Art of Rice: Unit 1: The Sacred Grain


Students will be introduced to the cultural significance office to the people of Asia. They will explore the roles of rice deities as portrayed in various Asian countries and engage in activities centered on the role of animals and the importance of the rice granaries, storehouses of the sacred grain.




Activity 1

Read (or duplicate for the students to read) the descriptions of four rice deities in this unit. Look for similarities among the four. Speculate how each achieved the importance associated with him or her in connection with the introduction of rice.

Use worksheet Four Asian Rice Deities to depict these four rice deities. In one square draw an image to symbolically represent one of the deities. On the line below that drawing write the deity's name. Within each of the rice grains radiating from the square, write a pertinent fact about that god(dess). The fact may be the meaning of the name, the country where the deity is found, its appearance, gender, etc. Repeat with the other three deities, one on each quadrant of the paper. To complete the sheet draw a suitable border in the space provided. Rice grains or a ripe rice stalk are suggestions for motifs.

Activity 2

Students can complete an activity based on their knowledge of one of the deities:

Inari (Japan): Compose an acrostic of the deity, writing five phrases, each incorporating a word beginning with a letter of Inari's name. (The same can be done to the names of the other rice deities.)

Sometimes I see him as male
But Now she appears as female
Often riding A fox
Or carrying Rice bundles
S/he will bring me business success Instead ofa good rice crop.

Dewi Sri (Bali): Have students write a story of abundance of something familiar to them, using as model the version of the Dewi Sri story quoted above. Include a human (male or female) and his or her supernatural mate or friend, a promise made but not kept, and the consequences of that broken promise. Students can also construct a cili-inspired figure using leaves, grasses, or twigs.

Mae Phosop (Thailand): As plants are "dressed" in honor of this goddess, students can wrap the twigs of a small tree branch (use colorful yarn, thread, or string) and hang from the branch gifts meant to please and honor someone worthy of the honor. Or their wrapped branch can be used to hold hangings of praises or promises, in hope of receiving good fortune.

Activity 3

At Lakshmi puja, the seasonal worship of Lakshmi, Bengali women use rice flour to make designs on the ground that represent her footsteps entering their homes. Over a period of several days, let students trace a path from one place in the classroom or schoolyard to another, making designs with chalk showing their footsteps. The pathway could be a metaphor for a life journey (or a journey toward a shorter term goal). As women do for Lakshmi, students should embellish the footprints with drawings of flowers. Since Bengali women begin Lakshmi Day celebrations with a poem, students should read an original poem about the path taken.

Activity 4

Animals play important roles in rice cultures, whether as companions to deities, as bearers of good fortune, or as helpers in many of the tasks performed by the rice farmer. Let students take time to consider the role of animals (pets and other creatures) in their own lives. Then have students select animals to which they can relate and take one as his or her own special creature. They may talk or write about why they chose the animals. Cover a bulletin board with a grid of the students' animal drawings, one for each student, interspersed with short poems or reasons for their selections.

Students can find out more about how respect for animals is part of the tradition of many cultures and how animals are often associated with rituals that govern human behavior. Noteworthy among these are many Native American and African peoples.

Activity 5

As rice growers in Asia construct a variety of granaries, students may design and construct receptacles for something they value. You may choose to limit the materials used to items readily available (nothing to be purchased), or to natural items or recycled items, or a miniature house may become the basis for their project.

What will students put in their containers? Why do the items they select hold special meaning or value to them? Write a poem expressing the significance of the items and put it in the container also. Find a special place in the classroom to display these receptacles.