Tales About Rice, Dewi Sri and Respect for Nature

Tales About Rice, Dewi Sri and Respect for Nature

Image source: http://discovermagazine.com/~/media/Images/Issues/2014/JanFeb/golden-rice.jpg

The thing I always remember in childhood, when not eating food, Mother always advised to spend all the rice without remaining.

According to the mother, if not spent then the rice will cry or even pets that we love will die. The legendary story of which I still remember it is reinforced when in the story of Si Unyil dolls aired by TVRI never narrated the same thing, that we should spend the rice we eat, otherwise the rice will cry because we have wasted it.

This story has been so enthralled up until now and it seems very effective to influence me to try to eat the rice that has been taken without it remaining.

Rice derived from cooked rice, from rice that has been harvested in the life of agrarian communities of Java, Indonesia and even Southeast Asia has a very important role. The narrative about rice that is closely related to culture, religion, economy, defense, politics, environment and identity, puts rice as a significant thing for people's lives.

For Indonesians, except for Eastern Indonesia, rice is not just a commodity and a staple food but is the context of all aspects of life that surrounds humans and how humans relate to nature.

The story in Myanmar, in the era of Bagan Kingdom in the 11th-13th century AD, puts rice as a very important thing, how the influence of Buddhism is growing rapidly sustained from the rice farms that have been produced by the population. Temples are widely constructed from the rice trade by the population, so the relation and influence between religion and rice farming are so strong.

In the context of Java and Bali, legends about rice and Dewi Sri occupy a fairly central role. In the traditional Javanese house, there is a special place which is usually called central senthong (the center of the house) which is a place dedicated to honor Dewi Sri. For Javanese and Balinese people, Dewi Sri is identical with rice which is symbol of fertility.

Javanese people, especially agrarian society, Dewi Sri trusted as a protective figure that can maintain the life and safety of the community through rice. So that various rituals are dedicated to honor Dewi Sri.

From the story of the rice legend I quoted from asianfolktales.unescoapceiu.org: teacher's guide, especially fairy tales from Indonesia, about Dewi Sri, Dewi Padi as a tale from Java. That in ancient times on the island of Java there are no rice crops. In the fairy tale it is told that the Javanese only plant cassava and eat cassava as the main food.

Rice is a plant only found and eaten in khayangan. Then one day when the Gods and Goddesses came down from heaven to the earth, allowing a young man from the earth to visit the heavens and see the rice plants. During the fantasy of the young man was fascinated by the smell of rice cooked and then he hoped to taste the rice is so fragrant.

To realize his wish, the young man faces Dewi Sri as the Goddess of Rice to be allowed to stay longer in khayangan and given the opportunity to learn to plant rice. Dewi Sri then allowed her to stay longer and teach her how to plant rice.First before planting rice, the young man learned to plow and fertilize the soil with a tool called luku. Next to leveling the soil before planting rice, using a tool in the form of a rake. After the land was loose, the young man was taught to make irrigation, planted the rice seed and harvested it when the rice had picked up.

Even Dewi Sri also taught the youth to use ani-ani to cut and harvest rice. Besides Dewi Sri also teaches the youth using dimples to pound rice into rice. After learning all the stages of rice farming, the youth is also allowed to enjoy the rice as a delicious food from khayangan.

After living some time in khayangan, the young man wanted to return to earth and then he asked permission to Dewi Sri to leave khayangan. Unbeknownst to Dewi Sri, in the morning the young man left khayangan and took the seeds of rice to be brought to earth. Arriving on earth, the youth distributed the seeds of rice and taught his neighbors to plant rice so that one day on the island of Java was seen mengguning when the rice is ready to be harvested.

When the god from heaven came down to earth, was surprised to see plants that are only found in heaven have been planted on earth, immediately the god immediately met and told Dewi Sri. The god is angry with Dewi Sri who is considered to have given the seeds of rice to the youth of the earth.

Knowing that, Dewi Sri went down to earth and met the young man who had stolen the seeds of him. When the initial meeting with the young man, Dewi Sri angry for betraying his trust. But the young man begs forgiveness of Dewi Sri and apologizes for all the deeds he has done.

To Dewi Sri, the young man admitted his mistake and was ready to accept the punishment. The young man told Dewi Sri the reason for stealing rice seeds to make the earth's population healthier and stronger by eating rice. This is done not only for him but for the sake of the people. Dewi Sri, who compassionately pardoned the youth and allowed the rice to be planted and eaten by the inhabitants of the earth but Dewi Sri proposed several conditions that the youth had to admit.

The inhabitants of the earth are allowed to grow rice and enjoy rice with the requirements when planting rice should irrigate regularly, weed out the wild plants around the fields, keep the soil fertile, harvest the rice carefully using the ani-ani, not allowed to remove rice and rice, birds to share the rice ore as a form of sharing with other living beings and not allowed to kill the birds that eat rice seeds.

A very strong message delivered by Dewi Sri to the youth is to treat rice as proper as his own child and follow the natural rhythm. If the inhabitants of the earth reneged on his promise then Dewi Sri will send the disaster because it has destroyed nature.

The narrative of the fairy tale, to me is not just a mere fairy tale but implies a strong enough message that in Javanese cosmology, Java's agrarian society greatly respects rice and Dewi Sri as a representation of nature.

Strong message by maintaining the harmony of nature, planting rice lovingly according to the rhythm of nature is part of memayu hayuning bawono, guarding the universe. Reading this tale from the perspective of the local religion, how the Javanese agrarian society interpreted the beliefs of Dewi Sri and rice as interpersonal relationship is not the relationship between subject and object.

Referring to Hallowell (1960), Bird-David (1999), Morisson (2002) and Maarif (2015), there is a bond and relationship between the Javanese agrarian society with rice and Dewi Sri as intersubyek and we-ness relations. Dewi Sri in Javanese cosmology as personhood, nonhuman being that indicates there is a relationship of interdependence.The message for keeping the rice and living in harmony with nature as an environmental ethic to respect nature because of the great dependence between man and nature. For the Javanese agrarian community who believes it, Dewi Sri and Padi are symbols of life so that as meaning as it is, Dewi Sri is in central senthong from Javanese house. In the Javanese ritual "selametan" (wellbeing), which understands the concept of selametan as a ceremony that is communal and social (social sharing) and rice is one of the symbols that are always attached.

The tale of rice on Java agrarian society is of course a message of respect for nature because nature is macro and micro cosmos. Nature is not just objects and objects but a relation between the subjects of life (nonhuman being) and humans as one of its inhabitants must keep the etiquette for nature to be sustainable, because the wild does not need humans, but vice versa!

Wallahu'lam Bishowab.

Yogyakarta, December 12, 2017

Sari Oktafiana

Inspired by the story written by asianfolktales.unescoapceiu.org: teacher's guide cited in Unit 1 People and Places, Lesson 2 Balinese rice plains: Religion and Rice, UNESCO, 2017.

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