Ta-no-kami: Water God of the rice paddy

Ta-no-kami: “Kami of the rice paddy,” a tutelary of rice production. The general term ta no kami can be found nationwide. While the ta-no-kami has undergone synthesis and conflated with other folk beliefs and deities from other lineages, such as Daikoku and the Lord of the Mountain (Yama no Kami) and is now thought of as a male mountain spirit, it is plausible that the early Ta no kami was originally a female water goddess, given that such a goddess was venerated throughout Eurasia, and much of Central and Southeast Asia and given that the sound of “Ta” is similar to the “Da” shortened Indian form of the Danu / Dana / Dhanya goddess.

The Ta no kami is depicted usually as an abstract deity or holding phallic symbols — see Green Shinto’s Ta no kami for an image of the deity, and the article from which the excerpted description of the deity below was taken:

“The Ta no Kami cult is widespread throughout the country, and is at the heart of Japanese rural folk cosmology. The Japanese imbue rice with a sacred reverence … In most regions, the Ta no Kami are represented abstractly, with tree branches decorated with strips of paper, sometimes stuck into mounds of sand. In a restricted area of southern Kyushu, however, there is a tradition, dating back to at least the early 18th century, of carving unique stone representations, locally called Ta no Kansa. This tradition centers in Kagoshima Prefecture but includes a small portion of neighboring Miyazaki Prefecture as well…”

It is possible that the Ta-no-kami (lit. the “Ta” deity) may have been derived from the Eurasian Proto-Indo-European Dana/Danu->Da deity.

Like the Ta-no-kami which is clearly a water god,  Danu, is associated with the Celtic goddess also regarded as a river or water flow deity … the name of the river Danube is believed to be derived from this Celtic origin. Hindu mythology similarly, has a goddess called Danu, who may be the Indo-European cognate. When we consider the etymology of the word “danu” as a word for “rain” or “liquid”… that dānu is compared to Avestan dānu “river”, and the existence of a Danu river in Nepal, and the many river names of the Eurasian steppes like DonDanubeDneiperDniestr, etc. the association is likely.

“The Rigvedic Danu was the mother of a race of Asuras called the Danavas. A shortened form of the name appears to have been . The Greek goddess of agriculture Demeter (Da-mater, Da being the Doric form of De, see Online Etymology Dictionary), is also associated with water several times. [2] Julius Pokorny reconstructs the name from the PIE root da:-: “flow, river”, da:-nu: “any moving liquid, drops”, da: navo “people living by the river, Skyth. nomadic people (in Rigveda water-demons), fem. Da:nu primordial goddess , in Greek Danaoi(Danaans, Greek tribe, Egypt. Danuna).” — Source: Danu (Irish goddess)

According to Balinese Cosmology and its Role in Agricultural Practices by Julie Melowsky:

In Balinese cosmology, the Goddess Dewi Danu resides at and rules the lake on the second-highest peak in Bali, Mount Batur. Her counterpart, the God of Mount Agung, rules the highest and is symbolically associated with kings and kingdoms. The Goddess has no such relationship with powerful beings on earth. Instead she rules over several hundred subaks, or associations of farmers who share water from a single source, who make pilgrimages to her temple called Pura Ulun Danu Batur, or the Temple of the Crater Lake. The goddess “is believed to be responsible for the gift of the waters that irrigate their fields” (Lansing, 1987), therefore farmers believe that, “’those who do not follow her laws may not possess her rice terraces’” (Lansing, 1995). There are twenty-four permanent priests, chosen in childhood to serve the goddess at her temple. In addition, there is a single high priest, Jero Gde, who is selected as a young child by a virgin priestess who, in a trance, allows the Goddess of the Lake to posses her voice to describe the boy she has chosen”.

From the above passage, just as Mt Agung is the male counterpart of the Danu goddess (the role of the Dew-Danu & Agung pair in creation is similar to that of Izanami and Izanagi in the creation of the island, see Lansing’s chap 4 “The Goddess and the Green Revolution“, p. 78 of The Balinese), the Japanese Ta-no-Kami have been merged with the Yama-no-Kami, since the Danu goddess is also considered a goddess of the Underworld.

And in the Sanskrit cognate, we have “dhānya” which means “rice paddy”; CC Adi 13.114 dhānya  paddy; CC Adi 13.117dhānya-rāśi  heaps of paddy; CC Adi 12.12.  “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” …  “At a harvest festival, Thai Pongal, rice is ceremoniously cooked. Surya, God of the sun, is worshiped and the nature spirits are thanked. …But this reverence for rice is not restricted to India. The Angkabau of Sumatra use special rice plants to denote the Rice Mother, Indoea Padi. The people of Indochina treat ripened rice in bloom like a pregnant woman, capturing its spirit in a basket. Rice growers of the Malay Peninsula often treat the wife of the cultivator as a pregnant woman for the first three days after storing the rice. Even the Sundanese of West Java, who consider themselves Muslims, believe rice is the personification of the rice goddess Dewi Sri.”(Source: Rice, Rice lore, and the Rice Goddess Dewi Sri). 

According to Wikipedia’s entry on Tano Kami:

“According to their agricultural calendars, farmers observe kami ceremonies related to Tano Kami in the spring and autumn. These include the ceremony of the beginning of a year, beginning of farming in early spring, the start of rice plant farming, rice plant transplantation (accepting kami at the start of transplantation, called Saori) (sending kami at the end is called Sanaburi) and harvest time. They also pray for the elimination of disasters or harmful insects. Finally, they conduct the ceremony of thanking kami for a good harvest, the real ceremonies and their names differ from place to place, although dancing, eating a special dish or rice cakes, or visits to the community kami, and burning ceremonies are some of them. Scarecrows are variations of Tano Kami, since they are expected to prevent bad spirits of animals and birds. Niinamesai is one of the festivals of the Japanese Imperial family, the eating of freshly harvested rice with kami, a variation of the festivals of Tano Kami.”

From the above, we begin to see the connection between the Mother goddess Dana-Ta-Dewi of the water flow-paddy and who is consequently identified with all life that emerges or issues from her, be it the rice grain that grows out of it, or the serpent that was observed to be frequently found in rice fields. Unfortunately, we can also attribute to this connection, the reason why maidens in ancient times were frequently sacrificed to the waters or in peril to be taken by the voracious appetites of the serpents that inhabited the marshes, lakes or paddies…and therefore in need of rescuing by some mythical local folk hero.

The Hindu Danu, mentioned in the Rigveda, is the primordial goddess and mother of the Danavas. The word Danu described the primeval waters which this deity perhaps embodied. In the Rigveda (I.32.9), she is identified as the mother of Vrtra, the demonic serpent slain by Indra

In Japan, the land is rampant with ancient myths of the dragon that inhabits the marshes, lakes, water pools, paddies. The Japanese mythical equivalent of Indra the serpent-slayer, is Susa-noo (lit. of “Susa” or “man” from Susa, suggesting a West Asian-Persian connection) and his slaying the eight-headed Orochi serpent strongly suggests that the Susanoo myth is derived from the same Indo-Iranian (also recalling West Asian the Hittite and Sumerian archetypal dragon slayings) sources as the Indra-Vrtra pairing.

If the Japanese Ta-no-kami originated from an Indo-Iranian Danu-Dana-Da deity source, the idea that the all-pervasive ancient belief that dragons and serpents inhabit the watery pools, paddies and rivers then makes sense, since the Orochi serpent is the cognate of Vrtra and the Ta-no-kami must then be a cognate of Danu/Dana, the primordial goddess of the waters, from which emerge the watery dragon-serpent.

Other indications that the Ta-no-kami deity come from the same traditions as the Proto-Indo-European ones, are the associations with fertility and with of vestal virgins, cranes and her role as protectress of the crops from the storm and her association of the boar/pig.

From “The Roman Goddess Ceres” by Barbette Stanley Spaeth (at pps. 128 – 139 ):

“… Grain, particularly wheat is a characteristic attribute of Demeter/Ceres in both Greek and Roman art, where she is often represented wearing the wheat-stalk crown holding stalks of wheat, or having wheat at her side.19”
Demeter is also identified with the “crane which was considered in antiquity to be the herald of Demeter (Porph. Abst. 3.5). This interpretation of the crane provides a direct connection between the side figures of the relief, the nymphs, and its central figure, the goddess Demeter/Ceres.
The cult sites of Demeter were generally near water, either salt or fresh, and special arrangements were made at many sites for the use of water in the rituals of the goddess. Her worship at many sites is frequently combined with that of the lcoal water divinities, and Demeter herself may bear cultic epithets that connect her with water nymphs.96 …
“In her role as a protectress of agricultural fertility, Ceres guards the crops against the storm.110 In the Georgics Vergil instructs the farmer to guard the storms that destroy crops by worshipping the gods, especially Ceres:

“Among the first things, revere the gods and repeat the annual rites to great Ceres, worshipping on the joyful grasses near the very end of winter, now in the fair spring. (Cerg. G. 1.338-340)
The central figure of the relief is Ceres, who protects the farmers and the crops from the storm signaled by the attributes of the two nymphs represented at the sides of the relief.
On yet another level, the two nymphs beings of fresh water and the sea, point to the goddess’s connections with two different kinds of water, as Piccaluga has defined them: “useful”water (acqua utile), that is, frewh water to be used for watering plants, for fertilization; and “nonuseful” water (acqua non utile), that is, sea water, or water as an element, a power of nature.111 “Useful”water is associated with Demeter/Ceres as an agricultural divinity who controls the fertility of plants. “Nonuseful” water is tied to her role as one of the supernatural beings who gave form to the cosmos at its time of origin through manipulating hte elements of nature. In this association, the goddess operates as a liminal divinity who helped to bring about the transition from chaos to order at the very beginning of the universe.”

In Gabi Greve’s Ta no Kami Yama no Kami, he associates Ta no Kami with the wolf:

The belief in the Ta no Kami might be related to the WOLF lore in Japan.

… there seems also to have existed a belief that if one encountered an okami (wolf) on a mountain and “treated him kindly”, he would bestow kindness in return, and protect the man against other dangers. This may have to do with the belief, current in many parts of Japan, that the okami is a messenger of the gods, especially also of Yama-no-kami, the Mountain-deity, who during agricultural activities of the humans descends from her mountain residence to act as Ta-no-kami, the Field-deity.

Is it mere coincidence that grain goddess Ceres (the Roman equivalent of Demeter) is considered to originate from the twins Romulus and Remus who were nursed by the wolf when discovered by the god Mars on the marshy banks of the River Tiber? See p. 141 “The Roman Goddess Ceres” by Barbette Stanley Spaeth.

And is it also coincidence that the Ta no Kami is associated by people in the Izumo region with the wild boar — they use the term i no kami (kami of the wild boar), just as the boar or sow was sacrificed to Demeter, see p. 217, G. Elliot Smith:

“This fact seems to have played some part in fixing upon the pig the notoriety of being “an unclean animal”.  But it was mainly for other reasons of a very different kind that the eating of swine-flesh was forbidden. The tabu seems to have arisen originally because the pig was a sacred animal identified with the Great Mother and the Water God, and especially associated with both these deities in their lunar aspects. … The sacrifice of the sow to Demeter is merely a late variant of Hathor’s sacrifice of a human being to rejuvenate the king Re. How the real meaning of the story became distorted I have already explained in Chapter II (“Dragons and Rain Gods”). The killing of the sow to obtain a good harvest is homologous with the sacrifice of a maiden to obtain a good inundation of the river. The sow is the surrogate of the beautiful princess of the fairy tale. Instead of the maiden being slain, in one case, as Andromeda, she is rescued by the hero, in the other her place is taken by a sow. …

The pig was identified not only with the Great Mother, but with Osiris and Set also. With the pig’s lunar and astral associations 1 do not propose to deal in these pages, as the astronomical aspects of the problems are so vast as to need much more space than the limits imposed in this statement. But it is important to note that the identification of Set with a pig was perhaps the main factor in riveting upon this creature the fetters of a reputation for evil. The evil dragon was the representative of both Set and the Great Mother (Sekhet or Tiamat); and both of them were identified with the pig. Just as Set killed Osiris, so the pig gave Adonis his mortal injury. 1 When these earthly incidents were embellished with a celestial significance, the conflict of Horus with Set was interpreted as the struggle between the forces of light and order and the powers of darkness and chaos. When worshipped as a tempest-god the Mesopotamian Rimmon was known as “the pig” and, as “the wild boar of the desert,” was a form of Set.”– “Evolution of the Dragon” by G. Elliot Smith

In “The Roman Goddess Ceres” Spaeth at p. 118 tells us that and that both Demeter and Ceres were associated with fertility and that Demeter is linked with children with a variety of epithets given her such as “Child Nourisher(kouro trophos)” while Ceres, from an inscription, is known as the “mother of the fields (mater agrorum)”. Rituals for Ceres included carrying the wedding torch in honor of Ceres during the festival and the sprinkling of water on the wedding bride so that she might come home chaste and pure to her husband, in order to share fire and water with her husband (see p. 116).

These torch festivals and water-sprinkling festival rites are well attested practices in Japan as well as in Southwest China and Southeast Asia, carried along the Indian northern to northeast corridor to Southeast and into Japan.

Sources and references

Tanokami(Encyclopedia of Shinto)

Rice, Rice lore, and the Rice Goddess Dewi Sri

Danu (Wikipedia)

Tano Kami (Wikipedia)

Ta no Kami Yama no Kami (Gabi Greve)

The Roman Goddess Ceres” by Barbette Stanley Spaeth

Evolution of the Dragon” by G. Elliot Smith

Balinese Cosmology and its Role in Agricultural Practices by Julie Melowsky

J. Stephen Lansing, The Balinese, see chap 4 “The Goddess and the Green Revolution”

Yugawara Yukake Festival

The Water-Sprinkling Festival


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