Tham Khwan Khao Ritual Text
Tham Khwan Khao ritual text or the ritual text for calling the soul of the Rice Goddess is a verse sung during the rice growers’ ritual for restoring the soul of the Rice Goddess. It is called differently in different regions-- in the northern region, “Kham Hong Khwan Khao” or “Kham Riak Khwan Khao”; in the northeastern region,“Kham Su Khwan Khao”; in the central and southern regions, “Bot Tham Khwan Khao”. Although the rice growers in each region perform the rite at different times, they tend to perform the rite either when the rice plants are producing seeds or after harvesting rice and inviting the grains to store in the rice barns.
There are similarities and differences in the “Bot Tham Khwan Khao” from different regions. Most regions use similar texts in two parts of the rite – “the inviting of the Khwan” or “the calling of the Khwan” part which aims at propitiating Mae Phosop (the Goddess of Rice) and the “Kho Phon” – asking for the blessings part which aims at invoking or praying to her for blessing. These parts reflect the rice growers’ wish for the Goddess to bestow them what they need. The different details in some regions possibly result from things that are particular to each locality - such as the local rice varieties or the different local legends regarding rice or the Rice Goddess.
“Bot Tham Khwan Khao” has long maintained its relevance to the lifestyle of the Thai rice growers. It reflects the rice growers’ respect for nature and particularly for rice, which is crucial to their livelihood. The text serves as a repository of folk wisdom in four domains. It records the knowledge about the names or the types of rice in each locality, how to perform the rite for calling the soul of rice, the rice growers’ belief, and the rice farming method and know-how.
The rite is one mechanism for the rice growers to calm their worry and stress. Rice farming requires heavy investments of labor and money and the rice growers feel insecure of the result. The rite boosts the rice growers’ morale. Therefore, many texts for the rite reflect the rice growers’ expectation - such as the invocation of the Rice Goddess - and all texts for the rite speak of the rice growers’ wish for a bountiful harvest.
“Bot Tham Khwan Khao” is gradually disappearing from the Thai society. Rice growers in various regions perform the rite less and less as they are working hard to produce three harvests per year and consequently have less time to perform the rite. Without the rite, the text has no place and will soon be forgotten and lost. Presently, several agencies - both at national and regional levels have become aware of the importance of the text and consequently are trying to revive and preserve the rite. The rite and its demonstrations have been organized on various occasions to revive it as its popularity is waning.