As the sun went down on the seventh and final official day of mourning for King Father Norodom Sihanouk yesterday, King Sihamoni and Queen Mother Monineath left the grounds of the Royal Palace and joined a crowd of more than 100,000 people to bid farewell to the late King.
King Sihamoni and Queen Mother Monineath, both dressed in white, emerged from the palace at about 5 p.m., raising their hands above their heads and reaching out to the crowd as they passed the thousands of monks and the mourners who joined in Pali-language singing being broadcast over loudspeakers.
Shortly before 6 o’clock, King Sihamoni separated from the Queen Mother and began to reach into the crowd, allowing people to embrace him.
With only a bodyguard’s hands wrapped around his torso to prevent him being pulled into the adoring crowd, the King made his way through the throngs of people, occasionally being maneuvered away by his retainers only to be absorbed yet again further down the line.
The King and Queen Mother’s appearance marked the climax of the seventh day of mourning for the late King Father, whose spirit, according to traditional beliefs, returned to Earth for the final time yesterday to come to terms with death and receive the blessings and offerings that have been given over the past week.
In total, about 100,000 people gathered on Phnom Penh’s riverside in front of the Royal Palace, joined by 7 to 8 thousand monks, according to municipal spokesman Long Dimanche.
“I love the King so much,” said 56-year-old Phe Tom, who left her house in Siem Reap last Wednesday and has been mourning—and sleeping—in front of the Royal Palace for the past six days. “He loved Cambodia. He loved everyone without bias, not just the rich, but also the poor, everyone.”
Ever since more than a million people lined Phnom Penh’s streets last Wednesday to witness the return of Norodom Sihanouk’s body from China where he died from heart failure at the age of 89, the area in front of the Royal Palace has been cordoned off and permanently filled with mourners from around the country.
Yesterday, people began to trickle into the grounds in front of the Royal Palace in the early morning. Vendors lined the Royal Palace wall, selling snacks and photographs of the late King in the numerous roles—son, father, husband, prince, king, prime minister, commander-in-chief, adventurer and filmmaker—he played throughout his life.
In the early afternoon heat, people along Sothearos Boulevard spontaneously formed parallel lines so that groups of monks, who were also walking amidst the crowd, could bless them with bottled water and lotus petals, leaving flowers and bottle caps scattered over the street
Mourners with their heads bowed and hands folded around bundles of incense and yellow candles waited in line at a row of cement urns, set up across the street from the palace, where they briefly knelt in prayer, set down their incense, and let the next wave of people take their place.
Also present outside the palace were thousands of garment factory workers, many of whom were given the day off and transported to the palace by labor unions.
“We came here with our friends—12 trucks of us,” said 30-year-old factory worker Duong Soklin of the Worker’s Union Federation. “We feel sorry to lose the King, but today we feel better. He was a great King, and there’s nothing to compare to him.”