The Royal Ploughing Ceremony (or Preah Reach Pithi Chrort Preah Neang Korl in Khmer) is traditionally held every year in Pisak, 5/6th month of Khmer lunar calendar (in May) to mark the beginning of the agricultural production and rainy seasons. The exact day of the ceremony varies from year to another in accordance with Khmer lunar calendar which the ceremony is marked to be held on the 4th of waxing moon of month Pisak every year. Last year, this cultural ceremony conducted under the presence of His Majesty King Norodom Sihamoni was held on 6th May 2015 in Battambang Province. And in 2016, it will be celebrated on 24th May 2016.
The ritual ceremony is held to predict a range of events related to agricultural harvest in each year, and also to pray for a good harvest. There is a deep astrological belief that royal oxen known in Khmer as Usapheak Reach, have an instrumental role in determining the fate of the agricultural harvest each year. The ceremony is rooted in Brahman’s believe of a five-day feast. On the 1st day of the waning moon, the Brahmans conduct feasting at the five decorated canopies positioned at five compass points: East, Southeast, Southwest, Northwest, and Northeast. After the five days of the Brahman feast, the King initiates the ploughing to ensure success in farming for all his people.
The King assumes a role of “Sdach Meak” and the Queen assumes a role of “Preah Mehour”. If the King and Queen are not able to attend, a representative and his wife assume roles of “Sdach Meak” and “Preah Mehour” to do the duty. As representative of the King and Queen, a couple can be selected either from royal family or within the high-ranking officials of the government. Sdech Meak sits on Preah Salieng and Preah Mehour sits on a hammock like litter followed by about 40 dignitaries. Before ploughing, Sdech Meak and Preah Mehour pay their respects at the decorated canopy located to the Southwest.
In the ceremony, Sdach Meak guides the wooden plough after the royal oxen while his wife, Preah Mehour sows the rice seeds to the ground after her husband. Two royal oxen are hitched to a wooden plough, and they plough for three rounds on the ceremonial ground. After that, the royal oxen will be released from the plough. The royal astrologers chant prayers according to the Brahmanism tradition and spread the holy water on the oxen. And then, the royal oxen are led to the prediction ground where they are offered to eat seven kinds of food: rice seed, green bean, corn, sesame, fresh-cut grass, water and rice wine arranged in the seven golden trays. The royal astrologers interpret what the oxen eat and predict a series of events including epidemics, floods, good harvests, and excessive rainfall. The prediction result depends on what the royal oxen ate and how much they ate. If they eat most of the rice seed, beans, corn or sesame, then the harvest will be bountiful in this season. If the royal oxen drink moderate of water, then this year of rainfall will be pretty enough for growing. But if they drink too much water, then this year could be flooded. If they drink rice wine, then the prediction says there would be more gangsters and robbery in the year. If they eat grass, it is believed that disease will prevail over the nation.