The story of Dewi Sri gives us much insight into the lives and culture of the Balinese peoples. Specifically it helps us to understand what they valued most during the formative years of their society - and perhaps still value most in modern day. Dewi Sri was the rice and fertility goddess of the pre-hindu and pre-islam peoples of Java and Bali and this is her story.

Once upon a time the supreme god Batara Guru wished to build a mighty palace and he charged all the gods in the pantheon with the responsibility of contributing something towards its construction under penalty of death. All of the gods were happy to contribute, but one god, the Snake God Anta, had no arms or feet with which to provide labor or effort and so he was very scared what might happen to him.

Anta went to his friends for advice but they had none to offer. In despair, Anta began crying and, much to his surprise, as his tear drops struck the earth they transformed into three eggs. His friends suggested that perhaps these eggs, which were clearly mysterious and possibly magical, should be given in lieu of his labor to Batara Guru - they were certain this would save Anta's life. So, with the three eggs carried in his mouth, he made his way to the supreme god.

An illustration of Antaboga

An illustration of Antaboga, the pre-Islamic pre-Hinduism Indonesian Snake God. Art by the Anantaboga Projekt on Behance.

Along his way he met a short-tempered crow who asked him for directions. Being unable to speak with the eggs in his mouth, he mumbled to the crow who thought Anta was being disrespectful to him. Immediately he dove at Anta, knocking the eggs from his mouth and breaking two of them! The Snake God managed to save the last egg and escape from the attacks of the angry crow.

Illustration of Dewi Sri from the game Heroes of Newerth

Dewi Sri depicted in the online MMO "Heroes of Newerth". While this picture is overtly sexualized and a re-imagining of the Goddess's form, it does show the modern day popularity of the mother of the rice padi.

After many days, Anta finally arrived at the new palace of Batara Guru and offered his last egg to the supreme god. Batara Guru accepted this offer and requested, in addition, that Anta nest with the egg until it hatched. Amazingly, when the egg hatched, out stepped a beautiful girl, Nyi Pohaci Sanghian Sri. Batara Guru and his wife took this girl in as their daughter. But soon, there was a problem. Nyi Pohaci was so beautiful that her new father began to feel passion for her and now the supreme god's virtue and the good girl's chastity were both at risk.

In order to keep the peace, the other gods conspired to kill Nyi Pohaci - and they did. In the place where they buried the goddess, coconuts, spices, vegetables, grass, flowers, fruit, bamboo, and rice grew from her remains almost immediately. Over time, Nyi Pohaci became known as Dewi Sri (this may be because of reincarnation), and now you know her origins.

The Balinese peoples love for Dewi Sri is evident in that she is the only principal deity who did not originate from Indian Hinduism - it is not often that gods from a previous pantheon survive when a new religion is put into place. In this way, we might compare Dewi Sri to the Celt's Brigit, who survived the Christianization of the pagan pantheon as Saint Bridgit.

While there are some themes present in the story of Dewi Sri's origins which may be compared to many other fertility goddesses across the many pantheons of pre-monotheistic mythology, such as the need to protect her chastity at any cost, even her death, I find Dewi Sri to be unique among her counterparts and contemporaries in the way she is worshiped.

Dewi Sri Padi Shrine

One of many padi shrines for the goddess Dewi Sri.

Like other Eastern gods and goddesses, Dewi Sri is worshiped at shrines... unlike other Eastern gods and goddesses however, her shrines are located exclusively within the very rice fields (or padis) she is said to have given birth to. In addition to this, even though most Indonesians identify as Sunni Muslims or Balinese Hindus, the popularity of this animist-era goddess is suggested to be unrivaled in the countries within which she is worshiped. In short, Dewi Sri has a staying power that few other pre-Abrahamic gods or goddesses seem to have.

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