05/10/2012, 00.00
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Ploughing Ceremony, a economically important tradition in Thailand

by Weena Kowitwanij
During this ancient ceremony, seeds are blessed and the amount of rainfall is forecast, highlighting the importance of agriculture in the country's economy as a source of export earnings.

Bangkok (AsiaNews) - The annual Ploughing Ceremony is very important in Thailand, a nation where agricultural products are a crucial component of the country's exports. It falls in mid-May, on a date set by Royal Brahman astrologers, and is part of the Brahman tradition, celebrated even before the birth of the Buddha.

The annual event has been held since the Sukhothai Period (1235-1438). Traditionally, the king led the ceremony. At present, although the royal family is present, the king no longer plays any significant role. Instead, he appoints the Ploughing Lord as his representative to perform the rites.

The Royal Ploughing Ceremony (pictured) underscores the importance of farmers in Thailand's economy.

Held at the Sanam Luang, also known as the Pramane Ground, an open field and public square near Bangkok's Grand Palace, the ceremony begins with a Buddhist rite.

Chanting Buddhist monks bless seeds, beans, grains, etc, to give farmers strength at the beginning of the rainy season. This is followed by a Brahman ceremony performed by the Ploughing Lord. Brahmans walk alongside him, chanting and blowing conch shells. A forecast is also made of the amount of rainfall that can be expected in the coming season.

The Ploughing Lord is offered pieces of cloth of different lengths that he has to choose, all looking the same. If he chooses the longest one, there will be little rain in the coming year. If he chooses the shortest piece of cloth, rain will be plentiful. If he chooses the medium length, rainfall will be average. Which grains bulls will eat will also predict which kind of grains will be plentiful in the year.

Each year, a new kind of seed will guarantee high production, this according to Opas Worawat, from the Rice Research Institute. Rice is planted in May-June and the harvest is done in November.

The research (demonstration) field) is located in Jitladda Royal Palace (where research is conducted under royal patronage).

About 100 kilograms out of 900 of unmilled rice are used in the ceremony; the rest is distributed among the nation's farmers.

Thailand's agriculture is highly competitive, diversified and specialised. Its exports are very successful internationally.

Rice is the country's most important crop, making Thailand a major rice exporter.

Since the 1960s, the development of agriculture has cut unemployment from more than 60 per cent to below 10 per cent. Hunger and child malnutrition have thus been reduced.

"The Ploughing Ceremony is performed with elegance," said Kanit Phraphet, another agriculture expert from Rice Department. "It shows how farmers make their living. It makes them more self-confident and enthusiastic and blesses everyone so that they can have an abundant harvest all year."

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