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Food Mythology

The Rice Goddess- A tale of Indonesian Lakshmi

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Humans and food are very synonymous. Since the day of creation, food is the first thing that God created. There were many gods associated with food. The staple food became divinity and then the stories were built around it. The Gods and foods migrated from one place to another. Here is one such tale of Lakshmi a Hindu goddess migrated to the Indonesian region. We know Goddess Lakshmi as the Goddess of wealth and prosperity. Lakshmi appeared from the sea during the Samudra Manthan. But the Indonesian Lakshmi or otherwise known as Dewi Sri or goddess Sri is certainly different. The Indonesian civilization has incorporated many beliefs especially Indian, Christian and also Islamic. The Indian and Indonesian Lakshmi has no similar characteristics but being the goddess of prosperity. The Indonesian Lakshmi has displayed the phenomenon of Purusha Suktam and played the role of the creator of Food.

Dewi Sri – The Indonesian Rice Goddess

Dewi Sri is the Pre- Hindu goddess of rice. She is the Sundanese personification of Lakshmi. She is known by the Sudanese name Nyai Pohaci Sanghyang Asri.  She governs the birth and life along with controlling ‘Rice’ the staple food of the Indonesians. She is believed to protect the world from famine and hunger. Dewi Sri was believed to have created rice as written in Wawacan Sulanjana the Sundanese manuscript contains the Indonesian.

Dewi Sri is depicted as a youthful and slim yet shapely woman, with distinct facial features, representing a woman in peak of her femininity and fertility. She adorns green,  white or golden saree and various jewelry. She holds a rice plant in one hand and rice grains in the other.  There are certain rituals to revere Dewi Sri by making an effigy as her representation from Janur (young coconut leaf), lontar leaf, or from cakes made of rice flour.

The legend says that once upon a time when Batra Guru (Indonesian Shiva), the supreme God commanded all the Gods and Goddess to unite their power to create a new palace. And anybody who was not helping would be punished and his hands and legs would be chopped off. One god Ananta Boga (Indonesian Anantasesha) he was a Serpent god and had no arms and legs. He did not understand how he could help. He sought the help of Batara Narada (Indonesian Narada) younger brother of Batara Guru, even he did not know how to help Ananta. Ananta seeing that no one could help him lamented. His teardrops fell on earth. These teardrops then became three Eggs that looked like precious jewels. Batara Narada then advised him to offer these jewels to Batara Guru hoping that the supreme God would help Ananta.

While Ananta was on his way to see the Supreme God, he met with an eagle (maybe Indonesian Garuda) He then asked Ananta a question. Ananta, however, kept silent as he was holding the eggs in his mouth. The eagle became furious and attacked him twice. The attack led two of the eggs to fall on the ground. The eggs that fell became twin boar Kalabuat and Budug Basu, who later was adopted by Sapi Gumarang cow.

Ananta struggling came to see Batara Guru, the supreme god asked Anata to nurture the egg till it hatches. The egg hatched into a beautiful baby girl, that Ananta offered to Batra Guru. This baby girl was known as Nyai Pohaci or Dewi Sri. She grew up to be the most beautiful girl and every god was attracted to her. Even her foster father Batara Guru was getting attracted to Nyai Pohaci.

The gods feared that this scandal of the foster father being attracted to his own daughter would destroy the world. The gods then conspired to separate the daughter and father. To keep the Order of the Heavens and Dewi Sri’s chastity they planned to kill her. She was poisoned to death and buried somewhere on earth. Because of Dewi Sri’s innocence and divinity from her body parts gave rise to various important trees and crops.

Head coconut
Nose, lips, and ears spices and vegetables
Hair Grass and various flowering plant
Breast Various Fruit plants
arms and hands teak and various wood trees,
genital Kawung or sugar palm
thighs Types of bamboo
Legs Tuber plants
Belly button Rice

 

As all the plants that are needed for human well-being came from her body, including the staple food ‘Rice’, she was regarded as the benevolent ‘goddess of rice ‘and fertility.

 

It is very interesting to see the travel of Hindu Gods in Indonesian Mythology. Where Lakshmi is first created through an Egg and then through her body parts trees and rice is created. The staple food is given much more importance in this way.

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