As years have passed the festival has grown in a number of ways.
As one might expect in a society as religious and respectful as
Thailand, it has developed somewhat of a religious significance,
whereby it is now treated as part of the celebration of the rice
harvest. Prior to the start of the races a ceremony is held to give
thanks for the rain and the crop as well as to pray for good fortune
for the year ahead. Furthermore, it has become one way in which
Thais celebrate the important role played by buffalo in Thai agriculture,
particularly in this day and age when much of their work can now
be done more quickly and efficiently by modern farm machinery.
In 1912, the event received Royal approval when King Mongkut (Rama
VI) attended the day's racing, which he is said to have greatly
enjoyed. However, probably the most obvious way in which the day
has grown is simply in the pure number of buffalo now taking part.
This year there will be several hundred animals involved in the
races, racing in heats, with five or six running in each. The animals
will be divided into four categories by size, although the division
into classes of smallest, small, medium and heavy is not necessarily
as scientific as it might be in a somewhat more serious sport.
The actual races are run along a track that measures some one
hundred and ten metres in length, with the jockeys encouraging their
respective beasts to greater effort with a wooden stick in the manner
of a racehorse jockey with a whip. However, there aren't too many
other similarities with horse racing. For one thing, the jockey
getting aboard his mount, particularly given the lack of any saddle,
can be a much more uncertain process and one that can take a bit
of time. For another, there is then no guarantee that, firstly,
any given buffalo will be persuaded
to run at the start of its race and, secondly, assuming
that the first hurdle has been satisfactorily overcome, that it
will run in the direction of the finish line.
event has now become a fully fledged festival and so there is far
more than simply watching the races and soaking up the atmosphere
for attendees to get involved with. An Asian festival just wouldn't
be the same without a beauty pageant and this one is no exception.
In fact, they have two and, dependant upon how widely you want
to interpret the definition of "beauty", arguably three such contests.
However, although the "Miss Buffalo" contest is very much along
traditional lines and involves beautiful young women competing for
the title, the "Best Decorated Buffalo" and "Most Healthy Buffalo"
contests are, as the respective titles suggest, for animals with
four legs and a pair of horns. As to what kind of women actually
want to win the title of "Miss Buffalo" I would rather not comment.
Suffice it to say that back in the UK I have been given a black
eye and a bloody lip for calling a woman something far less offensive.
Other attractions include entertainment by clowns, an oily pole
climbing contest (although I understand that you don't have to be
either Polish or oily to take part), a sling-shot shooting contest
and buffalo "wrestling" which involves men pitting their wits against
the raw power of their four legged opponents.
The date for
the event is determined by a rather complex calculation that involves
working out the day on which the fourteenth full moon night of the
eleventh lunar month will fall. To say that such a calculation is
beyond me would be an extreme understatement, so I simply phoned
the Tourist Authority of Thailand, who told me that this year the
event will take place on the 9th of October, which, according to
my diary, will be a Thursday.