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Royal Ploughing Ceremony - Planting Thailand's Seeds of Hope

The Royal Ploughing Ceremony, also known as the Farmer's Day or simply the Ploughing Festival officially marks the beginning of the rice growing season. This annual ceremony is held in many Asian countries, such as Cambodia and Thailand. The official Thai name for the Royal Ploughing Ceremony is 'Raek Na Khwan', which translates to 'the auspicious beginning of the rice-growing season'.

Royal Ploughing Ceremony Dates 2019

13th May 2019 - Monday

Significance of the Royal Ploughing Ceremony

Although the ploughing festival has been celebrated for hundreds of years, it was recognised as a public holiday in Thailand in 1957. Government offices, immigration offices and some parts of the Grand Palace complex remain closed on this day.

The royal ploughing ceremony is closely tied to the agricultural industry and is important for farmers even today, with a large percentage of Thailand's labour force in the agricultural industry. More than just a religious ritual, the ploughing festival allows farmers to predict the type of crops to expect and also pray for a good harvest in the years to come. It also raises their spirits and motivates them to work harder.

Royal Ploughing Ceremony
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Background of the Royal Ploughing Ceremony

In Thailand, the Royal Ploughing Ceremony dates back to the Sukhothai Kingdom in the mid-1200s. The practice stems from an ancient Hindu Brahman ritual, which is meant to ensure a good harvest. This ceremony is considered to have been performed in India even before the time of Lord Buddha.

Another belief lies in the celebration of Buddha's first moment of enlightenment. The incident took place when he was seven years old and went watch the ploughing ceremony with his father. Sitting under the shade of a rose-apple tree, he experienced sharpness of mind or 'samadhi' while deep in meditation.

The rituals performed during the ploughing festival in the past were of Hindu origin, while Thailand observed another fertility ritual of Buddhist origin. King Mongkut (Rama IV) merged both the ceremonies into what is known as the Royal Ploughing Ceremony today. In the 1920s, the ceremony was discontinued by King Rama VII. However, it was brought back by King Bhumibol Adulyadej (Rama IX) in the 1960s.

Royal Ploughing Ceremony in the Kingdom of Siam, Ploughing Festival

Royal Ploughing Ceremony in the Kingdom of Siam
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How is it Celebrated in Thailand?

Also known as 'Kan Phuetchamongkhon' in Thailand, the festival is believed to strengthen the ties between the monarch, the government and the farmers. It is observed on an auspicious day in early May, with the exact date being determined by monks every year. With the audience decked in bright and colourful traditional clothes, the ploughing festival is seen as both, a religious and a civil ceremony. The royal ploughing ceremony, which is both Buddhist and Hindu in origin, consists of aspects of both religions and has two parts, namely:

Cultivating Ceremony: This is the Buddhist part of the farmer's festival and takes place at the Wat Phra Kaew or the 'Temple of the Emerald Buddha' in the Grand Palace Complex in Bangkok. As part of the more private cultivating ceremony, the appointed Lord of the Harvest blesses the ceremonial items to be used for the Ploughing Ceremony. The King or appointed monarch present also gives the ceremonial ring and sword to the Lord of the Harvest and pours 'lustral water' (water that has received a blessing from monks in a sacred ceremony) over his hands and forehead.

Wat Phra Kaew or 'Temple of the Emerald Buddha' as the site for the Cultivating Ceremony, Royal Ploughing Ceremony
Temple of the Emerald Buddha as the site for the Cultivating Ceremony
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Ploughing Ceremony: This takes place a day after the cultivating ceremony, and the site for celebration for the ploughing ceremony is, as per tradition, the Sanam Luang ceremonial ground, in front of the Grand Palace.

The ploughing ceremony usually takes place between 8:19 AM to 08:49 AM every year. It begins with the Lord of the Harvest choosing one out of three folded clothes, which is meant to predict rainfall for the coming season. The longest one predicts the least rainfall, while the shortest one predicts the most rain.

This is followed by the ploughing of the ceremonial ground by the appointed Lord of the Harvest. He is accompanied by the sacred oxen, the priests, umbrella bearers, musicians and four women or 'celestial maidens', carrying rice seeds in baskets. This symbolic ploughing continues around the ground for three circuits, to the sound of conches and drumbeats.

The Ceremonial Ploughing at Sanam Luang, Royal Ploughing Ceremony

The Ceremonial Ploughing at Sanam Luang
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The sacred oxen are then offered plates of rice, corn, beans, sesame, grass, rice-whiskey and water. Based on what they choose to eat from the plates, the court fortune-tellers and astrologers can make predictions about the crops in the coming season.

At the end of the royal ploughing ceremony, the Lord of the Harvest scatters rice seeds over the furrows. Those attending the ploughing festival may be able to collect some of the scattered rice grains for their harvests or as a token of good luck or fortune.

Attending the Ceremony

The Royal Ploughing ceremony is open to the public. Tourists who wish to attend may contact the Tourism Authority of Thailand at +66 (0) 2250 5500, or via email at [email protected]

If you wish to attend, head to Sanam Luang early in the morning on the day of the ceremony. Respectful attire is requested.

Although the vibrant ploughing festival is a feast for the eyes of many, it is much more than a colourful spectacle to the people of Thailand. With an overwhelming majority of the population being involved in agriculture, the religious ritual acts as a source of hope, motivation and survival for many.

This post was published by Saanya Lulla