As the COVID-19 death toll worldwide reach a staggering 119,686 cases, people from all around the world are forced to adjust to the new norm. For the people of the Kingdom, this means making certain compromises in their funerary practices.
With the unprecedented cancellation of this year’s Khmer New Year, Cambodians were forced to forgo going back to provinces where they usually hold their traditional celebrations in a bid to curb the spread of the coronavirus.
While the public adjusts to confined New Year celebrations, another change is on the way as Health Minister Mam Bun Heng said any person who dies of COVID-19 must be cremated or buried immediately after his or her passing to prevent the spread of the virus.
Speaking at a press conference on Monday, Mr Bun Heng said: “The ministry has already prepared measures regarding the handling of COVID-19 deaths. To prevent the possible transmission of the virus, observance of traditional funeral rites will not be allowed nor can the families of the deceased hold a week-long wake.”
At present, COVID-19 cases in Cambodia stand at 122, with 91 recoveries and zero deaths.
“Although no deaths have been recorded in the Kingdom due to COVID-19, citizens should remain vigilant in combatting this fatal disease. Complacency in the face of a pandemic could lead to community transmission,” said the minister.
In the Kingdom, the observance of funerals is regarded as a major affair, marking one’s transition from life to death. For this reason, funerals typically involve a myriad of complicated and elaborate practices.
According to Buddhist monk Venerable Chhim Sophy, a Buddhist funeral is a simple, solemn and dignified ceremony. However, he said the supposedly uncomplicated ceremony has undergone several changes from generation to generation, with people incorporating what he deemed to be unnecessary and superstitious practices.
“From the perspective of Buddhist Cambodians, death is not the end of one’s life. It is simply the end of a life cycle. The sole purpose of a funeral ceremony is to allow the living to reflect on the meaning of life and death,” said Ven Sophy.
“Nowadays, custom dictates funerals be celebrated between three and seven days, however, a Buddhist funeral entails a simple ceremony where monks perform blessing rituals so the deceased can finally rest in peace,” he added.
Asked about the ministry’s directive, the monk expressed his agreement, saying it would not do well to dwell on burial rituals that could bring more harm and suffering to the living.
“Death brings suffering and nostalgia. All the living will one day face this [death], but in the face of a health crisis, the living takes precedence over the dead. We have to ensure the dead rests in peace so the living can also realise peace,” said Ven Sophy.
In his concluding message, Ven Sophy said there are simple rituals Cambodians can observe to honour the dead, such as the Bangsokul ritual where families go to monks to offer prayers for the dead.