Throughout East and South Asia, rice cultivation stretches back many thousands of years, and it remains an immensely important foodstuff in both regions today. Over its very long history, this simple grain has acquired a vast number of symbolic meanings. While these connotations vary in specifics from region to region, they also display certain common themes.
At its most basic, rice is a symbol of abundance and fertility- traits it shares with other crops such as wheat and maize. As a staple food for so many people, it has also been assigned numerous positive values that could be considered fertility “derivatives”; these include good luck/prosperity, rebirth, health, wealth, and happiness. Rice is often associated with the divine, and so can symbolize immortality, as well as both physical and spiritual nourishment. These associations can be found throughout the regions where rice has long been a staple, but individual cultures also have their own stories about this most essential of edibles:
● Although variations in landscape and climate means that rice cannot be grown everywhere in China, its importance from the earliest days of civilization is clear: Traditional Chinese mythology credits Shen Nong – a god/culture hero – with inventing agriculture and teaching the people how to cultivate rice.
● Colored rice flour is used to create elaborate patterns, known as rangoli, on the ground in front of homes, often during religious festivals. Associated with Lakshmi, goddess of wealth and abundance, rangoli are also a reminder of material impermanence, and are meant to be gradually worn away over time.
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