Vedic Agricultural Practices

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Aryakrishak Mohan Shankar Deshpande extracted the agricultural practices from ancient Indian texts to devise a method of farming, which has helped more than four lakh farmers reap bumper crops.

Since the beginning of recorded time, India has grown its own food without chemicals and without fertilizers, using just the laws of nature and the beautiful products of plants and animals to aid soil fertility and crop immunity. In the 21st century we are once again going back to our roots and Organic Farming is gaining momentum once again. Here’s a sneak-peek into the treasure trove of ancient Indian agricultural sciences,

TIW AD

Agriculture, krishi, finds extensive mention in many vedic texts such as Krishi Parashara, Kautilya’s Artha-shastra, the Sangam literature of early Tamils, Manusmriti, Varāhamihira’s Brhat-Samhita, Amarakosha, Kashyapiya- Krishisukti, and Surapala’s Vrikshayurveda. These texts provide information about agriculture, horticulture, arboriculture and plant biodiversity.

Forests were considered very important in the ancient times. In the vedic age, protection of forests was emphasized for ecological balance (Nene and Sadhale, 1997). In the Artha-shastra (321–296 BC) Kautilya mentions that the superintendent of forests had to collect forest produce through the forest guards.

FORECAST OF ANNUAL MONSOON RAINS

Since crop production depended almost entirely on seasonal monsoon rains, it was imperative that methods of predicting rainfall were developed. In Krishi Parashara (c. 400 BC), Parashara details techniques of forecasting rain, the main technique being based on the positions of the Moon and the Sun in the sky. Varāhamihira (505–587 AD) in his Brhat-Samhita considered lunar mansions in predicting seasonal rainfall.

TYPES OF LANDS

Rig veda identified productive and non-productive soils (Sharma, 1991). The Amarakosha (c. 400 BC) (Jha, 1999) described 12 types of lands in its chapter on Bhumivargaha, depending upon the fertility of the soil, irrigation, and physical characteristics. These were:  urvara (fertile), ushara (barren), maru (desert), aprahata (fallow), shadvala (grassy), pankikala (muddy), jalaprayah (watery), kachchaha (land contiguous to water), sharkara (full of pebbles  and pieces of limestone), sharkaravati (sandy), nadimatruka (land watered from a river), and devamatruka (rainfed). In the chapter on Vaisyavargaha, soils based on suitability for specific crops are mentioned. For example, vraiheyam (vrihi rice and corn), shaleyam (kalama rice), yavyam (awned barley), yavakyam (awnless barley), tilyam (sesame), mashyam (black gram),  maudginam (mung bean), etc. are crops mentioned in relation to the soils.

Surapala’s Vrikshayurveda (c. 1000 AD) (Sadhale, 1996) mentions three types of  land – jangala (arid), anupa (marshy), and samanya (ordinary) – further subdivided by color into black, white, pale, dark red, red, and yellow and by taste into sweet, sour, salty, pungent, bitter, and astringent. It is important to note that one of the most sustained land use practices, since the days of Kautilya, has been the use of river beds for raising cucurbits throughout India.

IRRIGATION

Rig veda mentions irrigation of crops by river water through channels as well as irrigation from wells. Artha-shastra of Kautilya refers to sluice gates of tanks and mentions that “persons letting out the water of tanks at any other place other than their sluice-gate shall pay a fine of six panas; and persons who obstruct the flow of water from the sluice-gate of tanks shall also pay the same fine.” It is further stated that “the water of a lower tank, excavated later on, shall not irrigate the field already irrigated by a higher tank and the natural flow of water from a higher to a lower tank shall not be stopped, unless the lower tank has ceased to be useful for three consecutive years.”

Archaeological investigations in Inamgaon in Maharashtra, India (1300 BC), revealed a large mud embankment on a stone foundation for diverting floodwater from the Ghod River through a channel.

SEED AND SOWING

The importance of good seed was so clearly recognized that the law-giver Manu recommended severe punishment for the adulteration of seed. Seeds were covered with flours of rice, black gram, and sesame to ensure good germination. Surapala listed several herbs as seed treatment materials for shrubs and trees. Cow dung has long been used for treating cotton and some other seeds by a large number of farmers.

The art of sowing rice seed in small areas, i.e., in nurseries, and transplanting the seedlings is not a recent practice. It was first perfected in the deltas of Godavari and Krishna rivers in the 1st century CE.

MANURES

According to Parashara, crops grown without manure will not give good yield. In the Agni Puraṇa, application of ‘excreta of sheep and goat and pulverized barley and sesame allowed to be soaked in water for seven nights’ is recommended to increase flowering and fruiting of trees. Panchagavya, a mixture of five cow products, is a fermented culture of cow dung, urine, milk, curd and ghee (other ingredients are sometimes added to increase fermentation). Studies have shown that panchagavya works as a bio-fertilizer, enhancing growth and productivity of crops and increasing resistance to diseases.

PESTS AND THEIR MANAGEMENT

Parashara used the word ‘disease’ in Sanskrit (vyadhi) to differentiate from visible pests. Varāhamihira’s chapter on treatment of trees mentioned that trees are vulnerable to disease when exposed to cold weather, strong winds, and hot sun; this possibly laid the foundation of classifying tree diseases based on humours such as vata, pitta and kapha, which were formalized in later centuries in Surapala’s Vrikshayurveda.

OUR AGRICULTURAL HERITAGE

KRISHI PARASHARA – Authored by Mahrishi Parashar, grandson of Mahrishi Vashista, the text consists of two hundred and forty-three verses. It is the theory of agriculture expounded in such a manner that the farmers would benefit by its application. This treatise includes observations on all the aspects of agriculture such as meteorological observations relating to agriculture, management of agriculture, management of cattle, agricultural tools and implements, seed collection and preservation, ploughing and all the agricultural processes involved right from preparing fields to harvesting and storage of crops.

The treatise advocates a symbiotic relationship, organic farming techniques, crop management, holistic farming, or rather sustainable use of available resources all details of which are given in Krishi Parashara.

VRIKSHAYURVEDA – It deals with an ancient science of plant life. Vrikshayurveda means Ayurveda of plants and dealing with every aspect related to the life of plants. It discusses various topics connected with the science of plant life such as procuring, preserving and treating of seeds before planting, selection of soil ph, nourishments and fertilizers, plant diseases and plant protection from internal and external diseases etc.

MORE USEFUL: Descriptions of how 30 plant species can be used to control plant diseases. “Modern science says 20 of those species contain antimicrobial properties,” explains Y.L. Nene, an agricultural scientist.

There is only one ancient copy on palm leaves of Surapala’s Vrikshayurveda (c.1000 AD) in the world preserved at the Bodleian Library, Oxford University, UK. A bulletin with Sanskrit text, its English translation, and commentaries by scientists was published in 1996 by Asian Agri-History Foundation.

References:

  • Shri Mohan Shankar Deshpande’s website http://rishikrishi.co.in/index.html
  • Krushi-Parasharaha -1 By Sage Parasara Translation: Shri Dwarkaprasad Shastri Re-Translation: Virendra Battu, India
  • Vrukshaurved- http://rxayurveda.com/vrikshayurveda-an-introduction/
  • Tested wisdom: http://indiatoday.intoday.in/story/10th-century-treatise-vrikshayurveda-tells-you-how-to-battle-pests-and-disease/1/282903.html
  • Potential of Some Methods Described in Vrikshayurvedas in Crop Yield Increase and Disease Management – YL Nene Asian Agri-History Foundation, Secunderabad 500009, AP, India
  • http://asianagrihistory.org/articles/YL-Nene.pdf
  • Science in India with Special Reference to Agriculture* – P M Tamboli (International Programs, 1114 Symons Hall College Park, University of Maryland, Maryland 20742-5539, USA) and Y L Nene (Asian Agri-History Foundation, Secunderabad 500 009, Andhra Pradesh, India)
  • http://vedalok.com/images/Science%20in%20India%20with%20Special%20Reference%20to%20Agriculture.pdf
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