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May 1, 2017

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Thailand revives worship of Rice Goddess

BANGKOK -- Thailand, a predominantly Buddhist country, has revived ceremonial worship of the Rice Goddess to commemorate the queen's upcoming birthday and boost the morale of the country's 3.7 million rice-farming families, news reports said Sunday.

The Ministry of Agriculture held a ritual on Saturday to worship Mae Phosop, or the Rice Goddess, at a demonstration farm in Ang Thong province, the Bangkok Post reported.

The ceremony was presided over by Queen Sirikit, the royal consort of Thai King Bhumibol Adulyadej, who will celebrate her 76th birthday on Tuesday.

Although the dominant religion in Thailand is Buddhism, which shuns idolatry and rituals, there is a strong undercurrent of Hindu and animism that suffuses Thailand's traditional belief system and ceremonies.

Worship of Mae Phosop was once common among Thai rice farmers, but the practice has waned in recent years as Thailand's rural population has become more modern and educated.

Agriculture Minister Somsak Prissananatakul said the last time a Rice Goddess ritual was performed in front of a royal audience was in 1961. He said the ceremony's revival will help boost the morale of rice farmers nationwide.

"Rice has been grown in Thailand for such a long time that the relationship between rice and the Thai people is inextricable," said Somsak. "Rice is more than a crop or a livelihood. It gives rise to culture and traditions."

Thailand has been the world's largest rice exporter since the mid-1960s. The kingdom is expected to export about 10 million tons of rice this year.

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