The Legend of Rice

I first read this Chinese legend from a cousin’s tattered textbook. Retold from my faulty memory, so please forgive the details.

***

In the past, men were punished by the gods because of their many sins. A great rain fell upon the land and swelled the waters. Rivers flowed strong and washed away houses; the seas invaded the shore and destroyed lives. A flood, as was never seen before, ravaged the land.

After a few days, the purple waters receded. The surviving people climbed down from the mountains and tall trees to find their houses ruined. Many people and animals were dead, and grieving was heard all throughout the land. There was also no food, and all were starving.

Looking down from heaven, Kuan Yin, the goddess of mercy took pity on the people. She came down and looked everywhere at what she could do to save them. Fruits stored in bins were waterlogged and eaten by worms. Trees were dying, and vines were rotting. The only new life to be found were on the shallow swamps, where still water was left. Green grass grew there stubbornly.

To these grass Kuan Yin found hope for the people. Walking towards the stalks, she opened her bodice and squeezed her breasts. Her milk fell on the buds and it was rice.

The people thanked the goddess for her bounty and survived. The goddess’ gift of life and nourishment today is the grain responsible for most of the world’s nourishment.

***

It is said that great was the compassion felt by Kuan Yin that she let out all her milk on the grass. But there was a lot of people to be fed, so she squeezed a little more. On the grass spilled milk, and a little blood, to give us red rice.

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