Bangkok: Thai astrologers on Thursday predicted an "abundant" harvest after a pair of sacred white oxen munched on grass and rice and slurped up water in an annual ritual watched by newly crowned King Maha Vajiralongkorn.
The monarch, seated next to his new Queen Suthida, observed the "royal ploughing ceremony" symbolising Thailand's fortunes. The colourful procession, led by two Hindu Brahmin priests, saw two white oxen walk a field to the sound of blaring trumpets.
Women, dressed in traditional Thai clothing and carrying trays of jasmine flowers, trailed behind the bulls to the sound of red-clad musicians beating drums. The ceremony, which dates to the 13th century, marks the start of the growing season for Thailand, one of the world's top rice exporters.
Royal soothsayers base their predictions on which foods the animals choose to eat after the ploughing. The oxen are offered banana leaf-wrapped bowls of rice, maize, green beans, sesame, liquor, water, and grass.
This year, the animals "chose to eat rice, grass, and water among the seven offers," said Meesak Pakdeekong, of the Ministry of Agriculture and Cooperatives to the king and queen. "The rainfall would be just enough and ... the royal astrologer predicts rice, grain, fruit and food would be abundant," he added.
Following tradition crowds rushed into the field, after the departure of the king, to pick out auspicious rice grains scattered during the ploughing. The annual ceremony comes just days after the end of King Vajiralongkorn's weekend coronation, a ritual-laden event rich with Buddhist and Hindu influences.
Thailand, second in rice exports after India, shipped out more than 11 million tons of rice worth over $5.6 billion in 2018. But the Thai Rice Exporters Association predicts a slowdown this year to 9.5 million tons due to fierce competition from India and Vietnam.