King Norodom Sihamoni presided over the Royal Ploughing Ceremony in Svay Rieng province on Thursday morning, with the event’s prognosticating oxen again forecasting a promising outlook for the agricultural production of beans, corn and rice.
The annual festival marks the beginning of the agricultural and rainy season, and centres around two royal oxen tasked with choosing from seven chalices containing rice, corn, beans, sesame, water, grass and rice wine. The oxen’s choices portend which crops will flourish in the coming growing season.
After six oxen, decked in regalia, were taken around the field for a symbolic tilling of the land, two of the oxen were unyoked and led to the six chalices to make their choice – though one was initially a little reluctant to partake of the proffered foodstuffs.
Ten minutes later, as is tradition, royal astrologer Kang Ken observed how much the oxen had eaten and made his declaration for the upcoming agricultural season.
“Ninety-five percent of rice was eaten, 95 percent of corn was eaten, and 80 percent of beans were eaten,” he announced to the crowds.
“This is only the prediction according to the traditional ploughing ceremony,” he said, adding that he would call on everything sacred to ensure there are good rains for the upcoming harvest.
Last year’s celebration was hit by a thunderstorm that destroyed the tents and the field used for the festivities. However, after a quick fix, Ken gave a similar prediction when the oxen ate most of the corn, rice and beans on offer.
The tradition dates back to the prevalence of Hindu customs in the early Khmer civilisation and traditionally involves ceremonial tilling performed by either the king or two representatives, called Sdech Miech and Preah Mehour. It is considered auspicious for the oxen to eat the rice, corn, beans and sesame – the amount of each eaten signifying the prospects of the upcoming crop.
The drinking of the water suggests that there will be good rains, but if the oxen drink too much, it could signify floods. Eating the grass would foretell disease, whereas gulps of the rice wine is a harbinger of conflict.
Svay Rieng farmer Khieu Sarun said on Thursday that she followed the results of the ceremony closely, and was pleased she would have a bountiful crop this year.
“I believe the prediction because it was correct in the past. I was happy when the oxen ate 95 percent of the rice; this mean there won’t be much pests like last year. I also hope that the rain is regular and normal this year,” she said.