Such paddles were used to even the ends of the sheaths of rice that were bound together after harvesting and stored in elaborate rice barns (jineng). Most of these were functional and undecorated. Examples like this, however, were presumably carved for ritual purposes such as the first harvest of the year.
The image is that of Dewi Sri, the beloved goddess of rice, who according to Balinese myth sacrificed her own body to bless humans with the most important of crops — rice, the Balinese staff of life.
All things associated with rice including the knives used to cut the stalks, paddles and rice barns were governed but ritual and taboos out of respect to the sacred goddess.
The delicate and unusually realistic carving shows many similarities with archaic Balinese masks with large open eyes, a realistic face and her mouth slightly open to expose her upper row of teeth a convention that dates from the Majapahit Empire (14th century). There are traces of black ink and white.
Coincidently the mask is also comparable in its expression to the Northwest Coast masks of American natives. It displays a perfect balance between ‘the ideal’ and realism.