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Architectural Carving of Dewi Sri (Rice Goddess)
Item No. 3044

Early 20th Century, N/A, Indonesia
Wood with Pigmentation
13.25" x 2.75" x 1.75"
( 33.655 x 6.985 x 4.445 cm)
(H x W x D)

Dewi Sri, the Indonesian Goddess of Rice, is believed to have control over the underworld and the moon and she also has dominion over birth and life, controls the rice fields and the growth of rice, and, therefore, the availability of the precious staple food of all Indonesians. In light of this, Dewi Sri controls the life, wealth and prosperity of Indonesia, the rice surpluses that have traditionally been a source of wealth for, especially, Bali and Java, and their inverse as well: poverty, famine, hunger, disease and, to a certain extent death.

There are a number of myths involving Dewi Sri and her brother Sedana, and they are normally set in Heaven, in a kingdom called Medang Kamulan or both. In all versions where Sedana appears with Dewi Sri, they become separated because of them wandering away from each other, their refusing to be married or death. Some myths make a comparison between Dewi Sri and the large rice paddy snake (ular sawa) and Sadhana with the paddy swallow (sriti). The naga or snake, especially a king cobra, is a common fertility symbol throughout Asia and is, especially in Bali and Java, represented as a crowned deity, in contrast to western traditions that consider snakes as representing sin, temptation or wickedness.

Dewi Sri is, as in this Balinese example, usually presented as a young, beautiful, slim yet curvaceous woman with stylized facial features idiosyncratic to the respective locale. In Bali she is almost always depicted as a narrow-waisted woman at the height of her femininity and fertility, wearing what is essentially a typical dance costume with a finely detailed and elaborate headdress. She remains highly revered especially in Bali, Java and Sunda, and there are regional variations of her legend throughout Indonesia. Despite most Indonesians being observant Muslims or Balinese Hindu the indigenous underlying animist beliefs that were practices in Indonesia long before the arrival of more modern religions remain ingrained in the beliefs of the indigenous people of Indonesia and are worshiped parallel to Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism and Christianity without conflict. They are, moreover, cultivated by the Royal Courts, especially in those of Cirebon and Yogyakarta on the island of Java and of Ubud on the Island of Bali.

Traditional Javanese people often have a small shrine in their house dedicated to Dewi Sri that is decorated with her bust, idol or other likeness of her alone or with her brother Sedana and, sometimes, with a ceremonial or functional arit, the small, sickle-shaped rice-harvesting knife. Such shrines are commonly decorated with intricate carvings of snakes or snake-dragons (naga), again pointing to the relationship between Dewi Sri and fertility. Worshipers make food offerings and prayers to Dewi Sri so she may grant health and prosperity to the family. Among the rural Javanese there is a folk-tradition of not chasing away or removing a snake which has entered a house. On the contrary, the arrival of a snake is considered a propitious omen of a coming good harvest, so the people in the house will make offerings to the snake instead.

Additionally, a ceremonial or auspicious keris, the distinctive, asymmetrical and thin long dagger worn everyday at special ceremonies and having heirloom blades that are handed down through successive generations, will be employed by a folk-healer, soothsayer, paranormal or magic dukun in a winding, circumambulatory ceremony to blessing and protect the village, its occupants, their shrines and the seed to be planted from harm or any evil

The Balinese provide special shrines in the rice fields dedicated to Dewi Sri, and temples dedicated to her are found throughout the Island and are maintained by intricate cooperation systems called subak, which also manage water storage and drainage for rice terraces. A subak is both a social and a work organization that is composed of farmers from nearby villages who bind together for agricultural cooperation, often share nearby rice fields, and work together when necessary, as rice farming in very labor intensive. These who belong to the subak care for, maintain and are responsible for the upkeep of the temples dedicated to Dewi Sri, celebrate agricultural festivals together and, especially on the birthday of the temple and holidays dedicated to her, decorate the temple to beautify it for her arrival. They make lavish and colorful offerings to the deity from carved bamboo, banana leaves, rattan and other natural materials which are placed both at the temple and in the fields to help entice the deity with attractive ritual objects to honor them with her presence and her favor.
There is a wonderful and short Balinese folktale that was posted online by Sidarta Wijaya in 2007 as follows: "Once upon a time, Bhatara Guru (the head of Gods) who resides in heaven held a great ceremony. It is a tradition that each god should help in the preparation of the ceremony. But the great dragon Ananta Boga looked so sad since he could not help anything because did not have a hand or foot. It made him sad, he cried alone, but a miracle occurred, his tears that touch land turn into three eggs. He took those eggs on his mouth; he planned to give Bhatara Guru the eggs as a consolation for his inability in helping the preparation of ceremony.

On the way, he met another god, the god greeted him, when he answered two of his eggs fell into earth and hatched. One produced a rat and the other a boar. Realizing his mistake, Ananta Boga kept silence on the rest of the way, until he arrived in front of Bhatara Guru. He told Bhatara Guru what happened on him, and presented the remaining egg. Bhatara Guru accepted the egg.

After couple days, a beautiful girl came out from the egg. Bhatara Guru named her Dewi Sri and loved her so much. It made several goddesses jealous on her. They tried to make Dewi Sri ‘disappear’ from heaven. One day they manage to poison Dewi Sri. she died and the wicked goddess buried the body of Dewi Sri deep in the earth. After a couple of days a plant (rice) grew from the place where Dewi Sri was buried.

Bhatara Guru realized that plant was Dewi Sri. He came to the earth and told humans to keep that plant especially from rat and jungle pig disturbance since the plant was a goddess and it could give a welfare for human being. But if they did not keep it, they would get a disaster.

Balinese believe that Dewi Sri is the goddess of rice and she stays as a protector of the rice field."


Sidarta Wijaya, "A Balinese Folktale: Dewi Sri, Goddess of Rice,", 2007

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