Miech Ponn is a lovely older man and an honest-to-goodness well of knowledge about all the cultural and customary things that Khmer do. I’ve met him on a number of occasions when I was working at the Buddhist Institute, and he helped out on the folktale project that I spearheaded there. What is particularly fascinating to me about this story is his prescribed remedies for resuscitating a person killed (or struck and knocked unconscious) by lightning (which killed 95 people in Cambodia last year – an enormous number):
Cambodians have searched science and religion to explain the phenomenon, with many of the country’s 14 million people believing lightning is connected to supernatural forces.
“The lightning last year was more fierce than ever before. I’m worried I might be the next victim – but I believe if we do good deeds, we avoid lightning and bad luck,” said Cheng Chenda, a housewife in Phnom Penh.
In his office at the Buddhist Institute, advisor on mores and customs, Miech Ponn, said many Cambodians believe that people with moles on their calves are susceptible to lightning strikes, as are people who have broken promises.
Cambodians also use mystical cures for those who have been struck.
“To resuscitate a victim, Cambodian villagers drape the person’s body with a white cloth, or jump over it three times, or place the victim in a bed and light a fire under the bed,” said Miech Ponn, who believes these techniques can work.
Miech Ponn said the surge in fatalities caused by lightning was predicted by Cambodia’s chief royal astrologer, Kang Ken, and that the country is now prone to more natural disasters.
“The increase in lightning deaths was caused by deterioration of nature and a religious prophecy that said it was a bad luck year,” said Miech Ponn. [via]
The placing of a cloth over the body is a practice deeply resonant with that of a ritual called Chak Mahapansukula, ឆាក មហាបង្សុកូល, in which a cloth is placed over a living person and then pulled off of them by a monk or acarya. This, in turn, is based on (I’m convinced, and write about this in my dissertation) the normative and crucial practice of pansukula during funeral ceremonies, in which a cloth is placed over the corpse and then removed by a monk just prior to cremation.
The similarity in each case is striking (pun intended): the placement of a shroud over the body indicates a state of death or spiritual morbidity, and the removal of the cloth effects a rebirth, either in the same body, or in a future normative rebirth.