Oxen Readied for Annual Royal Plowing Ceremony

Cambodia’s royal oxen dug their hoofs and plowed into Veal Mean Park in front of the National Museum Tuesday, but the country will have to wait to learn what the oxen’s appetites will foretell for the year ahead.

On May 12 the oxen, after three laps around the park’s sandy square, will be led to seven ornate bowls filled with rice, corn, beans, grass, sesame, water and rice wine.

The bowls they select become the traditional basis for prognostications of the year’s fortunes. For example, if the oxen consume the rice wine, it is generally considered to be a portent of impending violent conflict.

Last year, the oxen filled their bellies with corn, rice and beans, something considered to be a good omen for the country’s

But on Tuesday, four oxen merely rehearsed the Royal Plowing Ceremony ahead of their special day next week, said Chea Sokhom, secretary-general for the National Committee for Organizing National and International Ceremonies.

Traditionally only three oxen participate in the actual ceremony, with four alternates in case of any problems, he said.

Kang Ken, the Royal Palace’s chief Brahmin priest, would not discuss this year’s ceremony, but said that last year’s harvest proved to be as successful as predicted by the hoofed beasts.

“It is true because I went to the countryside and I asked people and they said the harvest was good,” he said.

Agriculture Minister Chan Sarun agreed that last year’s harvest was a good one, but said it was unrelated to the ceremony.

“The harvest proved more successful than our expectations,” he said. “It does not depend on what the oxen eat. It depends on the people’s work and rainfall.”

Chea Sokhom said Dith Munty, president of the Supreme Court, will assume the role of Sdech Meak and lead the ornate royal plow with his wife, who, assuming the role of Preah Mehour, will sprinkle rice and seeds in the furrow left by the plow.

King Norodom Sihamoni will preside over the ceremony.

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