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Museum grounds ready for Ploughing Ceremony

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The ‘Sdach Meak’, a man chosen to represent the King, officiates the ploughing ritual, set to take place tomorrow in Phnom Penh. Photograph: Heng Chivoan/Phnom Penh Post

At the beginning of each rainy season, which normally arrives in May, Cambodians stay tuned to hear the outcome of the country’s yearly harvest prediction event, known as the Royal Ploughing Ceremony.

This year the festival will take place tomorrow morning, May 9, at Veal Preah Mein, the square in front of the National Museum.

The ploughing field and tents have already been set up for the occasion, which will be attanded by members of the royal family, government officials and lay people.

“The Ploughing Ceremony was brought from India by the Indian King Kordin who married the Cambodian queen Sorma in the first century BC,” said Miech Ponn, the adviser on mores and customs at the Phnom Penh-based Buddhist Institute. “We have hosted the Ploughing Ceremony at the beginning of each rainy season since then.”

The oxen ploughing ceremony is preceded over by a couple chosen to represent the King and Queen.

The husband, called the Sdach Meak, sits on a royal litter carried by six men and covered by an elegant umbrella, while his wife, who is called Preah Mehua, sits on a covered hammock carried by two men.

They are both escorted from the Royal Palace to the artificial “ploughing field” made for the occasion from beach sand, where three pairs of waiting oxen are already rigged with wooden ploughs.

Sdach Meak pushes the plough from the middle of the herd, while the rest of his entourage plough at the front and behind him. His wife follows by laying seeds behind him.

The Ploughing Ceremony only lasts three rounds.

“The oxen are raised to be used for this Ploughing Ceremony only, and they call them the royal oxen,” Miech Ponn said. “After they finish, they are offered various foods to eat, such as rice grains, corn, freshly cut grass, sesame seeds, green beans, water and even rice wine.”

Depending on how much food the royal oxen eat, predictions about the year’s harvest are made, he explained.

For example, if the oxen eat a lot of rice grain, corn or sesame seeds, they predict that the farmers will harvest bountiful rice, corn and sesame crops in the season.

But bad omens can also be a part of the predictions.

If the oxen drink too much water, for example, it may be a signal of flooding.

The Royal Ploughing Ceremony will begin at 7am tomorrow morning in front of the National Museum in Phnom Penh, and the predictions will be broadcast on national TV to farmers anxiously awaiting the results.

To contact the reporter on this story: Roth Meas at meas.roth@phnompenhpost.com

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