Mae Pho sop (Thai: แม่โพสพ) or Pho sop or Mae Kwan Khao (Thai archaism: แม่ขวัญข้าว) is the Siamese rice goddess. She is a deity more related to ancient local folklore than a goddess of a structured, mainstream religion.
Ritual offerings (Cha laeo) are made to propitiate the Rice Goddess during the different steps of rice production. Villagers believe that Goddess Mae Po-sop ensures everyone has enough to eat.
The iconographic representation of Pho sop is of a beautiful woman wearing full jewelry and a red or green dress. She is in the sitting or standing position holding a harvested rice sheaf on her right shoulder, but sometimes also on her arm. The recent iconography of this goddess is based in the Hindu goddess Sri Lakshmi, but its origins are local and more ancient.
In modern Thailand, paying homage to Pho sop by rice farmers had been declining in recent times, but Queen Sirikit gave royal patronage to this ancient custom of Thai folklore in August 2008. Sometimes village women dress as Pho sop during local festivals and celebrations. These celebrations related to rice and its cultivation stages have a deep traditional significance in order to ensure that farmers will have good harvests. Every year the Royal Ploughing Ceremony takes place in Thailand. At the end of it people scramble to collect the seeds from the furrows in order to increase their luck.
The rice goddess in Southeast Asia
Known as Nang Khosop in Laos, the rice goddess is also part of the local rural culture. There are different versions of the Laotian origin myth regarding rice. According to a manuscript in Wat Si Saket, after a thousand-year famine one day a young man caught a golden fish. The king of the fishes heard the cry of agony and went to ask the man to free the golden fish in exchange for a treasure. The treasure was Nang Khosop, the maiden who was the soul of the rice. While she lived in the fields rice nourished humans for many more centuries and the Buddhist doctrine progressed. But one day an unrighteous king brought about again a famine on the land by storing the rice that was due to the people in order to acquire gold, elephants and luxury goods for himself. During the hard days of the famine an old couple of slaves met a hermit in the forest. Seeing that they were famished the hermit appealed to Nang Khosop to feed them. But the rice goddess was angry and refused. Then the hermit, fearing for the future of the Buddhist Dharma, slaughtered Nang Khosop and cut her into many little pieces. As a consequence the fragments of the rice goddess became the different varieties of rice such as black rice, white rice, hard rice (khâo chao) and glutinous rice. The old couple taught humans how to cultivate this new rice in small grains and the Buddhist doctrine flourished. According to another legend of the Vientiane region the Phi Na spirit that looks after the rice fields originated in the skull, the mouth and the teeth of Nang Khosop.
Some authors have studied how Buddhism has brought about a reinterpretation of pre-Buddhist meanings through the myth of the rice goddess. The Khmer Po Ino Nogar, Po Yan Ino Nogar Taha or Po Nagar, the rice goddess of Cambodia, has similar attributes and rites as the Thai and Lao rice goddess. She is related to Lady Po Nagar, the traditional deity of the Cham people.
A similar rice goddess also can be found in Indonesia; Dewi Sri, also known as Nyi Pohaci, is the Javanese, Sundanese and Balinese rice, agriculture and fertility goddess. Shrines to Dewi Sri are a common feature in local rice fields.
Modern use as a symbol
- ชนชาติไทในนิทาน : แลลอดแว่นคติชนและวรรณกรรมพื้นบ้าน / ศิราพร ณ ถลาง กรุงเทพฯ : มติชน, 2545
- Pairin Jotisakulratana, Mae Po sop: The Rice Mother of Thailand
- On the Role of Food Habits in the Context of the Identity and Cultural Heritage of South and South East Asia
- Rice Hoarding Affect Supplies in Thailand
- Po Sop
- ศาลแม่โพสพริมคลองบางพรม: หลักฐานทุ่งนาฝั่งธนฯ
- Phya Anuman Rajadhon, Essays on Thai Folklore ISBN 974-210345-3
- Thailand revives worship of Rice Goddess - The China Post
- Woman in Pho sop costume
- Rice Goddesses of Southeast Asia
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- Charles Archaimbault. (1973) Structures religieuses lao: rites et mythes. Volume 2 of Collection Documents pour le Laos, p. 240
- Richard Pottier - Le vidéo-lexique : Mythe de la déesse du riz
- Po Ino Nogar
- La danse du riz de la minorité Kho Mu
- "(Indonesian) Mitos Nyi Pohaci/Sanghyang Asri/Dewi Sri". My.opera.com. 2008-03-01. Retrieved 2012-08-26.
- กรมการข้าว - Rice Department
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