This month, get to witness the ‘Royal Ploughing Ceremony,’ an ancient Thai ritual to ensure a bountiful harvestby Atthasith Khupratakul
On May 13, visitors to Thailand will have the opportunity to witness “The Royal Ploughing Ceremony,” an ancient ritual that hopes to ensure a bountiful harvest for the kingdom’s agricultural majority. The event, which heralds the start of the new rice-growing season, is an ancient Brahmin rite dating to the Sukhothai period (1257-1350).
The practice began as a religious ritual asking the gods to ensure a successful planting season and an abundance of the nation’s crops. It faded toward the end of King Prajadhipok’s (Rama VII) reign but His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej revived it in 1960. The ceremony has become an annual event since then.
The ceremony consists of a “Cultivating Ceremony” known as “Phraraj Pithi Peuj Mongkol,” and the “Ploughing Ceremony,” called “Phraraj Pithi Jarod Phranangkal Raek Na Kwan.” Both ceremonies are state events, participated in by the permanent secretary of the Ministry of Agriculture and Cooperatives, who assumes the role of the “Lord of the Harvest (Phraya Raek Na).”
Four single female officials of the ministry holding positions of second rank and above in the civil service undertake the roles of “Celestial Maidens (Nang Thepi),” who assists the Lord of the Harvest. The Cultivating Ceremony performed one day before the Ploughing Ceremony, is conducted in a typical Buddhist ritual to bless the paddy, the seeds of 40 other crops, and the ceremonial items to be used in the latter. His Majesty the King (or a representative) presides over the religious rites performed in the Royal Chapel of the Temple of the Emerald Buddha within the compounds of the Grand Palace.
His Majesty the King pours lustral water over the hands of the Lord of the Harvest, and anoints his forehead as a royal blessing. The four Celestial Maidens also receive similar blessings. The Lord of the Harvest then receives the ceremonial ring and sword from His Majesty the King.
The actual “Ploughing Ceremony” is held at Sanam Luang the next morning. It begins with the Lord of the Harvest performing a rite to predict the amount of rainfall in the coming season — done by selecting one of the three pieces of cloth of varying lengths.
At the auspicious time following the arrival of His Majesty the King and members of the Royal Family, the Lord of the Harvest begins to plough the field and sows the rice seeds from the baskets carried by the Celestial Maidens.
At the end of the ceremony, ceremonial bulls are led to troughs, each containing one of the seven different offerings of food or drink namely: paddy, green beans, maize, hay, sesame seed, water, and liquor. The items selected by the bulls determine the predictions regarding the success of the harvest and the abundance of particular crops in the coming season.
Then, as the barricades are removed, hundreds of people rush into the field hoping to gather a few rice grains scattered by the Lord of Harvest. These seeds, considered sacred, are either mixed with the farmer’s own rice stock to ensure a good crop in the coming year, or simply kept as a token of good luck.
DOs and DON’Ts
Tourists are requested to observe the following regulations strictly.
- Before 8:30 a.m., take photographs as you please but don’t, under any circumstance, enter the ritual pavilion.
- After 8:30 a.m., remain within the tents assigned; photographs can only be taken from the tents.
- If you wish to collect some of the rice seed sown during the ceremony, do so only after the departure of Their Majesties.
- Throughout the ceremony, tourists must wear badges distributed by the Tourism Authority of Thailand.