05/10/2019, 16.57
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As sacred oxen munch grass and rice in Bangkok, royal soothsayers predict bounty

King Maha Vajiralongkorn and his bride attended the "royal ploughing ceremony". The ritual dates back to the 13th century and marks the annual start of the rice growing season. The latest celebrations show a monarchy stuck in rituals from another era.

Bangkok (AsiaNews) – Court astrologers have forecast a bountiful harvest for Thailand after a pair of sacred white oxen munched on grass and rice and slurped up water in an annual ritual watched by the newly crowned King Maha Vajiralongkorn.

Seated next to Queen Suthida, the monarch yesterday saw the "royal ploughing ceremony" (pictured), symbolising the nation's fortunes.

According to observers, this is just one of the public events showing a royal court stuck in rituals from another era, a great contrast with the image of a country that has become the most advanced in Southeast Asia.

Yesterday’s ceremony at the Sanam Luang (Royal turf), in the heart of Bangkok, dates back to the 13th century. Every year, it marks the start of the rice growing season.

Led by Hindu Brahmin priests, two white oxen walked the field to the sound of blaring trumpets. Women, dressed in traditional clothes and carrying trays of jasmine flowers, followed the animals.

Royal soothsayers base their forecast on the foods the animals eat after ploughing. Following the tradition, the crowd rushed onto the field after the king left to pick up the auspicious rice grains scattered during the ritual.

The real ploughing will follow a few days after coronation (4-6 May), which saw members of the Thai royal family and high-ranking aristocrats prostrate themselves before the king, inching their way on their knees towards him, then lying at his feet in complete submission.

In Thailand, "the king, queen, princes and regents" are protected by very strict lèse-majesté laws. Anyone showing disrespect for the royal house can face up to 15 years in prison.

Article 112 of Thailand's criminal code makes it virtually impossible for anyone to express negative views about the sovereigns inside the country, media included.

The image of the monarch, seen as the incarnation of the Hindu god Vishnu, was re-sacralised in the 1950s, after the kings were marginalised for decades in the wake of the first military coup in 1932 that ended a century and a half of absolute monarchy.

In a recent article, French daily Le Monde compared the visual treatment of the Thai royals with those of Japan on the occasion of the abdication of Japanese emperor Akihito and the subsequent enthronement of his son Naruhito.

According to journalists Bruno Philip and Philippe Pons, the two Asian monarchies "are evolving in opposite ways: the imperial court in Tokyo is trying to be in harmony with its times," whilst the royal court in Bangkok has remained stuck in anachronistic traditions. Thailand, they write, “is a kingdom looking for a balance that it has not found yet.”

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“L’Asia: ecco il nostro comune compito per il terzo millennio!” - Giovanni Paolo II, da “Alzatevi, andiamo”