From the 1st to the 4th February 2013, hundreds of thousands of people from all over Cambodia flocked to the capital, Phnom Penh, to join in the four day funeral ceremonies for the former King Norodom Sihanouk. The King-Father as Sihanouk, was known died on 15 October 2012.
He was one of the most influential and controversial men in Cambodia’s recent history. To many Cambodians he was the ‘father of Cambodia’, a title he deserved in the 1950s and 1960s when he lead Cambodia to independence from their French colonial rulers and later on when, as head of the state, he brought wealth to the Southeast-Asian nation.
However, Sihanouk was also known as both a survivor and a chameleon. In 1941, at the age of 19, he became the King of Cambodia, but in 1955 he resigned to become Cambodia’s first prime-minister after independence. His power grew in the 1960s when he became head of state. However, after a US supported coup he fled the country in 1970, to return when the Khmer Rouge, the murderous regime of Pol Pot, took control over Cambodia. From 1975 until 1976 he served as a puppet head of state for the Khmer Rouge. When the Vietnamese invaded Cambodia in the late 1970s, Sihanouk again fled his country.
More than a decade later, in 1991, he returned to Cambodia. In 1993 he was restored as King but in 2004, due to health problems, he passed the crown on to one of his sons, Norodom Sihamoni. After his abdication as a King, Sihanouk was given the honouring title of ‘King-Father’. Even though he mostly lived in Beijing during his final years, many Cambodians loved and respected him until he died, on 15 October 2012 at the age of 89.
A few days after his death the King-Father’s body was returned to the Royal Palace in Phnom Penh where, according to Cambodian traditions, his body was embalmed and kept for three months. After which, again in accordance with tradition, his body was cremated. His cremation took place in a specially built pagoda on 4 February 2013.