Dewi Sri is the Indonesian Rice Goddess, equivalent of the Indian Goddess Lakshmi. Sri is the Goddess of the earth and the Mother of the Javanese people. In the Javanese harvest ceremonies She is worshiped as the Rice Mother and as the Rice Bride. She is widely venerated as the great benefactress of the people who protects them against hunger, even in the semi-Islamized regions. Sri brings the rain when the monsoon arrives and appears in dreams to give good advice.
She is unique in the Balinese pantheon for She is the only member of the principal deities who did not originate in Indian Hinduism. She is the consort of Wisnu, the God of Sustenance. Dewi Sri is considered to be the inspirer of Bali’s highly productive method of cooperative rice farming as well as Bali’s master landscaper. She protects and nurtures the rice padi and the farmers pray to her for bountiful harvest.
In the Javanese wayang cycle, Dewi Sri is reborn as the Goddess Sinta to marry her Wisnu in his incarnation as Rama. Reborn as Rukmini, she marries him in his new form as Kresna. Reborn as Subadra, she once again marries him as Arjuna, son of King Pandu.
If we are wondering about the beginning of padi and how the earth was first organized, the Sundanese myths have all the stories. One of the myths that is very well-known by the Sundanese is Nyi Pohaci Sanghiang Sri. This story about Dewi Sri is written in Wawacan Sulanjana.
Once upon a time in the heavens, the Batara Guru commanded all the gods and goddesses to contribute their power in order to build a new palace. Anybody who disobeyed this commandment would lose his or her head. Upon hearing Batara Guru’s commandment, one of the gods, Anta, was very anxious. He didn’t have arms or legs, and he wasn’t sure how he could possibly do the job. Anta was shaped as a snake and he couldn’t work. He sought advice from one of his friends, but unfortunately his friend was also confused by Anta’s bad luck. Anta became very upset and cried. As he was crying, three tear drops fell to the ground. Amazingly, after touching the ground those tear drops became three eggs. His friend advised him to offer those eggs to the Batara Guru, hoping that he would give a fair judgement.
With the three eggs in his mouth, Anta went to the Batara Guru’s palace. On the way there, he was approached by a black bird who asked him a question. He couldn’t answer because of the eggs in his mouth, but the bird thought that Anta was being arrogant. t became furious and began to attack Anta, and as a result one eg was shattered. Anta quickly tried to hide int he bushes, but the bird was waiting for him. The second attack left Anta with only one egg to offer to the Batara Guru.
Finally, he arrived at the palace and offered his teardrop (in the shape of an egg) to the Batara Guru. The offer was accepted and the Batara Guru asked him to nest the egg until it hatched. Miraculously, the egg hatched into a very beautiful girl. He gave the baby girl to the Batara Guru and his wife.
Nyi Pohi Sanghian Sri was her name, and she grew up into a beautiful princess, becoming more and more beautiful as the days passed by. As her beauty grew, every man who saw her became attracted to her. Even her stepfather, the Batara Guru, started to feel an attraction toward her. Seeing the Batara Guru’s new attitude toward Nyi Pohaci, all the gods became so worried about the situation that they conspired to separate Nyi Pohaci and the Batara Guru.
To keep the peace in the heavens, and to maintain Nyi Pohaci’s good name, all the gods planned for her death. She was poisoned and her body buried on earth in a hidden place. But the graveyard was to hold a strange sign, for at the time of her burial, up grew a very useful plant that wold forever benefit all human beings. From her eyes grew the plant that is called padi (rice paddy).
The ‘cili’ goddess or Dewi Sri is typically represented in an hourglass shape such as this example. Such figures are placed in Balinese fields to protect and promote fertility of wet rice agriculture, and illustrate the importance of rice production in Southeast Asia where it is the staple diet. Figures like this one made from fragile palm leaf are not intended to last.
The Balinese are an essentially friendly, happy and kind people who have no real concept of western stress. They know who they are and where they are going. Broad genuine smiles are common. Despite the lack of money and prosperity in western terms, the quality of life for most Balinese is very good. Unlike us, they do not have much “stuff” and for the most part are happier without it than most of us are with it. The secret is they have what is essential, ties to family and community, reverence and love of Nature, and a positive belief in karma. Bali is also a land of incredible artists. In Bali everyone makes art or crafts. There are vibrant paintings that reflect the tropical jungles, there are incredible wood carvers, and there are batik artists, jewelers, potters, sculptors and fiber artists. To the Balinese all acts are part of the whole and attention to detail is a sacred thing.
An awareness of the magic and bounty of Nature is all around and impossible to ignore in Bali. It is in the tiny geckos that magically scurry across walls and ceiling almost everywhere you go. It is echoed in the many, many processions and celebrations that are central to Bali life. It is in the hands of the artists and craftsmen/women who carve traditional masks and statues of the God/desses with incredible patience and care. It is in each and every offering laid on the Temple steps by someone who truly believes in the power of such offerings.