PHNOM PENH, Cambodia - The two great oxen stopped, sniffed the air and then one plunged into the last of the three silver plates, men dressed in white and gold tunics taking careful note alongside them, crowds staring anxiously on.
The coming year will bring good agricultural yields, especially for Cambodia’s staple crops of rice, beans and corn, announced court astrologers.
Agricultural predictions, Cambodia style.
Since ancient times in the Southeast Asian country, royal oxen have gathered once a year for a ceremony that helps to predict agricultural yields and the weather.
The event traditionally features a team of two -- described by the palace as sky blue, although they are closer to silvery gray -- that plough a symbolic furrow under the guidance of the representatives of the king.
The oxen are then sprinkled with holy water and allowed to eat from seven silver trays filled with rice wine, water, grass, sesame seeds, beans, rice and corn. If they choose water, floods might ensue; rice wine portends chaos and destruction.
But this year the oxen -- resplendent in red headpieces, draped in sparkling red-and-gold silk -- partook of corn, beans and rice, which points to a healthy harvest of all three crops, according to Kong Keng, a Brahmin priest and astrologer for the Royal Palace.
"This year is much better than last year’s plowing ceremony, when the oxen ate only corn and very little. This time the oxen ate half of all three foods," he told the Anadolu Agency on Saturday.
Ou Bunthol, 50, a corn farmer from the province of Kandal who attended the ceremony, said he was excited by the prospect of a substantial corn harvest.
"We are very happy to hear that this year’s agriculture products will be good. I hope this prediction will be correct."
The ceremony is held at the beginning of the rice-growing season, just before monsoon rains begin, and signals to farmers that it is time to plant their crops. An Agriculture Ministry official said he thought Saturday’s positive prediction would encourage rice and corn farmers to work even harder than usual.
"The Royal Ploughing Ceremony is our traditional and ancient ceremony that we have celebrated for a long, long time, and the prediction is almost always correct," said Hean Vanhorn, deputy director general of the ministry’s general department.
Although the event is traditionally staged in a grassy field in front of the Royal Palace in the capital Phnom Penh, this year it was held in the nearby city of Takhmao, as the elaborate structures erected for the February 2013 funeral of the widely-revered King's father, Norodom Sihanouk, have not yet been entirely dismantled.
Sihanouk’s son, King Norodom Sihamoni, presided over Saturday’s ceremony.
Copyright © 2014 Anadolu Agency