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Royal Ploughing Ceremony in Cambodia

Although there are various other scientific methods to forecast the weather and to determine harvests, Cambodians have their methods to foretell the future. Through traditional rituals that are often ceremoniously celebrated nationwide, Cambodians are warned of calamities, assured of good harvest and so forth.

The Royal Ploughing ceremony, or Pithi Chrat Preah Neanng Korl in Khmer, and the Festival of Water and full Moon Salutation, know as Pithi Bonn Om Touk and Ak Ambok Sampeah preah Kher in Khmer, are such ceremonies. Predictions gleaned from these traditional ceremonies for the coming year are taken very seriously.

The Festival of Water and Full Moon Salutation is celebrated usually in late October. Drippings from burning candles predict rainfall distribution to provinces across the country. The Royal Ploughing Ceremony predicts the weather, epidemics and farming conditions.

By observing what feed the royal oxen choose after the Royal Ploughing Ceremony, Cambodians believe they can predict a range of events including epidemics, floods, good harvests and excessive rainfall.

This year, the Royal Ploughing Ceremony was held on May 12 at the Veal Preahmein Square, situated across the road from the northern perimeter of the Royal Palace.

At the end of a symbolic Ploughing procession before His Majesty King Norodom Sihanouk, the royal oxen were relieved of their harnesses and led to seven golden trays containing rice, corn, sesame seeds, beans, grass, water and wine to feed. The royal oxen chose to eat out of only three trays this year and because their feast consisted of varying percentages of rice and corn while they largely ignored the trays of sesame seeds, grass, water and wine, prognostications were as follows: Farmers would enjoy a moderate output for their rice harvest but good yields in secondary crop production, especially corn and beans. Because the royal oxen only sniffed on the tray of water and turned away from the wine, the prediction was made that farmers would not suffer any serious floods.

Every year, Cambodian farmers anxiously await the predictions at the end of this ritualistic ceremony, which they observe with strong faith and belief. Most Cambodians today still consult traditional manuals before making any major decisions regarding business matters or meeting important persons, etc.

The Royal Ploughing Ceremony has been observed for many centuries at the initiative of an earlier Khmer king who had paid great attention to farming conditions of the people. Traditionally, the Pithi Chrat Pheah Neang Korl is performed in the month of the Khmer calendar and marks the beginning of the rainy season in Cambodia.

When asked, most Cambodians stand staunchly by these traditional methods of predicting the future and vouch for their accuracy. It is comforting to believe that the angels are still watching over us. As they say in Cambodia, long live the Khmer traditions. Long Live Cambodia.

"When the living relatives offer the food to the spirit, the spirit will bless them with happiness", he added.

According to the monk, legend has it that Phchum Ben came about because relatives of King Bath Pempeksa defied religious customs and ate rice before the monks did during a religious ritual. After their death, they became evil spirits.

He explained that later when a monk known as Kokak Sonthor gained enlightenment and became a Buddha on earth, all those evil spirits went to ask him "when can we eat?"
The Buddha said "you have to wait for the next Buddha in the Kathakot Buddhist realm. In this realm, evil spirits cannot eat."

When the next monk, Kamanou, achieved enlightenment and became a Buddha, all the evil spirits came again to ask the same question, and he gave the same answer as the previous Buddha.