The roles of epigenetic mechanisms, including small-RNA-mediated silencing, in plant meiosis largely remain unclear, despite their importance in plant reproduction. This study unveiled that rice chromosomes are reprogrammed during the premeiosis-to-meiosis transition in pollen mother cells (PMCs). This large-scale meiotic chromosome reprogramming (LMR) continued throughout meiosis I, during which time H3K9 dimethylation (H3K9me2) was increased, and H3K9 acetylation and H3S10 phosphorylation were broadly decreased, with an accompanying immunostaining pattern shift of RNA polymerase II. LMR was dependent on the rice Argonaute protein, MEIOSIS ARRESTED AT LEPTOTENE1 (MEL1), which is specifically expressed in germ cells prior to meiosis, because LMR was severely diminished in mel1 mutant anthers. Pivotal meiotic events, such as pre-synaptic centromere association, DNA double-strand break initiation and synapsis of homologous chromosomes, were also disrupted in this mutant. Interestingly, and as opposed to the LMR loss in most chromosomal regions, aberrant meiotic protein loading and hypermethylation of H3K9 emerged on the nucleolar organizing region in the mel1 PMCs. These results suggest that MEL1 plays important roles in epigenetic LMR to promote faithful homologous recombination and synapsis during rice meiosis.