ROYAL PLOUGHING CEREMONY DAY
By Kevin Cain
When I first arrived in Thailand I was confused as to how many Thai Public Holidays there seemed to be and what they were all for. Compared to the UK or the USA who have scantily few, Thailand seemed to have an abundance of them.
Some seemed to be common to the rest of the world such as Labour Day and New Year’s Eve but I was intrigued by the more abstract ones, and Royal Ploughing Ceremony Day is one such event.
Royal Ploughing Ceremony Day is one of the more ancient, observed days in Thailand and Cambodia and is held to mark the traditional beginning of the rice-growing season, as a sort of reverse Harvest Festival.
It takes place during the sixth Thai lunar month and in 2016 will be celebrated on May 9th. Technically it is two celebrations:the first Phra Ratchaphiti Pheutcha Mongkhon, a Buddhist ceremony to bless the plants and secondly Charot Phra Nangkham Kan: a Brahmin ceremony to do exactly the same.
The main ceremony takes place in the capital Bangkok at Sanam Luang in the front of the Grand Palace, although blessings take place around the whole country, to bring good luck for the growing season and to hope for a good harvest.
The ceremony is very colourful and is well worth going to see if you happen to be in Bangkok around May. During the lengthy celebration the amount of rainfall to be expected in the coming season is forecasted. This revered duty is carried out by Phya Raek Nah who is the Lord of the Festival.
The official festival ceremony is normally divided into three parts;
The Phya Raek Nah chooses from three sarongs. If he chooses the longest then there will be little rain during the year, whereas if he selects the shortest piece of cloth then there will be plenty of rain. The most desired selection is the medium sarong as it denotes average rainfall and perfect harmony with nature.
Next a golden and red plough pulled by sacred bulls leads a procession of drummers, monks blowing conch shells, umbrella bearers and four Nang Thepi. The Nang Thepi are consecrated women and they carry precious gold and silver baskets filled with rice seed. Then the Phya Reek Nah diligently ploughs three circular furrows whilst sprinkling the rice seeds in the freshly ploughed earth.
After the ploughing the bulls are presented with seven different gifts of food and drink. Grass, Rice, maize, sesame seed, soy beans, water and rice whiskey. Whatever the bulls select to eat or drink will be plentiful during the coming year. If the bulls eat rice or maize the harvest will be good, if they eat bean or sesame then food will be abundant. If they drink water or eat grass then rainfall will be good and the year's food supply will be rich. If the bulls drink the whiskey then transportation will be convenient and commerce with foreign countries will be prosperous.
If the bulls do not eat or drink then the coming year will be disastrous, it has been hinted that the sacred bulls are placed on a diet prior to the event.
Royal Ploughing Day is sometimes locally called Farmer's Day. It is also held to boost the farmers’ morale at the start of the growing season thus encouraging more farmers to take up rice cultivation to feed the country and for export to bring prosperity.
The ceremony actually dates back over seven hundred years and with half of the population still dependent on farming the day takes on a significant role in the Thai calendar. It is an important annual event that highlights the bond between the King, the Government and the Farmers who sustain the country.
The whole occasion is a little bit like a serious Groundhog Day but the traditions have been handed down through the ages and the day is festive but highly serious.
Royal Ploughing Ceremony Day plays a most important part of Thai culture and tradition. It is not simply, as in many countries, an excuse for a day off work and a convenient date for a national holiday.
Most Thai national holidays have great meaning and represent either the culture or the history of the kingdom and it's people.
Agreed that there seems to be quite an abundance of national day holidays, but if you take into account the average holiday entitlement for a Thai worker;only between five and seven days per annum, then surely you cannot begrudge a couple of bank holidays now and again.