation machines currently under construction on the city outskirts.
However, some decried the decision to destroy the Wat Ounalom crematorium.
Miech Ponn, adviser to the Cambodian Customs Committee of the Buddhist Institute, said despite the plan to no longer use the city’s crematoriums, the structures should be preserved as sites of rich traditional history.
“All pagodas should preserve old crematoriums if City Hall orders them to stop using them, that way someone can use them at a later time to write books about,” he said.
Maa Theary, top monk at Russei Saang pagoda on the city’s outskirts in Dangkao district, said an electric cremation machine being built at the temple was nearing completion. All that remains to be done, he said, is to connect electricity to the machine and pave roads around the crematorium. The 28-ton machine cost more than $100,000 and is one of the four to be built on the city outskirts.
Kean Sokumthea, first abbot at Tuol Tompong pagoda in Cham-
kar Mon district, said he had no plans to close his busy crematorium until he is given an order to do so from municipal officials. He added that he would not order the building destroyed if and when it is shut down.
“If municipal authorities bar us from cremating dead bodies, we will preserve the site for teaching younger generations,” he said.