Monday, January 28, 2013

The Customs of Cambodia (By Chou Ta-Kuan)

40) Royal Procession

I heard that former kings never venture far from his palaces, for fear of political intrigues. The current king is the son-in-law of the previous king. He was formerly a military chief. His wife is the favorite daughter of the previous king; so one day, she was able to steal the gold, regal sword and gave it to her husband. This action caused her brother, an heir apparent, to lose the throne, for without the regal sword, he could not succeed his father. Enraged, the heir apparent plotted a coup, but he failed. He was arrested and thrown into the dungeon with his toes cut off.

The current king wears metal body armor which could not be pierced by knife or arrow. That is why he is not afraid of going out and about. During my stay in Cambodia for over a year, I have seen the royal processions for 4 or 5 times. Each time, when the monarch goes out, there is always a contingent of army leading the procession. Immediately behind the army contingent, there are flag bearers and musicians. Following the musicians are the ladies of the court dressed in floral outfits. Some of these ladies decorate their hair with flowers and hold either large candles or gold trays in their hands. The candles are lit even in broad daylight. There are also some other groups of ladies marching in military formation with weapons such as spears and shields in their hands. Decorative carts drawn by goats and horses were also in the parade.

Leading the procession are court officials and members of the royal family. They all ride on elephants. If one looked from afar, one would see countless red parasols mushrooming over them. Following the court officials are the Queen and concubines riding in carriages drawn by horses or mounted on elephants’ backs according to their ranks and files. Their carriages are covered and surrounded by curtains. After the Queen comes the King who stands in a carriage mounted atop an elephant’s back. In his hand, the King carries the regal sword. The tusks of the elephant carrying the King were decorated with gold rings. Twenty parasols with gold hems were raised around the King. There is also a regiment of armed guards mounted on elephants to provide protection for the King.

If the King went out to visit places within the vicinity of the palace compounds, he would only ride in a carriage carried by his concubines. Whenever the King went out in a procession, a small stupa housing a gold statue of Buddha is carried in front of him. Upon seeing the approach of the royal procession, every bystander must kneel down and lower their foreheads to the ground in a gesture of Sampeah (Cambodian form of paying respect by pressing their palms together). If anyone failed to kneel down to pay respect to the King, he or she would be arrested and sent to jail.

The King holds audience with his subjects twice daily. But there is no agenda as to how many or what matters are being heard. Regardless of social statuses, everyone who requested an audience with the King must come to a designated area and sit prostrated on the ground outside a pavilion to wait for the King to come forth. Once the time for the King to hold audience arrives, a music play would be heard from inside the pavilion. Upon hearing the music, the court officials outside would blow conches in return to signal the people waiting outside that the King is about to receive audience. A moment later, two court ladies raise the curtain to reveal the King who stands on a gold dais holding the regal sword. At that point, all presented before the King must lower their heads and bow down to pay respect to the King. They must remain in that position until the sounds of the conches stop which is a signal for them to raise their heads up. The King would then take his seat in a gold-embossed chair. A royal heirloom rug made of lion skin was placed on the stage. After the King finishes holding audience, he returns to his quarter while everyone stands aside. Although they are not civilized, these barbarians certainly know what is due to a King!
(The End)

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