PHNOM PENH, Cambodia - Amid golden statues of his ancestors, former ballet dancer Norodom Sihamoni took over the Cambodian throne yesterday from his father, ending the reign of one of Asia's most colorful rulers.
Sihamoni, who has no political experience and is little-known in his country, was enthroned in an elaborate ceremony in the Royal Palace that included the blowing of conch shells and traditional music played with drums and gongs.
Shaded by a large parasol, Sihamoni was brought to the throne room on a litter led by palace guards and musicians. He repeated his oath to serve the country and its people three times while bowing before the golden-hued throne.
Fifty-two Buddhist monks - one for each year of the new king's life according to the traditional Cambodian zodiac - chanted blessings for about 40 minutes. By the Western calendar, Sihamoni is 51.
"I am extremely touched to have the opportunity to devote my physical and mental strength and intelligence to serve the nation and the people, and to continue the tradition and glorious achievements of my father," King Sihamoni later told a few hundred dignitaries in the throne room.
Not participating in the ceremony was Sihamoni's father, Norodom Sihanouk, who was put on the throne by Cambodia's colonial ruler, France, in 1941 and led the country through wars, revolution and the building of a shaky democracy. He was a godlike figure for many Cambodians, and apparently did not wish to take any attention away from his son.
Sihanouk, who turns 82 tomorrow, earned the description of "mercurial monarch" through decades of political feints and jabs, shifting alliances and self-dramatizing pronouncements delivered in his high-pitched voice or, more recently, via his personal Web site. He also painted, composed music and led his own jazz band.
Sihamoni's ascension came two weeks after he was selected by a panel of political and religious leaders to succeed his father, who abdicated three weeks ago citing ill health.
For most of the past two decades, Sihamoni has lived abroad, especially in Paris, where he served as his country's envoy to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, UNESCO.
He appeared calm during the coronation, often greeting dignitaries by pressing his hands together and bowing in traditional Cambodian fashion. He called yesterday "the most auspicious day in the history of Cambodia and history of my life."