There are many myths, legends and much folklore about rice. Gods or goddesses gave rice to humans and taught them how to grow it. In Asia, the rice spirit is female and often a mother figure.

Religious use of rice takes place in China, Thailand, Indonesia, Sri Lanka, and Malaysia. Discover Myths, History and Folklore of RICE in India.

In this Article

ORYZA SATIVA

Family Gramineae

rice-India

Sanskrit तांडुल Mana, Dhanya
Hindi चावल Chaaval Chawal, Dhan
Tamil அரிசி Arici Pacha arisi
Telugu బియ్యం Biyyam
Malayalam അരി ari
Kannada ಅಕ್ಕಿ Akki
Bengali ভাত Bhata
Punjabi ਚੌਲ Caula
Marathi तांदूळ Tandula Tandool
Gujarati ભાત Bhata
Urdu بھارتی چاول
Nepali चामल Camala
Buthanese ཆུམ Chhumm Marp, Yee Chhumm and Khuu Saalu
English rice

RICE – Oryza indica

Rice is the staple diet of more than two billion people in Asia and many millions more in Africa and Latin America. Every third person on earth eats rice every day in one form or another. More than one billion farmers make their living from rice and more than 90% of the world’s rice is grown and consumed in Asia alone.

Rice is a versatile crop, in Nepal and Bhutan it grows as high as 2750 meters above sea level; in the South of India- Kerala it grows as low as 3 meters below sea-level.

The species of rice grown in India is known as Oryza indica. The word for a particular plant in different languages gives clues as to where it has travelled.

In Sanskrit, paddy is called vrihi. This became vari in Telugu. Based on seasons, rice crops are distinguished by names like the graishmic, varshic, hemanti, sharada for summer, rainy, autumn, and winter crop respectively. The late maturing rice is ptasuka vrihi and the early maturing one is asu vrihi.
Sali, Vrihi and Sastika are the main varieties of rice. Raktasali, considered being the best of all the corns, is one among them. Others are Mahasali, Kalama, Sugandha and Kasthasali. Vrihi is considered inferior to Sali and Sastika.

Vrihi was largely used in sacrifices and eating.

It is tandula for threshed out paddy grain, akshat for unbroken rice, nivar, namba and vrihi for the transplanted rice. The unhusked and pounded rice mix known as akshata is used in religious ceremonies and the homam using this mixture is known as akshata homam, were the fire destroys the offering.
Vrihi ripened in autumn, Sali in winter, Sastika in summer. Sastika is quicker in growth, and can be harvested within sixty days of cultivation (Arthashastra). Vishnu Dharmottar, book, makes reference about the two varieties of Swastika, Raktasastika, a medicinal variety, and pramodaka sastika.

In Madagascar, on the east coast of Africa, rice is also called vary or vare. In Farsi, the language of Iran, the word brinj is derived from urihi. Kautilya’s Sanskrit treatise the Arthashastra refers to a rice variety shashtik, which took sixty days to ripen. This same rice is now called “saathee“.

The Latin word for rice, oryza, and the English “rice” are both derived from the Tamil word arisi. Arab traders took arisi with them and called it al-ruz or arruz in Arabic. This became arroz in Spanish and oriza in Greek. In Italian it is called riso, in French riz, in German Reis.

In ancient days of the Vedic period, as reported by Indian scientist called Dr, Richaria, there were 40000 varieties of rice in the country out of which 20000 varieties are reportedly available even todate in India. The state of Chhattisgarh alone is stated to have 20,000 Some of the traditional varieties of rice in India are shown here:

rare rice map of India

HISTORY OF RICE CULTIVATION IN INDIA

Historians believe that while the Indica variety of rice was first domesticated in the area covering the foothills of the Eastern Himalayas (i.e. north-eastern India), stretching through Burma, Thailand, Laos, Vietnam and Southern China, the japonica variety was domesticated from wild rice in southern China which was introduced to India before the time of the Greeks. Chinese records of rice cultivation go back to 4000 years.

The earliest remains of cultivated rice in India date from around 2000 B.C. Perennial wild rice still grows in Assam and Nepal. It seems to have appeared around 1400 B.C. in southern India after its domestication in the northern plains. It then spread to all the fertile alluvial plains watered by rivers.

Rice is first mentioned in the Yajur Veda (c. 1500-800 B.C.) and then is frequently referred to in Sanskrit texts.

Arthasashtra says that Sanskrit has used different words to refer a variety of rice. Wheat, barley, and rice were commonly known as vrihi.

Ramayana 2000 B.C. – Sri Rama stated to Bharata that special care and attention should be given to the farmers, then only prosperity and happiness of the people could be ensured.

Mahabaratha (1400 B.C.), also stated that agriculture, animal husbandry and trade are the ways of life of the people. It was mentioned that large irrigation tanks have been constructed for agriculture purpose.

Parashara (400 B.C.) was the author of Krishi Parashara, which is regarded as highest authority of agriculture. It deals with knowledge and practices relating to agricultural, such as soil classification, land use, manuring, plant protection and agricultural meteorology. It also deals with the care of drought animals and grasses for cattle.

Woman work on the rice fields

Learn more about the history of rice on the rice timeline.

Annapurna अन्नपूर्णा Devi is Rice

INDIA: Annapūrṇā – The kitchen goddess
Annapūrṇā –

Anna means “food” or “grains”, Purna means “full, complete and perfect”.

Annapurna अन्नपूर्णा is considered the goddess of cooks and kitchens and is important for farmers, as she represents fertility of land, harvest and rice.

Annapurna is a form of both Devi Parvati and Shri Lakshmi as well.

She is Vishnus wife Shri Lakshmi in one of her many manifestations and also Shivas wife Devi Parvati or Devi Gauri in one of her many manifestations.

Major traditions within Hinduism include Vaishnavism (Vaishnavites, Vaishnavas), which is devoted to worship of the god Vishnu, and Shaivism, organized around worship of the god Shiva. Both believe in the main concepts in Hinduism. However, they focus their worship towards different gods.

Most Hindus worship Vishnu and Shiva, their incarnations and families. Hinduism has many different sub-traditions with regional variations and differences in philosophy. Many of the rituals to worship the goddesses and gods are quite similar in both traditions.

Devi Annapurna

There is an interesting myth involving Lord Shiva and Goddess Annapūrṇā, which explains that even Moksha– salvation is not possible on an empty stomach, here the Puranic Myth:

Maya – Illusion

Parvati was told by her consort Shiva that the world is an illusion and that food is a part of this illusion called māyā. To demonstrate the importance of food, she disappeared from the world. Her disappearance brought time to a standstill and the earth became barren. There was no food to be found anywhere, and all the beings suffered from the pangs of hunger. Seeing all the suffering, Parvati reappeared, Shiva ran to her and presented his bowl in alms, saying, “Now I realize that the material world, like the spirit, cannot be dismissed as an illusion.” Parvati smiled and fed Shiva with her own hands.

Since then Parvati is worshiped as Annapurna, the goddess of Nourishment.

Parvati and Shiva play the game of dice

Lord Shiva and Goddess Parvati used to play the game of dice. Once the game became so interesting that they started betting – Parvati kept her jewels and Shiva his trident. Shiva lost the game and lost his trident. To get back his trident, Shiva betted serpent and this time too he lost the game. Finally, when the game ended, Shiva lost all that he had including his bowl.

A humiliated Shiva left for the Deodar forest. Lord Vishnu approached Shiva and asked him to play again to win back all that he had lost. Taking advice from Vishnu, Shiva played again and won all that he had lost in the previous game.

Goddess Parvati grew suspicious about Shiva’s sudden turn of fortunes and called him a cheat. This led to a verbal duel between the couple. Finally, Lord Vishnu intervened and revealed that the dice moved as per His wish and they were under the illusion that they were playing.

Symbolically, life is like a game of dice – unpredictable and beyond control.

Verbal duel soon turned to philosophical discussion and Lord Shiva said that possessions are temporary…everything is Maya – illusion…even the food we eat is Maya.

Goddess Parvati did not agree that food is illusion.

She argued that if food is illusion I am also an illusion. She wanted to know how the world would survive without food and disappeared.

Her disappearance meant Nature came to a stand still. There were no seasonal changes. Everything remained barren. There was no regeneration or birth. Soon there was severe drought and shortage of food.

Parvati- Annapoorna serving food to Shiva.

Shiva realized that he is incomplete without Shakti. Shiva appeared before her with a begging bowl and Goddess Parvati fed Shiva.

Gods, humans and demons all kept praying for food. Goddess Parvati could not see her children perishing out hunger and appeared in Kashi (Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh) and started distributing food.

Shiva said that food cannot be dismissed as mere illusion as it is required to nourish the body in which resides the Atma.

Annapoorna symbolizes also the divine aspect of nourishing care. It is believed, when food is cooked with the spirit of holiness it becomes Amrita which is the Sanskrit word for delicious and healthy food which gives energy to achieve knowledge, enlightenment and immortality.

Kashi Annapurna murti

Annapurna losing her Gauri Rupa

Once Mata Parvathi had closed all the eyes of the Lord Shiva (three eyes: Sun, Moon and Fire) and entire world was full of darkness.

There was the condition of ‘Pralaya’ – dissolution

Mata Parvati too lost her Gauri Rupa (white color) and asked Lord Shiva for his help in attaining the Gauri Rupa again. She was asked by Lord Shiva to donate anna (food) in Kashi. She hence came in form of Annapurna Devi Rupa with a golden pot and ladle and made anna daan (donate food) in Varanasi. Mata Parvati hence attained the Gauri Rupa again.

It is considered that Her devotees do Annapurna Pooja by donating food in Kashi.

Om Annapurnayai Namaha

LAKSHMI

Shri Laksmi is Shri Annapurna

Shri-Lakshmi is another Hindu form of the timeless mother goddess who nurtures and nourishes all life. Indians worship rice itself as Lakshmi.

Originally a personification of the earth and a fertility goddess within Hindu culture, Lakshmi came to be associated with god Vishnu and developed into the goddess of good fortune, wealth, bounty, and beauty.

Shri-Lakshmi has a long history testified by the fact that her first hymn, the Shri Shukta, was added to the Rig Veda, the oldest and most revered of Hindu scriptures, somewhere between 1000 and 500 BC.

1-2

Invoke for you O Agni, the Goddess Lakshmi, who shines like gold, yellow in hue, wearing gold and silver garlands, blooming like the moon, the embodiment of wealth.

O Agni!

Invoke for me that unfailing Lakshmi, blessed by whom, I shall win wealth, cattle, horses and men.

3-4

I invoke Shri (Lakshmi, who has a line of horses in her front, a series of chariots in the middle,

who is being awakened by the trumpeting of elephants, who is divinely resplendent.

May that divine Lakshmi grace me.

I hereby invoke that Shri (Lakshmi) who is the embodiment of absolute bliss; who is of pleasant smile on her face;

whose lustre is that of burnished gold; who is wet as it were, (just from the milky ocean)

who is blazing with splendour, and is the embodiment of the fulfillment of all wishes;

who satisfies the desire of her votaries;

who is seated on the lotus and is beautiful like the lotus…

In India, not only Hindus but also Buddhists and Jains adore Lakshmi. Buddhism and Jainism are primarily monastic orders that turned away from Vedic rituals and Brahmanical dogmas about 2,500 years ago. They, however, did not abandon this goddess. The transformation of Lakshmi extends beyond the Hindu context. Prior to the twelfth century, Lakshmi became an important deity in Buddhism.

Lakshmi – Annapurna

Lakshmi has been viewed as a goddess of abundance and fortune, and is represented on the oldest surviving stupas and cave temples of Buddhism of Tibet, Nepal, and Southeast Asia. For instance, Gōngdétiān 功德天, lit “Meritorious god” or Jíxiáng Tiānnǚ 吉祥天女, lit “Auspicious goddess”, the Chinese Buddhist version of Lakshmi, became a goddess of fortune and prosperity.

Folklore tells us that when the Kachins of northern Myanmar (Burma) were sent forth from the center of the Earth, they were given the seeds of rice and were directed to a wondrous country where everything was perfect and where rice grew well.

Indonesia worships Dewi Sri, the Goddess of Rice, who is believed to have control over birth and life, and controls the rice fields and the growth of rice. Many ancient Javanese, Sunda and Balinese Kingdoms paid respect and present lavish offerings respect to Devi Sri, ensuring that they continuously have good harvests. Plentiful rice equals to wealth and survival of their kingdoms.

In Malaysia Bambarazon, the Goddess of Mercy, is believed to have created rice, as she secretly slipped down the fields and pressed her breasts until her milk and blood flowed and transformed into rice. To the present day, every Dusun or Kadazan celebrates the “Modsurung”, which is known today as the Harvest Festival, in memory of the great Goddess of Mercy. Traditionally it is believed that rice, or paddy, is animated by a soul- the rice soul semangat padi.

In Hinduism Laksmi is also known as Annapurna, provider of the bounty of rice and to the cultural practices of rice cultivation in general. In rice-cultivating regions in India, each stage of production is carried out on an auspicious day and rituals are performed.

MYTH: The birth of Annapurna

The worship of Annapurna originated in the distant past when all food disappeared from the earth and all living beings were consequently in danger of perishing. They appealed to Lord Brahma for help. Brahma consulted with Lord Vishnu and then decided to awaken Lord Shiva from his ritual sleep (yoganidra) and give him responsibility for restoring prosperity. Shiva invited the goddess Annapurna to the earth and begged her for rice, which he then distributed throughout the world.

Shiva is the destroyer and Vishnu is the preserver, Brahma, the third god, is the creator form the Trimurti of Hinduism.

Lakshmi in rice rituals

A bowl of rice will provide equal satisfaction to a rich man and a poor man, to a saint and a sinner.

A bowl of rice does not judge the person who consumes it. The same applies to a piece of cloth.

A piece of cloth will provide comfort to whosoever drapes it, man or woman, irrespective of caste, creed or religion.

And a house will provide the same quality of shelter to all, without any discrimination.

We may judge a bowl of rice, a piece of cloth or a house, but the rice, the cloth and the house will never judge us.

For rice, cloth and house are forms of Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth.

South Indians call rice Anna Lakshmi. Anna means “food” and Lakshmi is the Goddess of prosperity. From ancient times, Dhanya Lakshmi has been depicted holding a few sheaves of rice in her hand. Hindus particularly associate rice with Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth. Paddy stalks or unhusked paddy is worshipped as embodying the goddess, from the sixteenth century till today. Rice and Lakshmi are interchangeable concepts in local imagination.

RICE is LAKSHMI and LAKSHMI and RICE.

Lakshmi being the provider of food is still worshiped and feared in an agrarian society like Odisha and women still observe the rituals with devotion lest her displeasure would affect the harvest of rice and bring about starvation. This also ensured care and attention to the process of rice cultivation such as ploughing, transplantation, harvesting, and storage.

During the annual worship of Lakshmi, women recite the story of the Purana which was written by Balaram Das, the story reads:

Lord Jagannath

Once Lakshmi in disguise went out of the temple of Puri and wanted to see how her devotees were worshiping her on her designated day. She was disappointed because nobody was worshipping her except one untouchable woman. Lakshmi went to her house and being pleased granted her a number of boons. On her return, her husband, Jagannath, adequately incited by his brother Balaram, rebuked her and asked her to leave the temple since she had become an out caste by visiting an untouchable household. Being offended by their lack of appreciation of her visit to a devotee irrespective of caste, she cursed them to be deprived of food until she offered food to them.

She vowed to teach both the brothers a lesson by showing her own capabilities. Since she was in charge of all the food grains of the mortal world and also in charge of household affairs, she saw to it that both the brothers did not get any food. She resorted to this punishing act as she felt that otherwise men of the mortal world would not care for their women.

INDIA: History, myth and folklore of Rasgulla in Odisha
Mahaprasad Jagannath temple Puri

Being deprived of food, the brothers roamed around and finally landed on the doorstep of the same household where Lakshmi had been living. Lakshmi fed them well by declaring herself as an untouchable. Jagannath realized his fault and promised her autonomy of free movement among her devotees without any caste bar and that members of all castes would share the offerings to him together without being an out caste. Incidentally, the offerings to Jagannath comprise cooked rice also today.

In this story not only does Lakshmi assert her autonomy, but she also values women’s work and at the same time challenges caste discrimination.

Thus rice and Laksmi are interchangeable concepts in local imagination, and rituals have been performed from the sixteenth century until today.

Family worship of Annapurna

Annapurna (center) gives rice to Shiva (left) and his two assistants, Bhringy
(right) and Nandy (front). Gourishankar Bandopadhaya. Kolkata, West Bengal, India,
Unfired clay, paint, metal, cloth, plant fiber, wood.

In Bengal, Roy W. Hamilton writes, the worship of Annapurna is a private affair practiced among rice growing families. In Mr. Bandopadhaya’s family, the practice is traced to the time of the his grandmother, Saraswati Devi, who in 1908–09 experienced some serious financial reverses. She made a promise to Annapurna that if the family’s financial troubles could be resolved, she would establish the worship of the goddess in her family. The family’s procedures involve the making and worshiping of a group of figures composed of Annapurna, Shiva, and the attendant deities Nandy and Bhringy. In the Bandopadhaya family the worship is performed on an auspicious day during the month of Baishakh/Jaistha (May-June). On this day, the traditional Hindu religious text known as Chandi is recited from early morning.

Cooked rice and other foods are offered to the goddess, and then this prasad (food that has been sanctified by offering it to a deity) is distributed among the family members. When the worship is complete, the figures are released into the River Ganges.

Jay Maa Lakshmi !

Jay Maa Annapurna !

RICE IN HINDU FESTIVALS AND RITUALS

In India there is a saying that grains of rice should be like two brothers, close but not stuck together. Rice is often directly associated with prosperity and fertility, hence there is the custom of throwing rice at newlyweds. In India, rice is always the first food offered to the babies when they start eating solids or to husband by his new bride, to ensure they will have children.

FESTIVAL: Diwali

Hindus worship Lakshmi the third day of Diwali, the festival of lights, this is when Lakshmi Puja.Devotees will clean their houses, decorate them with finery and lights, and prepare sweet treats, like keehr and other delicacies as offerings.

On this day, the mothers, are recognized by the family. Mothers are seen to embody a part of Lakshmi, the good fortune and prosperity of the household.

People wear new clothes or their best outfits as the evening approaches. According to tradition people would put small oil lamps outside their homes and open doors and windows to let her in.

It is popularly believed that Lakshmi likes cleanliness and will visit the cleanest house first. Hence, the broom is worshiped with offerings of haldi (turmeric) and sindoor (vermilion) on this day.

Devotees believe the happier Lakshmi is with the visit, the more she blesses the family with health and wealth. The family we where living with in Rishikesh would feed us the whole week of Diwali, offering us delicious sweets on this day.

Lakshmi Puja

Our Indian mother, as we called her, would sing while cleaning her house temple and prepare offerings for Lakshmi.

Sandal paste, saffron paste, garland of cotton beads or flowers, ittar (perfume), turmeric, kumkum, abir, and gulal are offered to the Goddess. Flowers and garlands, such as Lotus, Marigold, Rose, Chrysanthemum and leaves of Bael (wood apple tree) are also offered. An incense stick is lit and dhoop is given to her.

Sweets, coconut, fruits, and tambul is made later. Puffed rice and batasha (varieties of Indian sweets) are placed near the idol. Puffed rice, batasha, coriander seeds, and cumin seeds are poured or offered to her idol.

In villages, a pot made of bamboo-canes measuring the paddy known as Nana‘ is filled up to the brink with freshly harvest paddy. Rice and lentils are also kept with the paddy. The ‘Mana‘ is the symbol of Maha Lakshmi.

It is customary to read out the holy book, the Eulogy, “Lakshmi Puran” while performing the pooja.

After the pooja, people go outside and celebrate by lighting up patakhe (fireworks). The children enjoy sparklers and variety of small fireworks, while adults enjoy playing with rockets and bigger fireworks. The fireworks signify celebration of Diwali as well a way to chase away evil spirits.

Rangoli or Kolam or Muggu

Rangoli, Aripaan or Alpana patterns are created on the floor, near the entrance, in living rooms or yards using colored rice, dry flour, colored sand or flower petals.

INDIA: Myths, History and Folklore of RICE

Rangolis are made by woman, in order to invite Hindu Goddess Lakshmi into the house, though they add to the aesthetics, they are mainly believed to bring in prosperity and luck. Alternatively, it is also believed that a rangoli guards the house and prevents evil spirits from entering in.

Elaborate rangoli patterns and designs are an integral part of all religious rituals. With an exact set number of dots and lines, these designs are often inherited from mother to daughter in every south Indian Hindu home.

They are usually drawn during Indian festivals like Onam, Pongal, Diwali or Tihar (collectively known as Deepawali), Dhana Lakshmi puja, Gaja Lakshmi puja… and on fridays, bacause it is Lakshmis day in most of India.

JHOTI: Traditional folk art of Odisha or Orissa

The woman of Odisha in the month of Margasira (November-December), worship the goddess Lakshmi. It is the harvest season when rice is thrashed and stored. During this auspicious occasion, the mud walls and floors of each house in the village are decorated with murals in white rice past. This art work is locally called Jhoti.

To create the art work an earthy red color called dhau is smeared on the walls on which rice paste called pithau is used for drawing the lines and filling in the designs. The motifs include geometrical and floral designs along with animals and birds. The feet of Goddess Lakshmi is rendered in every jhoti work which remains an integral part of every festivals, belief and celebrations.

Jhoti Chita Odisha

According to Oriya scripture, Goddess Lakshmi is worshiped on every Thursday during the Oriya – harvest month of Margasira. Hence, mostly the decorations are done on Wednesdays and the Lakshmi puja is performed on Thursdays, touring in Orissa we saw beautiful jhoti, especially in Raghurajpur.

The common motifs used in the artwork are lotus flowers, conch shell, the kumbh, peacocks, elephant, fish, and other floral and geometrical designs. The feet of Lakshmi are painted all around the surface.

In other places of West India we see rangolis in front of doors on Fridays, as this day is dedicated to the Mother Goddess – Mahalakshmi, Santhosi Ma, Annapurana and Durga.

Folk songs in Bengal

Chharas, folk rimes or folk songs are the creation of the rural people, transmitted orally from one generation to the next. In BengalChhara’, a rhyme is sung. Food items like rice find their place in many Bengali chharas.

Chhele ghumalo para juralo
borgi elo deshe,
Bulbulite dhan kheyechhe
khajna debo kishe?
Dhan furalo pan furalo khajna debo kee?
Ar kotadin sobur koro rasun bunechhi.

Kids slept, locality silent, looters came, Birds have eaten the paddy, how can I pay the tax?

The rice and betel leaf are finished, what would I pay as tax?

Kindly wait a few days, I have sown garlic.

Sayings of Khanaa or Khanaar Bachaans feature rice alongside sayings of other crops:

Asharer poncho dine ropon je kore dhan
Bare tar krishibol, krishikarje hoi safol.

A farmer who sows rice within first five days in Ashar (~15 June to 15 July), can increase his agricultural property and become successful in farming.

RICE in ceremonies and rituals around India

In Hinduism, rice is revered as a potent symbol of auspiciousness, prosperity and fertility and therefore is used extensively in Hindu rites and rituals.

Rice is the only food grain which does not sprout and hence when wet, does not decay as other food grains do. Rice features in many legends about Buddha’s life. In Sanskrit one of the words for rice, dhaanya, also meant ‘sustainer of the human race‘, and the name of more than one ancient Indian king was derived from it.

The uses of rice in traditional medicine are closely interwoven with its use as a food. The main rice-products used as medicines are made from brown rice and rice oil from rice bran. Some of its traditional uses are supported by scientific studies.

Rice, tinted with the auspicious yellow color of turmeric, is showered onto newly-married couples, and is part of numerous rites and celebrations.

Rice is offered to the deities and used as an offering in the sacred fire of Hindu ritual agni.

Rice is involved in naming ceremonies (namkaran ) and birthday celebrations. It is also important during the Bhai Dhooj (sister-brother day), Diwali (festival of light), Makar Sakranti (January 13), and Pongal (harvest festivals). Major harvest festivals include Pongal in Tamil Nadu, Onam in Kerala, Huthri in Coorg (Kodagu).

Rice particularly plays a significant role in some Hindu samskarasrite of passage ceremonies that signify transition periods in an individual’s life and personality development

In Rajasthan, when a fresh married woman first enters her husband’s house, a measure of rice is kept on the threshold. This she scatters through her new home inviting prosperity and happiness.

Raw rice, mixed with kumkum to redden it, is known as mangala akshadai and showered over newlyweds.

People in Gujarat celebrate Sharad Purnima by soaking flattened rice in sweet milk which they drink at night. Drinking this “dood-powa” on this night is said to protect health.

In Northern India, it is believed that, the doorstep of main entrance is the place where goddess Lakshmi stays. (which means she can easily go out of house. In other words, money is momentary and can slip out of your hand.)

In West India, among Parsis, the Achu Michu ritual is performed to purify the mind and body of the bridal couple. Female members of the family carry two silver platters each containing the following items:

  • egg – symbolizing life giving force,
  • coconut – symbolizing inner and outer worlds,
  • betel leaf and areca nut – symbolizing suppleness and strength,
  • unshelled almond – symbolizing virtue and honesty,
  • dried date – symbolizing resilience,
  • sugar crystal or sugar biscuit – symbolizing sweetness,
  • dry rice – symbolizing abundance,
  • rose petals – symbolizing happiness, and a
  • glass of water – symbolizing purity, sanctity and perfection.

Wedding Rituals

During a Hindu wedding, rice is often sprinkled over the newlywed couple to bless them with a prosperous married life. Because rice is thought to ward off demons, it is poured into the wedding fire by the bride and bridegroom. It is also offered by the couple to their patron household deity after the completion of the marriage ceremony and sprinkled around the house by the new bride to secure blessings on their joint home.

In certain parts of India the couple will stand on a pile of rice during the marriage ceremony.

In India, Sumatra, and some parts of Europe and the United States, rice grains are showered on the newly wedded couple for good luck and a fruitful marriage. It is suggested that this tradition might originate from China.

Women shower rice on the departing couple, in silent blessing that like rice they stay together, united and unbroken, facing all calamities.

The first food a new Indian bride offers her husband is rice, often during the wedding itself.

Rice is believed to scare demons particularly those that check fertility. From this belief perhaps stems the old marriage ritual of pouring rice into the sacrificial fire by the bride and the bridegroom, though it is puffed rice that is used, and the custom of presenting rice tinged with turmeric powder as invitation to the wedding feast. Among more affluent societies, saffron is used instead of turmeric powder for the same purpose.

In certain parts of India, the bridal couple stand on a pile of rice during the marriage ceremony and the guests throw a few grains of rice on the pile at the close of the recitation of the religious text.

According to Vedic Scriptures, a new Bride brings health prosperity to her new family, from that view a bride pushes a bowl of rice with her feet symbolizing that She is entering a new life with great prosperity- the bowl of rice symbolizing prosperity of life. Kicking a bowl of rice depicts that bride should not have any deficit for food in that house as long as she lives there. As in the Atharva veda:

Come you all and meet this bride, she is so good and auspicious harbinger of good fortune. Wish her all well with good fortune and protect her against all adversity and misfortune, then you may leave.

Hindu families believes that a newly wed bride will bring Lakshmi,- fortune, prosperity and money to the house.

In some places the new Bride has to step into a plate of kumkum. For Lakshmi puja, foot prints are drawn- a new bride’s foot step is very auspicious because she is seen as Lakshmi.

First Feeding Ceremony

Rice plays a central role in the Hindu ceremony of annaprashana, a ritualized first feeding, as it is the first solid food placed in a baby’s mouth.

first feeding of the rice ceremony.

The ceremony is conducted in the baby’s sixth or seventh month, depending on local customs and the health of the child, and is arranged by a priest. Simple boiled rice or a sweet rice pudding,kheer is prepared by the mother or grandmother of the child under the chanting of mantras.

The most special offering to Lord Ganesha is the Modak, a ball of sweet coconut/jaggery, covered with a thick rice paste, also a first food fed a child.

INDIA – GOA : Mythology, rituals and history of Ganesh Chaturthi
Modak

Education Initiation Ceremony

The Vidyarambham ceremony initiates Hindu children into the world of education by exposing them to their first letters. During the ceremony, a child is assisted to form letters in a plate covered with dry rice grains. The letters are generally a mantra of prosperity that is again written with gold on the child’s tongue. Rice is utilized in this ceremony as it represents fortune and blessings for the prosperous development of the child.

Pongal- rice harvest celebration

The rice harvest is an occasion for a festival in all Asian countries. In Tamil Nadu ThaiPongal is celebrated and in northern India Makar Sankaranti.

The latter marks the entry of the sun into the constellation of Capricorn and the time of the year when the days begin to lengthen.

This is also the time when rice and sugarcane are ready to harvest. The Pongal is a four-days-long harvest festival and it takes its name from the Tamil word meaning “to boil” and is held in the month of Thai (January-February). This is traditionally the month of weddings.

The First Day

This first day is celebrated as Bhogi festival in honor of Lord Indra, the supreme ruler of clouds that give rains. Homage is paid to Lord Indra for the abundance of harvest, thereby bringing plenty and prosperity to the land.

Legend of Mount Govardhan

The first day of the festival Bhogi Pongal has an association with legend of Lord Indra (the God of clouds and rains) and Lord Krishna.

Earlier, people used to worship Lord Indra who was the King of the deities. This honor given to Lord Indra made him full of pride and arrogance. He thought himself to be the most powerful of all the beings. When child Krishna came to know about this he thought of a plan to teach him a lesson. He persuaded his cowherd friends to worship Mt. Govardhan rather than Lord Indra. This angered Lord Indra and he sent forth the clouds to generate non-stop thunder, lightning, heavy rains and flood the land. As per the tale, Lord Krishna lifted the huge Govardhan Parvat on his little finger to protect the cowherds and the cattle. He kept standing with the lifted mount to save all the humans from the ravaging storm of Lord Indra. The rains continued for three days and at last Indra realized his mistake and divine power of Lord Krishna. He promised humility and begged Krishna’s forgiveness. Since then, Krishna allowed to let the Bhogi celebrations continue in honor of Indra.

Thus, the day gave the origin to the Pongal celebration. The festival got another name of Indra from this legendary story.

Another ritual observed on this day is Bhogi Mantalu, when useless household articles are thrown into a fire made of wood and cow-dung cakes. Girls dance around the bonfire, singing songs in praise of the gods, the spring and the harvest. The significance of the bonfire, in which is burnt the agricultural wastes and firewood is to keep warm during the last lap of winter.

The Second Day

The pooja or act of ceremonial worship is performed when rice is boiled in milk (kheer) outdoors in a earthenware pot and is then symbolically offered to Surya, the sun-god along with other oblations.

A turmeric plant is tied around the pot in which the rice will be boiled. The offerings include the two sticks of sugar-cane in background and coconut and bananas in the dish. A common feature of the pooja, in addition to the offerings, is the kolam, the auspicious design which is traditionally traced in white lime powder before the house in the early morning after bathing.

The Third Day

The third day is known as Mattu Pongal, the day of Pongal for cows. Multi-colored beads, tinkling bells, sheaves of corn and flower garlands are tied around the neck of the cattle and then are worshiped. They are fed with Pongal and taken to the village centers. The resounding of their bells attract the villagers as the young men race each other’s cattle.

Arati is performed on them, so as to ward off the evil eye.

According to a legend, once Shiva asked his bull, Nandi or Basava, to go to the earth and ask the mortals to have an oil massage and bath every day and to eat once a month. Inadvertently, Basava announced that everyone should eat daily and have an oil bath once a month. This mistake enraged Shiva who then cursed Basava, banishing him to live on the earth forever. He would have to plough the fields and help people produce more food.

Thus the association of this day with cattle.

The Fourth Day

The Fourth day is known as Knau or Kannum Pongal day. On this day, a turmeric leaf is washed and is then placed on the ground. Several offerings are placed on the leaf, like the left overs of sweet Pongal and Venn Pongal, ordinary rice as well as rice colored red and yellow, betel leaves, betel nuts, two pieces of sugarcane, turmeric leaves, and plantainsare placed.

All women of the family, young and old, meet in the courtyard. The rice is placed in the center of the leaf, while the women ask that the house and family of their brothers should prosper.

Arati is performed for the brothers with turmeric water, limestone and rice, and this water is sprinkled on the kolam in front of the house.

Of rice and men

Hindu gods and rice

Krishna

Hindu mythology has it that Lord Krishna (a form of Vishnu),was so pleased with his childhood friend Sudama’s gift of two handfuls of roasted rice that in return he gave him the Earth and the Heavens. If his queen, Rukmini, had not stopped him, he would have given Sudama the Cosmos as well.

Shiva

Another Indian legend speaks of the god Shiva, who having created a beautiful woman fell in love with her. In order to marry, she imposed the condition of receiving a food that she would never be tired of. Shiva could not find it, and the maiden died of grief. Forty days later an unknown plant sprouted from her tomb, which Shiva recognized as the food his beloved desired.

He collected its grains and distributed them throughout his kingdom. It was rice possibly.

Indra

“In-da-ra” at Boghaz-Köi in Asia Minor, may belong to the early Iranian period, the Vedic “King of the gods” assumed a distinctly Indian character after localization in the land of the “Five Rivers” (India); he ultimately stepped from his chariot, drawn by the steeds of the Aryan horse tamers, and mounted an elephant; his Heaven, called Swarga, which is situated on the summit of Mount Meru, eclipses Olympus and Valhal by reason of its dazzling Oriental splendour; his combats are reflections of the natural phenomena of Hindustan.

Monsoon in India is Indras and rice growing time

When the hot Indian summer draws to a close, the whole land is parched and athirst for rain; rivers are low and many hill streams have dried up; man and beast are weary and await release in the breathless enervating atmosphere; they are even threatened by famine. Then dense masses of cloud gather in the sky; the tempest bellows, lightnings flash and thunder peals angrily and loud; rain descends in a deluge; once again torrents pour down from the hills and rivers become swollen and turgid. Indra has waged his battle with the Drought Demons, broken down their fortress walls, and released the imprisoned cow-clouds which give nourishment to his human “friends”; the withered pastures become green with generous and rapid growth, and the rice harvest follows.

Indra in harvest rituals

At the barley harvest in spring and the rice harvest in autumn offerings were made to the gods. A sacrificial cake of the new barley or rice was offered to Indra and Agni, a mess of old grain boiled and mixed with milk and water was given to the other gods, and a cake was also offered to Father Heaven and Mother Earth in which clarified butter was an important ingredient; or the offering might consist entirely of butter, because “clarified butter is manifestly the sap of these two, Heaven and Earth; . . . he (the offerer) therefore gladdens these two with their own sap or essence”.

The reason for this harvest offering is explained as follows:

The gods and the demons contended for supremacy. It chanced that the demons defiled, partly by magic and partly by poison, the plants used by men and beasts, hoping thus to overcome the gods. Men ceased to eat and the beasts stopped grazing; all creatures were about to perish because of the famine.

Said the gods: “Let us rid the plants of this.” Then they offered sacrifices and “accomplished all that they wanted to accomplish, and so did the Rishis”.

A dispute then arose among the gods as to who should partake of the offerings of the first fruits– that is, of the new plants which replaced those the demons had poisoned. It was decided to run a race to settle the matter. Indra and Agni won the race and were therefore awarded the cake. These two gods were divine Kshatriyas (noblemen), the others were “common people”. Whatever Kshatriyas conquer, the commoners are permitted to share; therefore the other gods received the mess of old grain.

After the magic spell was removed from the plants by the gods, men ate food and cattle grazed once again. Ever afterwards, at the beginning of each harvest, the first fruits were offered up to Indra and Agni. The fee of the priest was the first-born calf “for that is, as it were, the firstfruits of the cattle”. Indra King of Gods

Lord Indra or the rain god is still associated with the rice crop and found in Pongal – mythology of Krishna in India.

According to another Thai legend, Lord Vishnu asked the Rain-God Indra ‘to teach rice farming to the people.

In Thailand Indra is related to the rice goddess, some believe that the rice goddess is a consort of Indra, or his daughter. In this legend, Devi is the mistress:

Thailand: The Rice Mother and the Hermit

Mae Posop used to be a goddess named Po Sawa Devi, a mistress of Lord Indra. Her duty was to pick flowers and make offerings to Indra. At the end of her life, she vowed to reincarnate to help human beings. She became a plant growing in front of a hermit‘s hut. The hermit saw the plant and realized that he had never seen that kind of plant before. He beat it and it transformed to be Po Sawa Devi. The goddess informed the hermit that she reincarnated from heaven to help human beings. Helping Po Sawa Devi fulfilling her wish, the hermit threw the plant to the sky. The plant was transformed into rice and was spread in every direction.

Learn more about Mae Posop

Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) and rice

Rice cooked in ghee or clarified butter is said to have been the favorite food of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him).

Gautama Buddha and the Rice Goddess

Dharma Ya Khwan Khao, (ธรรมยาขวัญขาว) – jet another name of Mae Posop – in a Tai Lue story in Sipsongpanna version, summarized by Prakong Nimmanahae-minda states:
In Rajagaha city, human beings, deities, Indra and Brahma gathered to listen to the Dharma of the
Buddha. There was a rice grain turning to be a woman standing among the people and deities. Then
the people asked her the reason why standing among them but not paying respect to the Buddha. Ya Khwan Khao then replied that she was superior to the Buddha so she would not pay respect to him. Then, she ran away to stay in the dark world for fifteen years. The people then suffered from starvation. They could not find even one grain of rice.
Indra, Brahma and the four main gods of direction then went to see the Buddha and told him that people suffered from starvation because Ya Khwan Khao ran away. The Buddha then had to ask her to come back. He grasped her arm and put her in his bag. Ya Khwan Khao said that if the previous Buddhas did not eat rice they would not be able to be enlightened. She sacrificed herself by turning to rice kernels. The Buddha then grew rice. People then had rice to eat.

The Buddha taught people to worship the goddess and offered her flowers and candles. He also taught the people that in times of famine, they should chant the Dharma Ya Khwan Khao and worship Ya Khwan Khao.

Pitrs or the forefathers insist on mashed rice cakes as they are all ‘toothless’ like yet-to-be-born babies.

Sujata feeds Siddharta

Rice is held sacred by the Buddhists because when after long meditation, Siddharta’s body became emancipated due to starvation and austerities, it was rice cooked in milk that revived him.

Sujata bringing kheer to Skeletal, Ascetic Buddha. Pic from Bodh Gaya, India.

According to the myth, Sujata milked one hundred cows and made fifty cows drink that milk. Then she milked those fifty cows and gave twenty five cows that milk to drink. Again she-milked those twenty five cows and-gave ten-cows-to— drink that milk. Ultimately she milked ten cows and gave one cow the milk to drink. It was the milk of this last cow that was very light and nourishing. Sujata cooked new rice thrashed by herself with sugar and the milk from this cow and gave it to Siddharta to eat and that revived his
strength after the prolonged austerities he had undergone.

Since it was the rice pudding that saved the life of Siddharta, rice came to be held sacred by the Buddhists.

Gautama Buddha had a disciple Nagarjuna who was a good chemist. One day he heard of a certain sage who applied a special paste to the soles of his feet and vanished into thin air. Nagarjuna became his student and tried to find out the ingredients which went into this paste. One day he prepared his own paste and rubbed it on his feet. He too vanished…. but a few moments later fell flat on the ground. He again applied the paste. Again he vanished and again fell flat. Seeing him bruised and bloody, his guru questioned him. Nagarjuna confessed making the paste in secret and begged forgiveness. His guru smelt the paste and said,

“Son, you forgot only one ingredient-the saathee rice paste.”

Rice plays an important part in Buddhist culture. Gautama Buddha’s father’s name was Shudhodana, which means Pure Rice.

It is said that after his long meditation under a banyan tree, the Buddha attained enlightenment after he had eaten kheer, brought by a forest-dweller Sujata, here the legend:

Sujata milked one hundred cows and made fifty cows drink that milk. Then she milked those fifty cows and gave twenty five cows that milk to drink. Again, she milked those twenty five cows and gave ten cows to drink that milk. Ultimately she milked ten cows and gave one cow the milk to drink. It was the milk of this last cow that was very light and nourishing. Sujata cooked new rice, thrashed by herself, with sugar and milk from this cow, and gave it to Siddhartha to eat which revived his strength after the prolonged austerities he had undergone.

Since, it was keehr that saved the life of Siddhartha, rice came to be held sacred by the Buddhists.

It is new rice that is used for religious ceremonies and not the old rice which is preferred for cooking.

Asia is the most religiously diverse part of the world—Hinduism (and countless sects), Buddhism, Islam, Catholicism in India, Buddhism in Thailand, Islam in Indonesia, Roman Catholicism in the Philippines, mixed Taoism and Confucianism in China, Buddhism and Shinto in Japan, and so on.

In all of these traditions, we found related ideas about the sacred nature of rice, its divine origin, and its special place in human life. Rice culture clearly predates the religious diversity that later became superimposed across the region.

Ancient Indus community, perceived the Divine Female as Mother Goddess or Devi.

Goddesses like Lakshmi, Gauri and Annapurna gave rice to Indians and taught them how to grow it. It was the practice of personifying the beauty and bounty of earth as a goddess that was prevalent in ancient cultures, till today. The ceremonious aspect of rice farming is no longer as prevalent.

As technology changes agriculture, creating a system where harvest comes closer to a guarantee, traditions and mythology, such as this varied rice stories and Rice- Ceremonies have changed. Hinduism has been and continues to be about synthesis and assimilation from time immemorial to today.

The extents of Myths, History and Folklore of RICE in India are hardly to be seized here, there is still much more to discover.

~ ○ ~

Works Cited & Multimedia Sources

Keep exploring: