A couple of days ago, when I get back from work, I saw a group of people erecting a huge tent which is more than 100 feet long, on the street I live. The length of the tent goes up in front of the house I live. I was not sure if it was for a wedding or a birthday celebration or a funeral service because I often see similar huge tents in town erected for birthday ceremonies as well. All the sets of tables and chairs decorated with golden silk cover were laid out and men are decorating the tent in black and white ribbons.
The house owner told me that it was for the funeral service. An old lady from the house next to ours passed away. Later, I saw the ‘black ribbon arch’ decorated at the entrance of the tent – that is the only difference for the funeral tent from that of wedding or other ceremonies, for which pink ribbons are used at the arch.
A couple of hours later, I saw about a dozen of large pans, which each of them is large about a large satellite dish, were brought down from the truck and troops of traditional musicians and traditional musical instruments were brought into the house.
Since one of my co-workers is preparing for her wedding in coming December, I have already learned Khmer people hold their nuptial reception for three days and hundreds of guests, at least, if not thousands, are in attendance in a ‘regular’ size wedding. I could see that this lavish ceremonial style is one of the remaining traditions of the era of Angkor Empire, which was influenced by Hindu religion and culture. And as she says, it is not unusual the bride and groom change more than ten wedding dresses at the wedding – of course, she chooses twelve dresses for her wedding. And one evening when I visited her flat, her sister who is a college student, showed me a very fancy invitation card for a birthday party of one of her classmates, which was for that she was dressing up to attend. She explained me several hundreds of guests were invited. I was like “Hundreds of guests!!! Even for a college student’s birthday party?” Even though I know how glorious the past of Khmer society under Angkor empire was, it still makes me shocked to learn how ceremonial the Khmer traditions and Khmer society are.
I could not be surprised more, like the nuptials, funerals are also held for three days in a very ceremonial and lavish ways. The music troops played funeral music for three days. I saw my neighboring family hosting hundreds of guests, who all are in white blouse and black pants or skirts, with lunches and dinners at the tent for the whole three days. During these funeral days, the street smells so good with the foods coming from the large pans prepared for the guests.
I, generally, enjoy different kinds of music produced with the traditional instruments. However, this time, it has already been for three days and three nights and I felt it too much. This morning, music from the funeral place woke me up at 5:00 am. I was a bit annoyed because I want to stay in bed a bit longer on weekends mornings. But, I also noticed music they are playing this morning was a bit different from what they have been playing for the past two days. I got out of bed and went to the balcony of the apartment to check. It is hard to believe it is a funeral of an ordinary citizen. A big truck was used as the funeral coach and it was decorated with two giant dragons on both sides and all flowers baskets and large bouquets around the vehicle. What I have saw such extravagant and ceremonial funerals before are only state funerals of the country leaders and I saw them only on TV. It is hard to deny the current Khmer society inherits these extravagant traditional practices from their past associated with the rich culture in the era of the glorious Angkor dynasty. Looking back the past and living in the past is a kind of real road to nowhere. One side of me, I criticize for their lavish style ceremonials, but the other side of me, I got impressed how they celebrate their difficult times. Even if you did not believe in having next lives or heaven, it is lovely to know in advance, according to the traditions, our body would be brought by a beautiful coach decorated with beautiful flower bouquets when we die and everyone will feel pleasant and lovely when they see it, instead of feeling scared.
(For Khmer traditional funeral music, you can also watch this documentary. It is an very informative one.)