Nanchinadu: Harbinger of Rice and Plough Culture in the Ancient World by Dr. V. Sankaran Nair SignUp
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Nanchinadu: Harbinger of Rice and Plough Culture in the Ancient World
by Dr. V. Sankaran Nair Bookmark and Share
 


'Cambodia's 'Magic' Oxen Predict Bumper Harvest.' This caption hit many a world media on 30 April 2002. It refers to the first ploughing (Raek Nakwan) ceremony and forecasting of harvest and rains, held at the Veal Preahmein Square royal grounds, north of the Royal Palace, outside Phnom Penh's National Museum.

Tracing a symbolic furrow at the end of the annual Royal Ploughing Ceremony (Preah Nongkoal), Prince Norodom Yuvaneath (King Norodom Sihanouk's son), dressed in the traditional robes of the royal court, commemorated an auspicious beginning of the new rice planting season based on an ancient Brahman custom around a procession of three royal oxen who walk around the 'Royal Rice Fields', three times. The second plough in the procession is traditionally controlled by the King, and the third plough sows the seeds. Both King Norodom Sihamoni and Prime Minister Hun Sen have overseen the rite.

Hitched to a wooden plough, the two sacred oxen plough the ceremonial 'sacred furrow' (Bonn Chroat Preah Nongkoal) before His Majesty King Norodom Sihanouk. After that, the holy royal oxen, escorted to the centre of the field, were relieved of their harnesses and led to seven golden trays containing seven types of food, which include rice, corn, sesame seeds, soyabeans, fresh-cut grass, water and rice wine. They are presented before the bulls in order to draw prognostics. The ceremony is rooted in Brahman belief.

Left free to choose them to eat from this menu, what will the pair of sacred bulls eat, holds answer to the threefold question pertaining to the land fertility, availability of water in abundance and prospect of a rich harvest. On the basis of the royal bull's choice of food and how much they have eaten, the Brahmin astrologers/ court soothsayers predicted every year, based on traditional astrology, the agricultural produce and the abundance of particular crops in the ensuing season. This is also taken as an omen for the coming year. The rituals are therefore meticulously observed to ensure a rich harvest in the new planting season.

According to Khmer belief, the possible prediction of a range of events includes epidemics, floods, good harvests and excessive rainfall. Cambodians have attributed meaning for the forecasting of harvest, rains and floods which influenced farm produces and livelihoods influenced by floods and rains.

A similar ritual ploughing ceremony is held annually in Thailand (Old Siam) just before the general commencement of the ploughing season on a Crown paddy field, reserved for that purpose. In this popular rite the Minister of Agriculture, dressed as a god or temporary king, customarily guides the ceremonial plough, drawn by a pair of highly decorated oxen. Clad in ancient Siamese costume, a number of old ladies followed him scattering from their baskets the consecrated seed rice. After three circuits of the field, the sacred bulls halted and were led unyoked, back to their shed. The feast of the royal oxen commences with presenting them with seven different kinds of food and drinks in bowls/ silver trays (small baskets made of banana- leaves) holding rice seeds, mung bean (Vigna radiata), maize (corn), hays, sesame seeds, water and rice liquor (sago, bananas, sugar-cane, melons, and so on) prepared by the chief Brahmin.

Bull's Choice Determines Feast or Famine

On the day of the ploughing ceremony, the farmer finds out about the kind of weather he is going to have, and about the richest crop, yielding the grain. The bulls' choice of cereals signified a good harvest, its drinking water signified abundant rain and its eating herbs or drinking alcohol signified trouble in store. The crowd waiting nervously will assure bountiful yield of cereals and fruits if any one of the grains (rice seeds or maize), preferably rice, is eaten. A choice of water or hays predicts heavy rains and floods.

A choice of rice or corn would mean abundance of grains and plentiful fish; beans or sesame meant plentiful fish and meat, water or grass indicated plentiful rain, food, meat and agricultural crops; and alcohol foretold a more efficient transportation system, good trade relations with other countries, and prosperous economy. If they eat herbs, cattle diseases are to be feared. If they drink water, rain will be abundant and peace will reign; but if they drink alcohol, trouble will break out in the kingdom. Some considered wine altogether inauspicious. The oxen not drinking alcohol would signify war or turmoil in the royal kingdom.

When the oxen ate almost all the rice, beans and maize, prognostications that the Cambodian soothsayers declared for the year ahead was an auspicious choice assuring bountiful yield of rice, maize and bean. They took it for granted that the country would reap an abundant harvest and suffer no flooding that year.

Prognostications made on such occasions when the royal oxen chose to eat out of only three trays with their feast consisting of varying percentages of rice and maize, simply ignoring the trays of sesame seeds, grass, water and wine are: 'Farmers would enjoy a moderate output for their rice harvest but good yields in secondary crop production, especially corn and beans.' When the royal oxen only sniffed at the tray of water and turned away from the wine, it was predicted that: 'Farmers would not suffer any serious floods.' Eating rice or maize predicted plenty of rice and fruits, eating beans or sesame seed predicted plentiful fruits and foods; drinking water and eating hay predicted plentiful rain and a good harvest; drinking alcoholic liquor would increase communication, transportation and inter trade, resulting in economic growth. Choice of mung beans or sesame seeds would signal abundant fruit and food that would enable the country to have a sumptuous food bowl. If they would prefer to drink water or eat grass, water would be available abundantly with rich supply of cereals, fruits, food and animal meat. If they chose to drink the rice liquor, convenient transportation, prosperous commerce with foreign countries, and prosperous economy are predicted.

Pha nun(g): Prophecy for the Cultivation

In the Ploughing Ceremony, the newly appointed Ploughing Lord, along with chosen ladies, arrives at Sanam Luang in a royal car from the Grand Palace. The procession of high-ranking officials proceeds to a Brahman pavilion where the Ploughing Lord, lights candles and joss-sticks to pay homage to images of the deities, and makes supplication. All the rites that follow are of great importance as they foretell the conditions of the elements to be expected in the coming year.

On his arrival at the Pramane Ground, the Ploughing Lord performs a colorful ceremony when he is offered three pieces of the Siamese lower garment, Pha nun(g) (panungs) placed on the table and covered by other cloth. Folded up neatly and looking exactly alike, of three varied lengths namely long, medium and short (four, five and six kheub), they are worn in three different ways. The Lord of the Harvest Ceremony blindly casts lots and by picks up one. The great importance attached to this random choice of three pieces of cloth of varying lengths served as a determinant factor in the prediction of the amount of rain during the coming year. The longest cloth indicates little rain fall and poor harvest, while the shortest indicates good rainfall and a bountiful harvest.

'It was the dry season. The paddy fields were parched, and intersected with canals, well filled with water. The peasants, their brassy torsos naked to the waist, and their lower parts wrapped in the ankle-length skirts named panung, were ploughing the paddy fields with wooden ploughs drawn by buffaloes.' Panung is the loin cloth the Thais wore traditionally around the hips. This national costume is a piece of cloth about I yd. wide and 3 yd. long. The middle of it, passed round the body, covers from the waist to the knees, and is hitched in front so that the two ends hang down in equal length before; these being twisted together are passed back between the legs, drawn up and tucked into the waist at the middle of the back. Though it is common to both sexes, the women supplement panung with a scarf worn round the body under the arms.

The crowds in the past, perceived in the length of the Lord of the ploughing ceremony's loin cloth an omen of the coming rains. Hence the choice of Pha Nung would be indicative of the amount of rain to be expected during the year. Based on the choice, the foresay of the soothsayers are as follows. A long loin cloth with the low hem (hem of pha-nung) nearly touching the ground, without any concern of it getting wet, is a sign of a drought. A short pha nung, worn above the knee, assures a good supply of rain, perhaps even too much for the crops. A medium-length cloth that shows an average rainfall is the most favorable omen of the three.

The selection of the shortest one, a piece of cloth measuring four palm (keub) spans, ensured a wet season with abundant water. Farming on high land would bear good yields, while farming on low land might face some damage. There would be a good harvest in high-lying land (upland areas), but a somewhat bad harvest in low-lying (lowland) areas might suffer some damage. The men who worked in the wet rice-fields would have to pull the -panoong high above the knee. 
If the choice falls on a medium-sized piece of cloth measuring five palms, the prophecy was that rain would be average with a balanced supply of water, water supply would be just about right, rice plantations would yield good output and food produce would also be abundant. Rice and all other grains would sprout and grow well, fruits and animal meat would be bountiful.

If the piece of cloth selected was the longest one measuring six palms, poor rain fall and water scarcity was predicted. Farming on low land would bear good yields, but farming on high land would not bring good results. Men could let the panoong drop to the ankle. It meant that the rainfall would be very little. There would be a good harvest in low-lying land but paddy in the upland areas might suffer some damage. In yet another account, the following prognostication is given: Should he choose the longest, the rainfall would be abundant; should he choose the shortest, there would be too little; while his choice was the one of medium length, it denoted that the rainfall would be average.

How Far these Predictions are Valid?

The Royal Ploughing Ceremony has been held for more than 700 years. This elaborate Brahman ritual and ceremonial provides predictions concerning the forthcoming rice harvest and allay the fears of the farmers on several questions. Will the forthcoming rice harvest be a bountiful one with enough rain? Will the coming season save the crop from drought, floods, or pests?

Usually held during the sixth lunar month (May) at the Phramane Ground, the ploughing ceremony is one of the most colorful annual events in Thailand, at which the King or a royal representative will be the first to plant. It heralds the beginning of the official commencement of the annual rice planting cycle, outside the Royal Palace. As the regular rice-growing season approaches, His Majesty the King presides over the ceremony with much pomp and splendor to produce bountiful crops and boost farmers' morale.

People in the past really believed both in the ceremony, as well as in what it was supposed to tell them. They were faithful in the acts that have been performed. Even today, we find many thousands of them. But, with the advent of education, it is feared that the belief in these quaint and picturesque ceremonies will die out. It will, however, be long before they are entirely given up, for they provide opportunities for a merry holiday; and if there is one thing a Siamese loves more than another, it is a day of feasting and merriment, a day when work is thought of as something belonging only to the morrow.

Whatever the pair of bulls choose to eat or drink, it is thought that the bulls' choices should be plentiful during the following year. While some appreciate these forecasts, some people interpret the omen in the opposite sense.

Scientific methods to forecast the weather and to determine harvests are several in modern times. But they are uncertain. The royal ploughing ceremony (Pithi Chrat Preah Neangkol), ceremoniously celebrated nationwide in Cambodia since ancient times, relies on traditional rituals that often, warned them of calamities, assured good harvest and so forth. Rooted in Brahman belief, this annual event is held to ensure a good harvest, and marks the beginning of the rainy season. This ritual, a part of Cambodia's cultural history, is but one of several methods to forecast and perhaps reduce the uncertainty of the future.

The royal ploughing ceremony served as an occasion to address the impacts and vulnerability to climate change, both to sensitize decision makers and to increase the awareness of the population. Can these ploughing ceremonies be a replica of a very similar ploughing festival that took place in ancient times in India?

As the ceremony predicts how much rain will fall and how well the crops will grow, every farmer will learn much on this day about the prospects of the coming season. The Thai farmers, gave great importance to these predictions and wait anxiously, for that day to dawn. Thronged in thousands from the provinces to Bangkok for the event in the old days, they converged to the Grand Palace on these days. The festival gave farmers the signal that it was an auspicious date to start ploughing for the new rice crop.

Celebration of the Royal Ploughing ceremony as a sort of advance warning, alerted the farmers about the ushering in of the rice cultivation season. Apart from the Royal Ploughing ceremony, predictions for the coming year are gleaned from the traditional ceremonies like the Festival of Water and full Moon Salutation (Pithi Bonn Om Touk and Ak Ambok Sampeah preah Kher) in Khmer, and the bon phik t-tk saea ceremony of the drinking of the water of the oath; Drippings from burning candles which predicted rainfall distribution to provinces across the country are taken very seriously.

Royalty and Farming

"The seed goes to the soil, the soil never comes to the seed" is an ancient Amhara (Ethiopia) proverb. In both farming and marriage, a man's plowing of a parcel of land, especially virgin land, gives him certain usufructuary rights over that territory.

The deep connection that the farmers had from earth to farming surfaces in the Royal Ploughing Ceremony, wherein they believed through astrology that the Ox had an influence on the fate of their agricultural harvest. Closely bound with earth and agriculture, farmers anxiously await every year the predictions at the end of this ritualistic ceremony, which they observe with strong faith and belief.

King Vajiravudh (King Rama VI - reigning title Phra Mongkut Klao Chaoyuhua) had let lapse, many of the traditional sources of royal prestige like the royal tonsure and ploughing ceremonies,' which his successor, King Rama VII, yearning to recover the power and prestige of the Fifth Reign, reinstated. On another occasion the king, who had restored the fertility rituals of the royal ploughing ceremony, complained that people unfairly held him personally responsible for bad weather.'

By virtue of his royal coronation, the king is endowed with divine prerogatives and as such he is considered as a medium of communication between heaven and earth, who can secure the fertility of the soil. Since the 1930s, civil officials sporadically performed the actual ploughing of the land with holy oxen and celestial virgins, the chot phranangkhan. But the less visible palace chapel rites of fertility, the phuetmongkol (grain blessing), the blessing of the grains, had not been practiced. Rangsit, in 1949, renewed the phuetmongkol, leading the offering of alms and prayers to the goals. It emphasized the magic link between the crown and the fruitfulness of the kingdom's farms.

A stone pillar in the southeast corner of Sanam Luang is the foundation stone that King Rama I had placed for his new capital of Bangkok. Many people believed that this Lak Muang (City Pillar Shrine) had the power of granting wishes.

The central tower of the Angkor temples represents the king. At the beginning of each rainy season, the King of Cambodia would plough the first furrow. This 'sacred furrow', considered a gesture of defloration of the virgin soil, is a necessary gesture to gain a fertile harvest.

True to the ancient belief that His Majesty the King is the fount of everything, and as such, theBhumibol oversees the ancient Ploughing Ceremony. His representative still presides over the stately Ploughing Ceremony in May each year that the important work of Thai society marked the beginning of the rice-planting season. The court astrologers determined the precise date and time of the ploughing festival and predicted the state of the annual harvest.

Decline and Revival of the Ploughing Ceremony

Discontinued in 1936 were these two ceremonies not practiced again until 1947, during Phibun's cultural revitalization program. Phibun only reinstated the Phraratchaphithi Phranangkhon, in which the king merely went to the temple to pray for good crops. The colorful plowing ceremony was not performed again until 1950, when Sarit was Prime minister, under whose leadership; the two ceremonies were brought back to their former splendor with much fanfare. People from all over the country came for this ceremony which the king and queen attended.

The Cabinet declared the Royal Ploughing Ceremony day to be the Annual Agriculturists Day since 1986, and the Agriculture Day has been observed together with the Rice Grains Blessing and Ploughing Ceremony. An Annual Ploughing Ceremony in Bangkok now creates awareness among the agriculturists of the importance of agriculture and reminds them to take part in the ceremony to bring about good luck and wealth for themselves and the country as a whole.
Thinking that this custom was absurd, the king of Siam did away with it when he attended the ploughing festival of 21 April 1912, driving in his motor car. But every one greatly appreciated his presence, as a token of the sovereign's interest in promoting the welfare of the national agriculture. Crowds of people used to attend this state ceremony, which was discontinued at a later date.

Prime Minister Hun Sen renounced it. Pointing out the failure of the royal astrologer's inaccurate prediction of the previous year's floods, which killed 56 people, he refused to attend the ceremony. King Sihanouk reinstated the ancient ploughing ritual abandoned during Cambodia's civil war in 1994.

Thus the royal ploughing ceremony was destined to continue. Farmers anxiously wait for these annual predictions to come every year, as such, it will go on for years to come. The First Ploughing and soothsaying still exists in its ancient form as a State Ceremony.

Several Countries Performed the First Ploughing Eeremony

The Lord of Ploughing Ceremony, called Phraya Raek Na, officiates His Majesty the King as his appointee, to substitute him in this ceremony. His official position in the bureaucracy, usually determined his election. The Minister of Agriculture, the Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Agriculture and Co-operatives, is traditionally the representative to carry out the rites, the first ritual being the prediction of rainfall.

In many parts of the world the success of the rice-crops means life to thousands of people. It is not surprising to find a ceremony of great importance taking place before the planting of the rice each year. Until this "ploughing festival" has been celebrated, no one is supposed to begin the cultivation of his rice-fields. The rains arrive about March / April. It is the time for the farmers to turn their thoughts towards the farming work that lies ahead.

The Royal Ploughing Ceremony has been performed annually in several countries for thousands of years and India has been pointed out as the birth place of all such ceremonies. Legends are galore about ploughing ceremonies practiced in China and India in ancient times. In the classic Indian epic Ramayana, King Janaka, then a hermit, finding Sita as an infant, hid her in the ground and asked the deities to protect her. King Janaka ploughed a deep furrow to receive her, which later gave the infant, the name Sita, in reference to the furrow.

King Rama V's Booklet, State Ceremonies and Festivals of Twelve Months, traces the ceremony back to the time of the Buddha more than 2500 years ago and it has been observed consistently since then. The very name Suddhodana, Lord Buddha's father, which literally means 'pure-rice', implies that his family line was involved in rice farming. The story from the life of the Buddha recounts how at the age of seven, the prince followed his father to witness the annual 'vap magul' (ploughing) ceremony at the beginning of the sowing season, where he displayed his supernatural traits, and was found kind, compassionate and thoughtful. It is believed that in May, just before the full moon, two white oxen pull a gold-painted plough, followed by four girls dressed in white who scatter rice seeds from gold and silver baskets. This is to celebrate the Buddha's first moment of enlightenment, which occurred when the seven-years-old Buddha had gone with his father to watch the ploughing. The fact that Lord Buddha, as a Prince, took part in the ceremony shows that ploughing was practiced even before his birth.

The Royal Ploughing Ceremony (Pithi Chraoat Preah Naingkorl / Jarod Pranangkan Raenakwan) and astrology have been practiced in Thailand for hundreds of years. Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn of Thailand, the second daughter of the King has been seen harvesting rice once in a while in experimental plantations. The Emperor of Japan is also involved in sacred rice plantations, known in Thailand as Raek Na. This important state festival, performed up to the present day in Siam, has had its roots lost in the remotest antiquity in India.

The Chinese Cult

Shennong, the legendary divine farmer and mythical emperor of China is supposed to have invented their agriculture. He has also been credited with the invention of the plough. The Chinese emperor solemnly brought offerings to the special sacrificial altar in Peking devoted to him. In early spring every year, an important state ceremony was held to mark the first ploughing season. The Chinese Emperor accompanied by prominent dignitaries ploughed a furrow on a sacred plot of the land. To the God of the land, known as She, peasants offered sacrifices as part of spring and autumn rituals.

In the Volga region, when the Sun is moving in the direction of spring, people come together to forecast the future harvest. Mari and Chuvashes the tribal groups in Volga region prepared special food for this festival of harvest. The festivities connected with first ploughing and sowing took place in the field. A little bit of food was sacrificed to Mother Earth.

Oval Shaped Park: The Venue for the Ploughing Ceremony

Thousands of Thais who turn up in their traditional costume, to watch the ploughing ceremony procession, with much merry noise, often put the city traffic to a standstill. A source of national pride, this procession wends its way to a piece of large oval-shaped park. A ceremonial pavilion, built during May for the occasion, signals the start of the planting season. It is the setting for the Royal Ploughing Ceremony in which the king participates.

Following the tradition of sowing the first rice in the royal field, the ceremony is held outside the city walls at the Royal Ground that sits in front of the Grand Palace, at Sanam Luang. Great many details have to be worked out carefully as preparations for the Ploughing Ceremony, starting with transforming the spacious Pramane Ground into a multi-pavilion shrine. A few simple preparations like a roofed-in platform made of bamboo, attap-leaf, and boards, and some rather soiled drapery of red and white cloth made the pavilion colorful.

In the ground, in front of the open booth, the space for the Prince to plough, is marked out with three firmly fixed bamboo-stakes. The cream-colored bullocks to draw the plough are housed in a shed not far away. A cord of sacred cotton encircled the booth, the shed, and the selected ground, which also warded off all the evil spirits, 'who are simply aching to get inside the thread, play tricks, and upset the proceedings.' The gaily decorated wooden plough, with ribbons and flowers, is within the guarded area. The ends of both the yoke and the beam are beautifully carved. A little gilded idol can be found where the yoke is fastened to the beam.

Teaching of Buddha

The Buddhist rite of prayers and blessing for cereals is conducted on the first day prior to the ploughing day. An announcement that followed highlighted the importance of the ceremony, according to the Buddhist Dharma, which tells how Buddha's power eliminated drought, and the rain enabled farmers to work on their farms. Then there was an announcement to honor King Rama I, followed by good wishes to the king and a call to ask all holy spirits to bless and to protect plants in the kingdom so that they might grow healthily. Then there is good seasonal rain. After the announcement, eleven Buddhist monks recite a special chant covering all kind of cereals brought into the ceremonial field. The two parts of the ceremony originally took place on two separate days. Later, the ploughing part was skipped. The government decided to re-establish the ploughing part in B.E. 2503 (A.D. 1960), and it was then moved to the Pramane Ground, also known asSanam Luang in front of the Grand Palace in Bangkok that used to be a ceremonial ground in the reign of King Rama I, II, and III. This helped to conserve this great traditional royal ceremony for agriculture. As a devout Buddhist, King Mongkut added religious rites to the ceremony.

During the reigns of King Rama I, II, and III, the ceremony was purely a Brahmanic rite with no participation of Buddhist monks. The royal ploughing ceremony, then known as Phraratchaphithi(Royal ceremony) Chot Phranangkhan, was observed every year. Since the Sukhothai era (1257-1350 A.D.), this magnificent ancient Brahminical rite of grand dimensions was an event eagerly watched in Thailand. It continued in Ayutthaya and Ratanakhosindhu (Bangkok) periods. During the Bangkok period, the ceremony was fully observed without omission of any portion of the original rites, since the first Chakri king, although the actual ploughing was not done by the King. In the current Chakri period, the original rites and ceremonies have been carefully maintained. The Ploughing Ceremony in the days of the Ayutthaya kingdom (1350-1767) declined in importance. The king who no longer participated in the ceremony, delegated to a representative, the Lord of the Ceremony, the charge of conducting the ceremony.

Realizing the significance of the ancient Thai tradition, King Rama I ordered the revival of several royal ceremonies such as the Coronation Day, the Royal Ploughing Ceremony and the Ceremony to Take an Oath of Allegiance. A lavish ceremony Rama I introduced in the early Bangkok days (1782 onward) was reduced to modest dimensions by Rama VI (King Vajiravudh), who also revived the Sukhothai tradition of personally appearing at the Ploughing Ceremony. Rama IV (1850-67) added a Buddhist component, and was the instigator of the elaborate public spectacle involving a Phraratchaphithi Phutmongkhon complete with four queens to accompany the substitute king.

The once exclusive Brahmanical rites now share the first day with Buddhist prayers and rituals. While in the afternoon monks place a Buddha image in one of the erected pavilions at Sanam Luang, in the evening, a Brahman teacher propitiated the Great Gods enshrined there such asPhra Isuan, Phra Brahm, Phra Narai (Ram), Phra Umabhagavadi, Phra Mahavighanesuar and Phra Laksami for a good harvest. Brahmin priests placed the images of the Hindu gods, Shiva and Vishnu, in another pavilion, all in readiness for the second and main day of the ceremony.
In Cambodia, at least one festival is held every month consistently from the past until the present. Cambodian people call it Pithi Tvear Tos-meas or ceremonies of twelve months of the year, classified into two major groups, those organized during the rainy season and those in the dry season.

The Royal Ploughing Ceremony and Fete of Neakta are the two festivals performed at the beginning of the rainy season. Neakta is an animistic spirit or deity and the fete of neakta takes place probably a fortnight after the Royal Ploughing Ceremony. Local ceremonies of this type are organized to invoke the spirits to manage to procure rain for farming. The Khmers believe thatNeakta or ancestor spirits would stay around to look after their children and are responsible for preventing younger generation from various epidemic diseases and ensuring sufficient rains for farmers and prosperity for all in general.

The Royal Ploughing Ceremony (Pithi Chraoat Preah Naingkorl) observed for many centuries in Pisak (May) at the initiative of a Khmer king in the ancient time, is held to pay tribute to the God of Earth for her gracious favor of providing land to farmers to cultivate their rice. It is actually performed in the sixth month of the Khmer lunar calendar, and marks the beginning of the rainy season.

On the second day of the ceremony, a colorful event, the ceremonial drum bearers wearing elaborate red garments walk in procession. The Brahmin priests clad in white and the young maidens dressed in traditional Thai attire followed the Lord of the Ceremony decked out in a white gem-studded tunic. Adding to the dram of the day were the two white oxen harnessed to a crimson plough adorned with gold fittings.

The Royal Ploughing Ceremony (Bonn Chroat Preah Nongkoal) marked the auspicious commencement of the tilling of the paddy field. It being designed to give an auspicious beginning to the new planting season, the people did not dare to commence cultivation till this festival was held.

The main activities of the ploughing ceremony are the actual ploughing of the field by the Lord of the Festival (Phraya Raek Na) with a pair of ceremonial bulls and the scattering of rice seeds from gold baskets carried by four fair ladies (Nang Thepi). Along with this, the traditionally dressed Brahmin leaders interpret omens to forecast the amount of rainfall and the bounty of the harvest in the coming season and chant and blow conch shells.

Cultivating Ceremony

High-ranking Buddhist monks at the temple of the Emerald Buddha performed this important ritual of the Cultivating Ceremony/ the grains blessing ceremony, wherein an image of the Buddha 'Calling Down the Rain' is invited out. Buddha's right hand is in the attitude of calling down the rain whereas his left hand is trying to catch it. The sacred rice to be used the next day is blessed on the eve of the Ploughing Ceremony, when paddy and the seeds of forty other crops and ceremonial items to be used in the Ploughing Ceremony are sanctified in the Royal Chapel of the Temple of the Emerald Buddha within the compounds of the Grand Palace. These ancient rituals for a bountiful harvest in Thailand an amalgamation of Buddhist and Brahmin rituals are found inseparable.

After wetting his hands and anointing his forehead with lustral water, His Majesty the King, or a representative, who presides over the Cultivating Ceremony, receives the royal blessing and performs religious rituals and prays for the abundance of the nation's crops. The king pours lustral water over the rice seeds, the sacred plough, the Lord of the Ceremony, and over the Nang Thepi, the young women who represent heavenly beings and who will carry the blessed rice seeds. His Majesty the King confers Phraya Raek Na, the nine-gemmed rings and the Royal Goad with royal approval, performs the function and anoints the heads of four Thepis and sword to be used in the Royal Ploughing Ceremony that follows the next morning at Sanam. Among the prayers chanted is the Mongkol Katha (the blessing spell). Then, the Chief Brahman reads the proclamation on the Cultivating Ceremony, which seeks to bring propitiousness to the crops. 
Later, Phraya Raek Na and the Thepis leave for the back of the ceremonial pavilion in Sanam Luang where Phraya Raek Na washes his hands in a bowl, which he the water is fed to the ceremonial bulls located there. Then, Phraya Raek Na and the Thepis spend time with the bulls in preparation for the Ploughing Ceremony to be held the next morning.

Lord of the Ploughing Ceremony 
(Phra Raj Phiti Peuj Mongkol Jarod Phranangkal Raek Na Kwan)

The Royal Ploughing ceremony was originally conducted at Phaya Thai rice field. But when it was reestablished in A.D. 1960, the Sanam Luang Ground was chosen as the ceremonial ground in the reigns of King Rama I, II, and III. With the introduction of changes, the king or the leader of the country designated the new duty to a respective high-ranking officer called as Phraya Raekna to perform the ceremony.

The ritual of ploughing the field follows on the entry of the entire procession led by the Lord of the Ploughing Ceremony to the area barricaded with bamboo fences decorated with flowers and leaves, with the team of white sacred white bulls festooned in flowers, drawing a sacred plough of red and gold. Four celestial maidens (consecrated women/ the queen of sowing ceremony/ 'Nang Thepi' /nan devi ), followed Phra Raek Na carrying silver and gold baskets filled with the blessed seeds, on a pole over their shoulders.

Before the start of the ceremony, the Phraya Raek Na receives the royal blessings together with the ceremonial ring with nine different gemstones and staff to carry on all the rituals in his palace. The Lord of the Ceremony and the four maidens are anointed on the foreheads and in the palms, and given a conch and bel leaves. Earlier, His Majesty the King only presided over the rituals. Nowadays, the king takes part in the festivities, but doesn't play the leading role.

After donning the 'panung', the Lord of the Ploughing Ceremony, armed with a goad, received from the Brahmin priest presiding over the ceremony, takes the gilded handle of the plough, which has been wrapped in red cloth by the Brah Maha Raja Gru, and whips up the pair of magnificent oxen caparisoned in harness of red velvet and gold thread, and ploughs three ceremonial concentric deep furrows in an oval shape. While he ploughs, senior Brahmin priests walked in front chanting and blowing conch shells alongside the plough sprinkling lustral water on the earth before him, at the conclusion of each circuit. The four dowager ladies of the nobility follow. From the baskets they carried, they sow/ scatter rice seed, over the newly turned earth amidst the blowing of conchs by five Brahmin priests. The Lord of the Ploughing Ceremony ploughing again the earth over the seeds for three more rounds that cover up the new seeds completes the symbolic ploughing. Nine being an auspicious number in Thailand, the Lord of the Ceremony leads the sacred oxen nine times around the marked field. Green-costumed drummers, Brahmans and drum and umbrella bearers complete the procession.

The ruling monarch led long processions while his representative, the Phraya Raek Na (Lord of the Ceremony), performed the ploughing rites. Today, King Bhumibol or a member of the royal family attends and the Lord of the Ceremony still conducts the Ploughing Ceremony.

The Director General of the Rice Department, the Ministry of Agriculture as well as the Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Agriculture and Cooperatives would attend the ceremony. The Minister of Agriculture served as Phraya Raek Na, the Lord of the Ploughing Ceremony / Lord of the Harvest/ the master of ceremonies. The consecrated women were selected from single female officials who worked either in the Ministry of Agriculture or in the royal palace, ranked 3rd-4th levels/ of the Ministry holding positions of second rank and above in the civil service or from the wives of senior officials of the Ministry of Agriculture and Cooperatives.

Sacred Souvenirs

His Royal Highness Crown Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn presided over the Royal Ploughing Ceremony started off on the morning of 10 May 2007 and in the Rice Grains Blessing. The grains, taken from the experimental project at Chitralada Palace grounds, home of King Bhumibol Adulyadej, were blessed in the grain blessing ceremony held at the Temple of the Emerald Buddha and were sown in the ceremony.

Every year, the His Majesty, the King of Thailand presided over the Royal Ploughing Ceremony because it brings auspiciousness to cereals and also encourages farmers to carry out farming works. The rice grains and the 40 other grain species used in the ceremony come from his personal rice field in Chitralada Villa, Dusit Palace, where His Majesty has conducted the experimenting in planting rice. After distributing one portion of the King's rice grains into the ceremonial ground, the remaining is sent in small packs for distribution to farmers who failed to attend the ceremony from the provinces throughout Thailand, for good luck and to satisfy their auspicious beliefs.

On the arrival of His Majesty the King and members of the Royal Family, the Lord of the Ceremony (Phraya Raek Na), together with his entourage, leaves the ceremonial pavilion in procession in order to start the Ploughing Ceremony. He stops in front of His Majesty the King, and then proceeds to the royal field. At the auspicious time, Phraya Raek Na anoints the heads of the ceremonial bulls, yoked to a plough handle, takes the handle of the plough and begins ploughing three concentric furrows and three crosswise furrows. He ploughs three more rounds to cover the rice seeds scattered from the baskets that the Thepis carried.

The ceremony ends with the scattering of seeds. The crowd of farmers, who so far remained as observers without taking part in what was going on before their very eyes, has been waiting for the aforesaid ritual to complete. Once the nine furrows are drawn and the Prince leaves the ground to retreat to the palace, the sacred cord is broken and the barricades are removed. The farmers who remained only as spectators are free to rush in hundreds to storm the newly ploughed field to scrounge for the 'blessed' rice seeds to kick off the planting season. They take a few precious sacred rice grains back home. Farmers believed that mixing these seeds with their own rice stock to be planted later would serve as the best possible fertilizers. They would bring luck and prosperity, and as such were kept in money sacks to bring good fortune. They also preferred simply treasuring them as 'Sacred souvenirs' from the sacred crops as luck charms. The rice seeds and grains used in May 2007 weighed 2,011 kilograms.

'There are now three degrees of the ceremony. The lowest is performed every year, just before the Ploughing Ceremony, when a chapter of monks prays for rain, which the King always attends if he can. In seasons when lack of rain is becoming rather serious, the monks carry out in procession the special image as hereafter described, and recite stanzas. Only in years of great drought is the ceremony, both Buddhist and Brahmanical, performed in full, the last occasion being about thirty years ago. In ancient times, however, the Brahmanical rites were performed regularly every year with the intention of promoting the germination of seeds, but now they are, as already stated, reserved for times of great drought.'

The sustenance of Thailand depends on its rice bowl and their contribution to the well being of the country. The ceremony that heralds the ushering in of the new rice-growing season was undertaken to assure a successful planting season that would prompt an abundance crops production. Their ceremonies honour the farmers and also serve to strive for an abundant harvest.

These days, the Royal Ploughing Ceremony is observed as a two day's state event that combines a Buddhist rite of Cultivating Ceremony (Phraraj Pithi Peuj Mongkol) with the Royal Ploughing Ceremony (Phraraj Pithi Jarod Phranangkal Raek Na Kwan). Brahmans had set the rule that the ceremony must be performed on the best day of the year, comprising the auspicious occasions as stated in the treatise of astrology. This particular day must also be in the sixth month and the traditional auspiciousness is based on the lunar calendar.

Rice farming, a major source of food, has a great past with a present. The prosperous Royal Ploughing Ceremony, traced back to the Sukhothai Period (more than 700 years ago), is an inherited one from the ancient Brahmanic rite. In Thailand, where farmers formed the majority of the population, the ceremony reminded them of the auspicious beginning to the new planting season, boosting morale and making predictions about the year's crops. A Bhramanic ceremony, held in May every year, is aimed at bringing about propitiousness to the nation's crops.

Brahman Origins

The king's coronation, mundana ceremony, royal wedding, first ploughing ceremony etc. were among the important events at which the Brahmana priests officiated. The Ploughing Ceremony, the first of the traditional agrarian festivals, is basically of Brahman origin. The Royal Brahman astrologers set the auspicious day and time for the Ploughing Ceremony held in the sixth lunar month, usually mid-May. The annual Royal Ploughing Ceremony that marks the start of the rice-planting season, begins with a rite that holds the prophecy of prosperity of the country. This Brahmanical rite is to predict rainfall and the right types of crop to plant, thereby ensuring a good harvest.

The Royal Ploughing Ceremony, carried out in the hope of providing a bountiful crop marked the traditional beginning of the rice-growing season, has been performed since ancient times, but varies. Even today, Brahman astrologers set the exact date and time for the Ploughing Ceremony, which is not exactly fixed for other royal ceremonies. The exact date for the Royal Ploughing Ceremony (Bonn Chroat Preh Nongkoal), is not set on a fixed date, and as such it varies. Falling on the sixth lunar month (May, just before the rains begin it marks the start of the rice-planting season, a good time for farmers to start working on their farm. For a very long time, a ceremonial furrow used to be ploughed on the grounds in front of the National Museum in Phonom Penh. The royal astrologer calculates and fixes the auspicious day for the Royal Ploughing Ceremony, which the Bureau of the Royal Households would mark in the royal calendar which clearly states the date for both rites of the ceremony. The cabinet announces this as a Public holiday.

The fete is held usually on a lucky day that the astrologers designated in the waxing part ofVaisakha (April-May) this festival's dates change annually according to the Lunar Calendar. In 2007, the ceremony was held in Cambodia on 5 May, and in Thailand on 10 May. In the Khmer language, it is called Pithi Chrat Preah Neangkol, and in the Thai language, it is called Phraraj Pithi Jarod Phranangkal Reak Na Kwan. Its other name is bon crat prah ankal .

The ancestral masters set the rule that the ceremony must be performed on the best day of the year, with the most auspicious signs as stated in the treatise of Hora (astrology). After the royal astrologer calculated and selected the auspicious day for the Royal Ploughing Ceremony, the Bureau of the Royal Households would mark the date in the royal calendar which clearly states the date for both rites of the ceremony. The cabinet announced the Royal Ploughing Ceremony day as a public holiday but the national flag is raised as it is on usual working days.

Known as Phraratchaphithi Chot Phranangkhan, the plowing ceremony was a purely Brahmanical ceremony, prior to the reign of Rama IV. Rama IV, the instigator of the elaborate public spectacle involving a Phraratchphithi Phutmongkhon complete with four queens to accompany the substitute king,' added a Buddhist component.

Holding at the same time the handle of the gilt plough and a long rod, the prince guides the plough drawn by a pair of richly caparisoned bulls, nine times round the space marked out by the three bamboos. A nobleman who walks in front of the bullocks, sprinkles consecrated water on the ground.

A number of very old women can be found taking part in the performance. They carried over their shoulder a gilded elegant carrying pole from the ends of which are suspended two gaskets, one gilded and the other silvered, filled with consecrated grain. The women following the Prince, who ploughed three times more, guided along the proper path, scattered to right and left the precious seeds which have previously been hallowed and made potent by mantras (mAon) chanted by Brahmanical priests and Buddhist monks. These old women were allowed to keep with them the rich dresses they adorn as payment for the day's work.

To Aymonier's account of the functions of the Bakus, C'd's adds other details. In the administration of oaths to officials, in ploughing the first furrow, and at the 'Feast of the Waters', the court Brahmins still play a part. 'The prayers they recite or chant on such occasions are in corrupt Sanskrit, often unintelligible, but still written in the grantha characters of South India. The writing is palaeographically much later than that of ancient Kambuja; this proves C'd'sthinks that these Brahmins are not direct descendants of the ancient Brahmins; but this is not a necessary inference.'

Buddhistic Rite

The two parts of the ceremony originally had taken place on two separate days. Later, the ploughing part was skipped. In 2503 B.E. (A.D. 1960), the General Secretary of the Royal Palace received a royal command to reestablish the ploughing part in order to conserve this great traditional royal ceremony for agriculture. The Bureau of the Royal Households and the Ministry of Agriculture reset this traditional royal ceremony and it has been kept intact since A.D. 1960, until present. King Rama IX, who has been presiding over this royal ceremony every year, also gave royal wish to the ceremony committee to organize the ceremony.

The Royal Ploughing Ceremony had taken place until B.E. 2479 (A.D. 1936), before it had been skipped, until B.E. 2483 (A.D. 1940), the year that the government re-announced that only the Buddhist rite for cereals was to take place in the temple of the Emerald Buddha.

The importance of the beginning of the ploughing ceremony announced on that day referred to the Buddhist Dharma (the teaching of Buddha); it is mentioned here that Buddha's power eliminated the drought, which caused raining, thereby enabling farmers to normally work on their farm. The construction of Khanthanraj at the city of Khanthanraj was related to the Buddha's power that caused raining. It was King Rama I, who initiated the construction of Buddha Khanthanraj for the Royal Ploughing Ceremony, conducted by the kings since olden times. 
After the announcement of wishes for the king, altogether with the wish to ask all holy spirits to bless and to protect plants in the kingdom, healthily grown with rich seasonal rainwater, eleven Buddhist monks recite a special chant for the auspicious cereal rite which covers rice grains, glutinous rice and sorghum, sesame seeds, beans, corns, sesame, pumpkins, melons, taros, potato, gourd seeds, sweet basil and cottons brought into the ceremonial field.

King Rama IV of the royal house of Chakri issued the royal command to initiate the Cultivating Ceremony, a Buddhist rite, together with the original ceremony. The Buddhist part of the ceremony involved the processing of Khantaraj Buddha images of the past reigns, along with citations blessing such grains.

Bonn Chr(a)ot Preah Nongkol, Pithi Chrat Preah Neanng Korl, Pithi Chrat Pheah Neang Korl, Bonn Jrott Nangkorl, Bonn Chroat Preah Nongkoal.

The rice-planting season starts with the Ploughing Ceremony, when farmers from all over the country converge in Bangkok to witness the rites. The Ploughing Ceremony, known as 'The blessing plants Day' (Wan Pheud Mongkol), is usually held after the Coronation Day. 
In ancient times, the king personally presided over the Ploughing Ceremony, usually held on the sixth day of the moon in the sixth month (the end of April), in Siam. The king appoints Phraya Raek Na Kwan, a 'temporary king' on the first day, who presides over the festival, on behalf of the King, for a period of three days during which he enjoys the royal prerogatives; the real king remains shut up in his palace, without transacting any state business. Regarded as a mock-king, till half a century ago, this dignitary received an item of the royal regalia, usually a ring that empowers him for the three days that the festival lasted. A retinue carrying princely insignia surrounded him. This Lord of the Royal Ploughing Ceremony wears a crown and has a royal umbrella, and even receives a portion of the taxes. His numerous satellites sent in all directions, seize and confiscate whatever they can find in the bazaar and open shops. They even forfeited the ships and junks which arrive in harbor during these three days and have to be redeemed. The King's personal servants and followers were allowed at one time to take away the goods without paying for them from the shops along the route of the procession.

In earlier days, the sword of state was presented, bestowing on the king's representative a far greater power than he is given today. This allowed him to give orders and collect all tolls and ship-dues from vessels that entered the harbor.

Rising early in the morning, the Prince puts on a special suit of clothes of the richest material, over which he wears a long cloak of white net, 'heavily embroidered with figures of fruit and flowers, worked in gold and silver. Before he leaves his house, he entertains his friends, so that they may get a good look at him in all his holiday finery. When quite ready, he sits in a gilded chair, and is carried on the shoulders of eight stalwart men. He is accompanied by a crowd of noblemen, some of whom carry curious things that are considered necessary for the success of the fete. Amongst these are a royal umbrella, a large fan such as the priests carry, a sword decorated with white flowers, and a small gold cow with a wreath of sweet-smelling blossoms round its neck. In front of the state chair there are men in scarlet coats and knickerbockers, beating the usual drums in the usual way. Soldiers in old-fashioned uniforms, priests in yellow robes, nobles in cloth of gold, and men and women of all classes dressed in the brightest colors, pass slowly along in front of the bearers. Behind the chair are more priests who blow weird sounds from horns and conch-shells, and last of all a long string of sight-seers, all of whom are interested in what is going to happen.'

The mock king goes to a field in the middle of the city and traces nine furrows with a gilded plough drawn by gaily-decked oxen- the plough anointed and the oxen rubbed with incense. Aged dames of the palace followed, scattering the first seed of the season.

Baladeva

During this time, the temporary king leans against a tree with his right foot resting on his left knee. This standing on one foot earned him the popular name King Hop, his official title being Phaya Phollathep. This 'Lord of the Heavenly Hosts,' is a sort of Minister of Agriculture, to whom all disputes about fields, rice, and so forth, are referred.

In the ancient statutes, the Lord of the Ceremony is called as Baladeva or head of the department of lands. This high official, in the princely attire, holding the title of Baladeva, formerly represented the king. It is apt to recall that Krsna's brother Balarama, who accomplished so many wonders with his ploughshare, is also called Baladeva.

Now the task of performing the ploughing in a Crown field falls ex officio to the Minister of Agriculture. The Brahmans with a large retinue attended the function with crowds of people naturally taking a keen interest.

'King Meakh' and 'Queen Mehour'

On those occasions the reigning king tracing the first furrows in the capital's sacred rice field inaugurated the ploughing; in effect it commemorated the beginning of the new planting season, generally performed by His Majesty The King and Her Majesty The Queen. A dozen royal servants accompanied them. Everyone dressed in colorful traditional costumes made the ceremony colorful.

In both Cambodia and Thailand, the monarch, or an appointee, typically presided over

18-Jan-2009
More by :  Dr. V. Sankaran Nair
 
Views: 5697
 
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