In simple words, more than being a religion, Buddhism is a way of life. Its history revolves around the spiritual journey towards true Enlightenment, better referred to as Nirvana, which was undertaken by the widely followed Buddha (literal meaning- the awakened one). Buddha, titled as prince Siddhartha in his early life, reached Enlightenment through meditation through the path of pain of suffering and rebirth. Recent research by historians suggest Buddha’s date of birth to be around 490 BCE and his followers , guided by the Dalai Lama ( spiritual leader, presently Tenzin Ghyatso) ,constitute about 7.1% of the world’s population.
Festivals are an essential part of the Buddhist customs and the Ploughing festival is one of them. It includes an ancient ceremony that marks the onset of the traditional beginning of the rice growing season. Significantly, the festival has an intriguing back story associated with it. When Prince Siddhartha had turned seven years of age, the annual rice ploughing festival was held. On this occasion, King Sudhosana took him along to join in at the festival. There, under a splendid rose apple tree, the Prince fell asleep. His maids, seeing him thus, left him to participate in the joyful festivities. Upon waking up, the Prince wasn’t panicky; he kept a tranquil posture and meditated, developing singularity of the mind. The maids, on their return were amazed to see such a view of the young Prince, who was on the verge of his first Enlightenment. They promptly informed the King about this, who was equally amazed and delighted. He reacted proudly by saluting his son , saying , “ This , dear child is my second salutation.”
The ploughing festival marks this first enlightenment of the Buddha.
The joyful festival is celebrated in the month of May, on a half moon day. The ceremony involves two pious white oxen pulling on a gold-painted plough, followed by four girls dressed in white, dispersing rice seeds from gold and silver baskets. Depending upon various local traditions that depend from country to country, minor changes in the form of rituals may vary. Post the ploughing, the oxen are rewarded with plates of food- corn, rice, sesame, fresh cut grass, water as well as rice whisky. Based upon the choice of food chosen by the holy oxen, astrologers predict whether the coming growing season will prove to be plentiful or not. In the countries of Cambodia and Thailand where this festival is celebrated with full enthusiasm, a monarch presides over the festivities. In some cases, he even guides the plough behind the oxen.
Countries observing the festival: In Thailand, the Ploughing festival is known as Raek Na Khwan and in Cambodia, as the Preah Reach Pithi Chrot Preah Neangkol. In both these countries, the festival has national significance, though the dates for the celebration vary. This year, Cambodia celebrated the festival on 17 May and Thailand on May 9.
Bangkok in Thailand hosts the frivolous festival. On this day, Buddhist monks sit cross legged besides a statue of Buddha that looks upon the celebrations. The ploughing part is accompanied by anxious and devout followers holding banners and playing musical instruments to raise the spirits. Further, the chosen Lord of the festival is made to choose from three differently- sized pieces of cloth, without disclosing the size of the cloths to him. His choice is believed to indicate the amount of annual rainfall for that year.