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Tradition: Cambodia celebrates Chrat Preah Nongkal (ច្រត់ព្រះនង្គ័ល) in Kampong Speu

Cambodia will celebrate the Festival of the Sacred Furrow - a thousand-year-old tradition designed to predict harvests, bad weather and major events in the kingdom - in the province of Kampong Speu on 26 May 2024.

Sacred Furrow Festival in 2023 in Kampong Thom
Sacred Furrow Festival in 2023 in Kampong Thom

Held every year in May, the Festival of the Sacred Furrow or Chrat Preah Nongkal (ច្រត់ព្រះនង្គ័ល) is intended to mark the beginning of the rainy season, to prepare Cambodian farmers for agricultural work and to pray for a prosperous harvest for the current year.

In the past, the Sacred Furrow festival was usually held in the Veal Preah Merhu public square in front of the National Museum in Phnom Penh. But since 2013, this celebration has been held in the provinces.

In ancient times

The festival of the sacred furrow in Cambodia, or Chrat Preah Nongkal (ច្រត់ព្រះនង្គ័ល), is a thousand-year-old tradition designed to predict harvests, bad weather and major events in the kingdom. The origins of this ritual are thought to lie in India. In days gone by, the palace astrologers would determine the most auspicious day for the king himself to cut the first furrows in a sacred rice field that actually existed in Phnom Penh on the Veal Preahmein esplanade, opposite the northern wall of the royal palace.

The king would drive a cart with a plough pulled by carefully selected oxen, followed by the queen, who would broadcast the best seeds.

Sacred Furrow Festival in 2023 in Kampong Thom
Sacred Furrow Festival in 2023 in Kampong Thom

After circling the sacred rice field three times, the royal procession had to stop in front of a chapel where the Brahmins evoked the protection of the ancient gods for agricultural work. The sacred oxen were then released from their harness and led past several silver trays laden with rice, maize, green beans, freshly cut grass, water and rice alcohol.

If the animals ate any of the grains, the harvest could be excellent.

If they chose fresh grass, the animals had to fear epidemics. If they drank water, the rains would be abundant and peace would reign; but if they headed for the alcohol tray, unrest and disaster would be the order of the day in the kingdom.

The return of the Baku

The celebration of the Sacred Furrow, created on the initiative of one of the first Khmer kings, was abandoned during the reign of Ang Duong (1845-1859). It was reintroduced by Norodom Sihanouk after the country's independence, when the monarch said he was keen to revive the kingdom's traditions, before being interrupted again from 1970 to 1994.

On his return, King Sihanouk worked hard to restore the Baku, the brahmins who had been kept in the palace by the royalty since the dawn of time to attract the good graces of the Hindu gods and who oversaw a number of traditional ceremonies, and who disappeared in 1970 under Lon Nol.

The Baku are once again officiating at the palace, and very few foreigners or Cambodians are able to see them. They rarely go out in traditional costume, except for the Sacred Furrow ceremony and the Water Festival.

Nowadays, the Sacred Groove Festival has been decentralised, organised for the first time in Angkor in 2010, and now takes place alternately in the provinces of Battambang, Kandal, Kampong Thom, Kampong Speu and Prey Veng. And its predictions are still taken very seriously by Cambodians.

Photographs AKP

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