Friday, December 17, 2010

In Thailand, An Ancient Tradition of Tribute to the Rice Goddess Endangered by Lack of Interest

Story from the Bangkok Post
Published: 18/12/2010 at 12:00 AM
(second story, scroll down)
Farmers' rites pay homage to guardian of paddy fields
Keeping the natural resources around the Nan River fertile means keeping alive the age-old tradition of worshipping the Goddess of Rice.

Officials who inspected progress in the Pid Thong Lang Phra projects in Nan recently were treated to a cultural feast with the performance of the ceremony paying homage to Phra Mae Phosop (Rice Goddess).

The locals believe a development initiative that is conducive to bountiful rice output will give Phra Mae Phosop something to continue guarding.

For about 800 years, Thai farmers have held the belief that Phra Mae Phosop is the guardian of their paddy fields and rice crops.

Various rites are performed to pay respect to the goddess and the rite itself is called Su Khwan Khao (Rice Blessing).

Farmers believe that the Buddhist faith will bring them prosperity and wealth in their cultivation. This belief has continued for generations.

The centre of the blessing rite, taking place sometime between January and April, is in Nam Pak village of Nan's Tha Wang Pha district.

Before rice cultivation, farmers choose an auspicious date for the Su Khwan Khao rite. Farmers believe the goddess will manifest herself through the medium Narn who is the senior spiritual leader of the village.

"Not everyone can be Narn," one of the villagers said.
Villagers place offerings for the guardian of the rice fields. RATTANAWAN POTHISOMBAT
"First Fruits" ceremonies from around the world look remarkably similar, don't they, whether ancient or modern.
 Narn chants and asks for the goddess's permission to plant paddy rice and to start the cultivating season. Then farmers place food offerings for Phra Mae Phosop which include alcoholic drinks, food, and fruits.

The rite takes place three times a year to ensure ample divine protection all year round, Narn Parn or Worapon Chaisalee, the master of ceremonies said.

"The folk believe Phra Mae Posop will only bring rain if she is in the right mood. The farmers must worship her or suffer the consequences such as hunger, sickness and poverty," he said.

"We also put up woven bamboo sticks to designate the boundaries of the paddy fields and invite local guardian spirits to come in and protect us."

Also, farmers have to ask for forgiveness from Phra Mae Phosop before reaping the rice. Rice is then threshed on the ground and transported to granaries. That is the last step in the production process.

To worship the rice goddess, farmers also perform dances for her throughout their ceremonies, but ceremonies to worship Phra Mae Phosop vary in different regions.

The ceremonies in Nan are different from those elsewhere but rice farmers share the same purpose, which is fostering the kindness of Phra Mae Phosop.

Thanakorn Ruchtanon, the office manager of the Pid Thong Lang Phra (Unsung Hero) project in Nan, said the sacredness of the rite is waning as the younger generation does not appreciate its importance.

"The ceremony unites people and family members," he said.

"We are supposed to promote this rite for children and youths so that they recognise its spiritual-fostering value."
Fascinating.  How is the Narn chosen?  Is the role restricted to males only, or can a female be a Narn, too?  Does the Narn have other duties within a village?  Does this tradition have its roots in shamanism and is it akin to any traditions in North or South America? 

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