Krshi Vijnana (कृषिविज्ञानम्)

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Krshi Vijnana (Samskrit: कृषिविज्ञानम्) refers to the science of agriculture. Cultivation involves a long process starting from the preparation of land, to sowing of crops under favourable climate conditions, followed by crop protection and harvesting at the appropriate time. Ancient farmers planned their field activities involving meticulous coordination of climatic conditions with knowledge of soil and crop combinations for good yields. It involved watching the skies for cloud formation, prediction of rainfall and soil preparation thereafter selecting the appropriate crop to be sown (based on panchanga) followed by seed sowing and appropriate steps to manure, pollinate and protect the yield from pests. Thus it cannot be more emphasised that a Krshaka (farmer) was highly knowledgeable in the vijnana (scientific) aspects of cultivation, such as astronomy, soil sciences, meteorology, hydrology and irrigation techniques, genetics (rotation of crops and seed selection), ecology, botany, plant protection, mechanics (for making implements) and animal husbandry used in modern parlance.

Bharatiya way of life involves a divine involvement in all activities, so also Krshi karma or Sasyaveda (agriculture) was revered highly for such an activity sustains life of all beings on earth. In the present day there is a dire need for research on traditional agricultural practices to find out the ethos behind it and adopt it in the modern times.

Sadly in the present day due to the so called political and economic development and even in the presence of "advanced technology", the farmer is adversely affected in many ways and is at the lowest economic strata of the society.

परिचयः ॥ Introduction

Agricultural operations involving crop production comprised soil-preparation inclusive of tillage and fertilization, cropping system, harvesting, crop-processing and preservation. Local storage of the food grains, and fruits were given importance thus sustaining local economy and trade was an important aspect that contributed to the growth of the overall economy of the country until the recent centuries. Newer techniques to protect the agricultural produce and transportation to distant places are significant developments brought about by industrial revolution which has led to opening up of new avenues of trade and commerce in the recent few centuries.

However, with the advent of modern systems, newer problems such as pollution of air, water, land and other environmental changes have greatly disturbed the ecological balance. Needless to say that it is extremely important to research our ancient heritage to adopt integrative agricultural practices for the future of mankind. In the present context, we present the agricultural operations and the rationale (shastra) behind such activities as given in the ancient and later day classical texts. There are many samskrit texts hiterto unexplored and are to be deciphered to understand the shastra work presented. An understanding of the terminology used, the processes outlined will lead to new revelations that can be applied to the present systems, hence a study of these shastra texts is the dire need of the hour.

Krshi Shastra References

A number of classical texts related to agricultural science are available namely, Kautilya's Arthashastra, Patanjali's Mahabhasya, Krishi-Parashara, Varahmihira's Brhat Samhita, and Surapala's Vrikshayurveda are some of the manuscripts that contain valuable information about different aspects such as agricultural implements, selection of seeds, land preparation, pest control, storage, plant nutrients, grafting, soil selection, plant propagation, diseases and plant protection, mixed cropping, crop rotation, intercropping, shifting cultivation, terrace farming etc. India's traditional agriculture has proved to be sustainable by maintaining the country's fertility and biodiversity over centuries.[1]

Arsha Vyavasaya

Rigveda extols the Kshetrapati (क्षेत्रपतिः) in the sukta (4.57) which summarizes all the activities of a farmer. We will be victorious and happy with the association of our friend and owner of the field, the Kshetrapati. Let the owner of the field bestow upon us cattle, horses and nourishment.

Agriculture is an age old practice and ancient Indians had good knowledge of soil, seeds and sowing method including transplantation, seasons of plantation, use of pesticide, manuring and irrigation. Post-harvest operations of crops, for consumption like grinding, pounding, winnowing, domestic operation like baking, firing, grilling, steaming, cooking under pressure, churning butter and kitchen utensils etc were common. The Soma juice and other fermented drinks with details of base materials, ferments and manufacturing techniques were known from ancient times.

Broadly the processes which are performed by a farmer include the following eight steps from crop selection to harvesting.

  1. Crop selection
  2. Land preparation
  3. Seed selection
  4. Seed sowing (including mixed crops)
  5. Irrigation (सेचनविधानानि)
  6. Crop growth
  7. Fertilizing the crops
  8. Harvesting and storage

For performing these processes, traditional knowledge of farming is available in aspects such as prediction of rainfall, tillage, mixed cropping, crop rotation, crop protection, terrace farming, and agricultural implements.

The development of agriculture is reflected in the number of tools and implements fashioned by the people of different communities. Of the different stages in cultivation the impact of implements is seen in the first and basic one, that is tillage. The nature of operations under the tillage may vary from region to region and so will vary the implements used.

कृषकः ॥ Farmer

Farmers are the central and integral part of an agricultural system. No one can even think of agricultural practices sans farmers. Hence, farmers have been highly placed in Sanskrit literature. About land ownership Atharvaveda (3.17.5) clearly mentions that those actually working in the fields are the real owners of the lands. Farmers have been referred to as owners of the cultivable lands as Ksetrapati (क्षेत्रपतिः) though this term refers to the deity of agriculture in Rigveda (4.57). Apart from Kṛṣaka (कृषकः), a farmer is also called as Krsika (कृषिकः), Kṛṣīvala (कृषीवलः), Karṣaka (कर्षकः) etc. The word ‘Kināśa’ has also been used for farmer in Vedas. Indra and other devatas, were the first farmers; an anecdote from the Shrutis.

एत मुत्यं मधुना संयुतं यवम् । सरस्वत्या अधिमना वचर्क्रुषुः । इन्द्र असी त्सीरपतिः शतक्रतुः । कीनाशा आसन्मरुतः सुदानवः । ७ (Tait. Brah. 2.4.8)[2]

Summary: In olden times when Prajapati was ruling the land, Indra who performed a hundred asvamedha yajnas, performed agricultural activities with the help of Marut ganas for tilling, sowing the yava seeds, and irrigating with the sweetened waters of Sarasvati river.[3] Brhatparasara says that a farmer favours all living beings (by supplying food grains) and works for the fulfillment all yajnas and for filling the treasury of a king (by paying taxes and enabling others to pay taxes). The farmer nourishes the ancestors (manes), various deities and people in general,[4]

सर्वसत्वोपकाराय सर्वयज्ञोपसिद्धये। नृपस्य कोशवृद्ध्यर्थ जायते कृषिकृन्नरः।। पितृदेवमनुष्याणां पुष्टये स्यात् कृषीवलः। (Brht. Para. 5.159)

Pāṇini mentions three kinds of farmers in Ashtadhyayi sutra नञ्-दुः-सुभ्यो हलि-सक्थ्योरन्यातरस्याम् (5.4.121), which according to Kasikavrtti[5] is explained as follows.

  • अहलिः ॥ Ahali - One who do not have his own plough (अविद्यमाना हलिरस्य अहलः)
  • सुहलिः ॥ Suhali - One who possesses good land or ploughs.
  • दुर्हलिः ॥ Durhali - One who has bad ploughs.

Socio-economic situation: The Atharvaveda gives importance to the education of farmers for the country to attain strong economy. The farmers educated in Varta Vidya can produce more in the field. According to Atharvaveda, in the country where the Vārtā is not advertised and popularized the farmers not educated, there will be no good yield in the fields. Farmers will not be able to get crops in plenty. Thus the economic condition of the individual and also of the nation becomes weak. It is emphasized in Kautilya's Arthashastra[6], that the king can hold control his citizens and the enemies by means of the treasury and the army obtained solely through Varta. Agriculture, cattle breeding and trade constitute Varta.

क्षेत्रम् ॥ Kshetra (Land)

Farming first requires fertile soil. Cultivation areas in different phases of history are thus traced to fertile soils like, mountain clay, alluvial soils of river plain and black cotton soils found in different geographical areas of India. The concept of rivers and their soils supporting agriculture is not unknown.

The fertile lower basins of the Saptasindhu, seven rivers, of Punjab were highly esteemed for bounteous crops.

तस्येदिमे प्रवणे सप्त सिन्धवो वयो वर्धन्ति वृषभस्य शुष्मिणः ॥३॥ (Rig. Veda. 10.43.3)

River sides were considered fertile. It is well known that the vast tracts of land irrigated by the rivers such as Ganga in the northern plains and Godavari and Krishna in the southern part of the Indian peninsula are dotted with human settlements dating far back into time. People are stated to have selected their routes of journey by the river-sides.

Soil Fertility

The plant fertility depends on three factors: a) Conservation of top soil, b) Replenishment of soil exhaustion and c) Manuring of individual plant. Of these three, removal of soil exhaustion was possibly considered the best way to restore soil-fertility

Bhuminirupana

The Rigveda recognizes two types of land. These are fertile or apnasvati and arid or aartana.

स हि शर्धो न मारुतं तुविष्वणिरप्नस्वतीषू॒र्वरास्विष्टनिरार्तनास्विष्टनि: । (Rig. Veda. 1.127.6)

The former is marshy or riverine tract, known as anupa and the latter, arid, known as jangala. Usara (alkaline) and anusara (non-alkaline, i.e., cultivable land) are the two divisions of land found in the Sutra literature. Land was alternatively used as arable land called Kshetra (cultivated) and as fallow called as Khila or Khilya (tilled but uncultivated for some time) to maintain the soil's potentiality. Fallow land had different functions: pasture ground and ground for cowshed. Both the practices contributed natural fertilization of the soil by cow droppings.[7]

Vrkshayurveda of Surapala has a separate section on bhuminirupana or determining the ground. There are other classifications based on color (varna) and taste (rasa) of the soil.

Various Classifications of Soil[8]
Humidity Varna Rasa
jangala (dry or arid) Asita (Black) Madhura (sweet)
Vipaandu (pallid) Amla (sour)
Anupa (wet land) Shyamala (dark blue) Lavana (saline)
Lohita (red) Tikta (pungent)
samanya (moderate humidity land) Sita (White) Katuka (acrid)
Pita (yellow) Kashaya (astringent)

In a soil which is even (sama), contiguous to water, full of sprouts of green trees and grass, trees of all kinds thrive when planted at proper places. The land which is of moderate humidity (sddhdrana) and not dry (Jangala) nor wet (anupa) is good and ail kinds of trees grow on it without doubt.

The Arthashastra (2.24.22) says that a region where the foam strikes (river bank) (phenaaghaata) is suited for creeper fruits; regions on the outskirts of overflows (parivahanta) for long pepper, grapes and sugarcanes; those on the borders of wells (kupaparyanta) for vegetables and roots; those on the borders of moist beds of lakes (haraniparyanta) for green grasses; and ridges (paalya) for plants reaped by cutting, such as perfume plants, medicinal herbs, usihira grass and others.

There are generally speaking two main crops: the Kharif and the Rabi. In ancient India also the pattern of two crop seasons parallel to the Kharif and Rabi was the general rule. This is implied by the Gobhila Grhyasutra (1.4.29) referring to the two harvests of rice and barley. A pattern of three crops is indicated by some other sources also. [8]

The above discussion clearly shows that observations of the natural phenomenon by the farmer are far more holistic in determining the nature of the soil to arrive at an appropriate crop to be sown.

कृषिः ॥ Tillage

The most important of the agricultural tools being the plough, is referred to as Langala and Sira in ancient texts. It was made of hard wood like Khadira and Udumhara. Sira (plough) was attached Isa (pole) with a yuga (yoke) attached at its upper side.

Ploughing was regarded as an important process in cultivation. lt is observed in the Satapatha Brahmana (8.2.2.5) that furrow is like the womb in which seeds are sown and casting seeds into unploughed field is like sowing seeds into any place other than the womb.[8]

प्रजापतेर्विस्रस्तात्सर्वाः प्रजा मध्यत उदक्रामन्नेतस्या अधि योनेस्ता एनमेतस्मिन्नात्मनः प्रतिहिते प्रापद्यन्त - ८.२.२.[५] (Shat. Brah. 8.2.2.5)[9]

The Krshiparasara attaches great importance to ploughing. It raises the act to an auspicious rite, designated as halaprasaarana (हलप्रसारणम् । commencement of ploughing) which is necessary for the success of cultivation.

हलप्रसारणं येन न कृतं मृगकुम्भयोः । कुतस्तस्य कृषाणस्य प्हलाशा कृषिकर्मणि ॥ (१५२) (Kris. Para. 152)[10]

Further it describes the nakshatras, the days of the week and lagna signs (astrological details) when this important process should be carried out.

A few points about ploughing as recognized by ancient farmers are as follows.

  • Ploughing was generally performed with the help of oxen in teams of six, eight or twelve (one or two sheep were also used). Symbolic use of tilling operation in which six oxen are equivalent to six seasons and twelve oxen stand for twelve months.[7]
  • Sita or Furrow marks were made in grid pattern: Twelve lines made by plough drawn by twelve oxen were arranged in such a way that three lines arranged vertically, three running over them horizontally and the other six made crisscross.[7]
  • Deep ploughing brings out clods of earth from the soil and increases the fertility of the field. The Krshiparasara (verses 142-43) recommends ploughing to be done five times. The first ploughing gives wealth, the third the desired object, and the fifth a rich harvest.[8]
  • Mowing (matyam) was the post-plough operation.

Plantation

It includes sowing of seeds of different kinds in grid-pattered furrows and the methodology adopted for rotation of crops. Reaping, threshing, winnowing and storing are the post-cultivating processes, noticed from the period of the Rigveda. The Rigveda (10.101) presents a picturesque description from ploughing to reaping inclusive of irrigation. All the operations were carried out with laudatory song to the Visvadevas. Reaping was done with the help of sickle (srni) when the corns ripe. Thrashing the bundles of grain-stalks on the floor of granary (khala) and winnowing in winnowing-baskets (sthivi) were the different post sowing operations mentioned in the Rigveda. The Atharvaveda refers to winnowing fan (surpa) in this connection. Grains (here barley) were stored in a vessel (urdara).[7]

Propagation methods

The following points highlight the knowledge presented in ancient texts regarding various plant species and propagation methods.[8]

  • Knowledge of kinds of plants: Plants (called as padapa, because they "drink" through their roots) in general, include big trees (vanaspati), trees (druma), creepers (lata) and thickets (gulma)
  • Three ways of propagation namely, by seeds (Bija), scion of a plant (Kaanda) and bulbous root (kanda). Vrkshayurveda by Surapala lists different groups of plants that grow from seeds and scions, from bulbous roots, and from both seeds and bulbous roots (verses 45-51).
  • Knowledge about seed fertility has two main parts - the selection of good seeds and sowing them in an appropriate manner mentioned in Milindapanho text. It was a recognized fact that all seeds do not germinate, and that infertility is due to seed defects. Parching of seeds (Mahabharata 12.320.33), excessive underground heat (Mahabharata 12.181.7), dehusked seeds (Mahabharata 2.77.13) were unproductive.
  • Government intervention is needed for seed/root collection; a Sitadhyaksha (agricultural officer) is required to collect, in proper seasons, all kinds of grains, flowers, fruits, vegetables, bulbous roots, roots, creeper fruits, flax and cotton. (Kautilya Arthashastra 2.24.1)
  • Seed processing was well described in Krshi parasara (157-167)[10]. Seeds are to be collected in appropriate season, dried in sun, separated from the chaff, collection of uniform seeds, stored in grass packages, and preserved in safe locations far from anthills, lamps, fire or smoke etc.
  • Seed treatments particularly for increasing fertility were mentioned in Arthashastra (2.24.24); they include soaking of seeds of grains, in dew and dried in heat for seven days, those of pulses for three (or five) days and nights, stalks for propagation are to be smeared at the cut with honey, ghee and pig's fat mixed with cow-dung, bulbous roots are to be smeared with honey and ghee, stone-like hard seeds are to be smeared with cow-dung before sowing. Varahamihira (in Brhatsamhita 54.19-20) mentions use of procedures such as soaking, rubbing, boiling in and fumigation using various substances like milk, ghee, animal fats, honey, flesh of animals (hog and deer), roots and leaves of plants, pastes made of fruits and oils.
  • General seed treatments are mentioned in detail by Vrkshayurveda (52-58). They include extraction of seeds from a fruit ripened in due season and dried. Soaking them in milk, smearing them with ashes of Brhati, sesamum and ghee, and rubbing them (parimardita) in cowdung, followed by drying in shade for five days. Fumigation with fumes (dhupayet) of ghee is another process of treatment.
  • Scientific processes involved in soaking seeds in any solution enables removal of decayed seeds by floating. Application of honey, butter etc protects the seed from insects and diseases, application of cow dung is expected to help germination as it contains many required minerals and microbes.

Crop Specimens

A host of crops scattered in the Yajurvedic texts show the presence of cereals, legumes, oil seeds, fibrous plants, fruit crops and green vegetables.[7]

  • Cereals:

(a) Rice (vrihi): Four cultivated varieties were seen, viz. black (krshna), white (shukla), quick-grown (aasu) and mahavrihi (large grained). The last two varieties were confined only to central India. The quick-grown variety appears to have been known as shastika (ripens within sixty days) in the later periods.

(b) Wheat (godhuma);

(c) Barley (yava), and a species of it, upavaka;

(d) Millet (Panic seeds) viz. anu (Panicum milliceum), priyangu (P. italicum), syamaka (P. frumenataceum).

  • Legumes: Four varieties, viz. bean (masha, P. munga), three types of pulses (mudga, P. radiatus; khalva, Lathyrus sativus; masura, lentil, Les esculentus). Reference to wild bean (gaarmut) shows nativity of beans in India.
  • Oil seeds: Sesame (tila); Fibrous plant, cotton (kaarpasa, Gossypium herbaricum);
  • Fruit crops: Sugarcane (ikshu), cucumber (urvaruka), dates (kharjura);
  • Green vegetables: Bottle-guard (alabu, Lagenaria vulgaris).

Atharvaveda and other texts also mention other kinds of crops such as saadadurva (a millet having egg-shaped roots), mustard (abhayu, white and brown), Bhang (the flower of Cannabis sativa) which became a cultivated crop, and the fibrous crop sana (hemp, Crolatoria Junacea) however the above are largely mentioned.[7]

Seasonal correlations with crops are enumerated in the Taittiriya Samhita. It presents a small crop chart containing four crops and their associated ripening seasons:

यवं ग्रीष्मायौषधीर्वर्षाभ्यो व्रीहीञ्छरदे माषतिलौ हेमन्तशिशिराभ्याम् । (Tait. Samh. 7.2.10.2).

The hot season for barley (यव); autumn for rice; winter and cool season for beans and sesame. Barley ripened in summer was sown undoubtedly in winter as in present day. Likewise rice ripened in autumn used to be sown in the beginning of the rains. Beans and sesame planted at the time of summer rains were ripened in the winter and the cool season.[7]

Sowing Methods

Sowing being an important process in cultivation, it was given serious attention and care. Befitting its importance solemn rites were performed on the occasion. Panini (IV.3.45) shows that farmers selected auspicious days for sowing seeds; the full-moon day of the month of Agrahayana was one such auspicious day. Apart from the rites that are followed, a few points about the knowledge of ancient agriculturalists regarding sowing methods, crop season, water availability are discussed.[8]

  • Seed quantity required per field was well estimated practically which are confirmed by epigraphic records.
  • Spacial arrangements for sowing seeds of a particular type were recognized; clustered sowing with less distance between seeds or sparcely sown at greater distances (Rig Veda 9.330).
  • Identification of appropriate location for sowing seeds, with factors like nearby water availability and seasonal changes taken into consideration.
  • Methods of sowing included primitive methods of individual planting or dropping of seeds into holes made by digging sticks, to scattering of seeds,. Advanced methods of sowing in grid patterns were also observed. Evidence of sowing by a seed-drill plough is available. Grid pattern of furrows suggest that they were used for mixed cropping.
  • Transplantation method used for sowing rice was referred by the terms ropana and ropeti and described elaborately in Krishi Parasara (169 and 172[10]). Jain texts suggest the existence of transplantation method in use. It has been suggested that the distinction between the Vedic term vrihi and the post-Vedic saali is that the first is grown without transplanting, whereas the second is grown by transplantation.
  • Tilling of soil was preferred and sowing seeds in ploughed fields, as against untilled lands is mentioned in many literary accounts (ex. Sata. Brah. 1.1.16.3).
  • De-weeding was recognized for agricultural produce from which weeds are removed becomes highly fruitful (Krshi Parasara 189-92[10]).
  • Relation between transplantation and growth - Krishi parasara requires the cultivators to perform the kattana (possibly meaning thinning out) of paid in the month of Ashadha and Sravana, without which there is an indifferent and poor growth of paddy.
  • Relation between transplantation and water - Water levels after transplantation of the crop plays an important role in disease prevention. In Bhadrapada month water is to be drained off, preserving it up to the roots only. This will keep paddy free from disease (Krishi parasara 193-94).
  • Tree transplantation and grafting methods were discussed by Varahamihira. The trees are to be transplanted (sahkrdpanaviropana) after plastering them from their root up to the branches with ghee, usira, sesamum, honey, vidanga, milk (kshira) and cowdung. Varahamihira (Brh.S. 54.12-13) brings out the importance of proper spacing in planting trees. The Vrksayurveda of Surapala gives directions about the plantation of trees in the section called vapanavidhi (the method of sowing). Trees are to be sown or planted on a land which is even and pleasant and in which flowers, sesamum and Masa have been scattered (Krishi parasara 63).[8]
  • Sowing Seasonal Plants: The Vrksayurveda of Surapala mentions the months for planting various trees; example mango, pomergranate, and Bakula etc. in Sravana; brinjal etc. in Asvina; Satapattrika, coriander (Dhanyaka) and Muiaka etc. in Karttika, (shloka 88). In Asadha all sorts of seeds may be sown and trees may be planted at will. Margasirsa, Pausa and Magha are forbidden for sowing etc. (shloka 90).

Plant Protection Measures

Pest signifies any insect, fungus, etc. which destroys plants. Pesticide means pest-killer. The major calamities, termed as Iti (ईति) were traditonally enumerated as being six: excessive rain, drought, locusts, rats, parrots and foreign invasions. All these have a reference to agriculture. The term Iti signifies an infectious disease also, but we do not find any reference to its application for the diseases of the plants. In Rig veda (6.50.1-3) we find prayers to Indra and Rudra for protecting crops from drought and lightning.

For warding off harmful insects several spells and rites are prescribed in the Atharvaveda against insects, rodents, borers, locusts, and moles harming the field. The Vrkshayurveda of Surapala has two sections, one the knowledge of the diseases of trees (rogajnana) (shlokas 165-183) and the other on the treatment (chikitsa) of the diseases of plants (shlokas 184-222).[8]

We see from the ancient texts that the knowledge of protection measures was well developed.

  • Physical methods like driving away the pest-bird by din and noise - The Rigveda (10.68.1) thus describes, “उदप्रुतो न वयो रक्षमाणा वावदतो अभ्रियस्येव घोषा: । Like the farmers make noise to drive away the birds from fields”.
  • Scarecrows - by fixing poles of various designs, was resorted to in order to scare away mischievous birds and beasts.
  • Control by rotation of crops. The Taittiriya Samhita refers to rotation of crops. This practice also afforded natural prevention of incest-pest in crops.[7]
  • Cures for Tridosha of trees: The Vrkshayurveda text prescribes cures for trees suffering from the disorders of wind, phlegm and bile (184-92). It gives detailed advice about the treatment of trees infested with insects (193-98). or destroying insects the text recommends administering of water containing milk, carcass water (kunapa), Bhillota, Vaca and cowdung etc.
  • Cure for Injuries to trees: A worm-eaten plant is to be irrigated with a solution of oil-cake in water. Insects on leaves are destroyed by dusting them with ashes and brick-dust. Injury caused by insects is healed by a plastering of Jantughna, sesamum, cow’s urine, ghee and Siddhartha and by watering with milk.
  • Pesticides use - It was limited and plants be systematically sprinkled with ash-dust and lime-water to remove the damage caused by vermins.[8]

Manuring

The evidence about the use of manure in the Vedic period is not clear according to some scholars. The Krshiparasara (shloka 111) recognises the importance of manure for crops and says that without manure the paddy simply grows up, but does not yield any fruit. It is the only text which records the method of preparing manure out of cowdung (107-9).

अथ गोमयकूटोद्धारः । माघे गोमयकूटं तु सम्पूज्य श्रद्धयान्वितः । शोभने दिवसे ऋक्षे कुद्दालैस्तोलयेत्ततः ॥ (१०९.३)

ततो वपनकाले तु कुर्यात् सारविमोचनम् । विना सारेण यद्धान्यं वर्धते प्हलवर्जितम् ॥ (१११.२)

It says: in the month of Magha (January - February) a dung heap is raised with the help of a spade. When it is dried in the sun, smaller balls are made out of it. In the month of Phalguna (February-March) these dried balls of dung are placed into holes dug for the purpose in the fields, and at the time of sowing they are scattered in the field’.[8]

The other text, which refers to the application of manures to cultivable land, is the Kashyapiyakrishi sukti. In the section (VI) dealing with the work done at the time of the commencement of agriculture, it says that, after duly ploughing the field, the cultivator should place in it cow-dung, goat-dung, or compost (vaalaga) in order to increase its fertility (shloka 263-64). In section XIII, dealing with the method of cultivation to be followed for various grains, it advises that paddy seedlings are to be transplanted in a rice field softened by ploughing and carefully manured with goat-dung and cow-dung with lataa and vratati (shloka 431).

The Vrkshayurveda of Surapala gives detailed instructions about the preparation of manures and their applications. Manuring and fertilizing prescriptions require the pit at the root of a plant to be treated by besmearing with the paste of sesamum, oil cake and Vidanga, sprinkling with the milky water or Kunapa (corpse-water), fumigating with ghee and remedying with oil-cake.

The use of animal flesh, fat, marrow etc have been described for the preparation of Kunapa (corpse-water) which is used for application to roots of plants as manure. Water, in which dung, fat, flesh, marrow, brain and blood of a hog is buried under the earth for a fortnight, is called kunapa (corpse-water) (shloka 105).[8]

The knowledge of manuring though not extensively mentioned and though rudimentary of nature, they have been appreciated in the above texts, summary of which is given below.

  • Cowdung is one of the effective manures, manures prepared with animal parts have also been used.
  • Crop yield and vegetable yield increases with manuring.
  • Manuring with goat dung and other manures, raises the soil fertility after which second cultivation should be performed.
  • Application point at the roots of seedlings after weeding is to be followed in cultivation of pulses and other grains.
  • Special manuring prescriptions for particular plants were described; ex., for mango nourishing with the juice of ripe ankola fruit, ghee, honey and the fat of a hog is mentioned.
  • Special manures for flowering plants, and creepers are described.

Thus fertilizing quality of manures and application after the ploughing of the field and sometimes at the time of the transplantation or later after weeding are well noted.

Prediction of Rainfall

The systematic study of meteorological science was made by our ancient astronomers and astrologers. Agriculture is totally dependent on rainfall as was first realized by Indians. Hence they started gauging the sky for rainfall prediction. Parashara gave the techniques of rainfall prediction and agricultural practices for crop production. Garg invented the science of astrology. Arybhata measured the time period of different grahas (ग्रहाः | planets) and distance from earth. Varahmihira (600 AD) studied weather prediction and measurement of rainfall, touching zenith in the meteorological science. The hypotheses given by ancient scientists are simple and costly apparatus were not used. Observations coupled with experience over centuries developed meteorology (Varshney, 2007).[7]

The methods used by local and indigenous people for forecasting rainfall and other weather conditions on the basis of bio-indicator and the phenology of plants and behaviour of animals is coined as a new term – Presage biology. The production and application of local forecasts are deeply localized, derived from intimate interactions with a micro-environment whose rhythms are intertwined with the cycles of seasonal changes. Local indicators and local knowledge systems can not be replaced with scientific knowledge, because they are holistic and specific to local situations, providing farmers and others with the ability to make decisions and prepare for the coming agricultural year. Mechanisms for integrating both traditional and scientific weather forecast systems would reduce uncertainties and improve farm management, as well as provide a basis for integrating scientific forecasts into existing decision processes of farmers (Acharya, 2011). Bio-indicators as well as Almanacs (Panchang) have been used to predict the weather for a very long time and many times proved very effective and successful.[1]

The study of the correlation between weather and heavenly phenomena and their impact on crop prospects was a part of agricultural activities. Development of this idea is noticed during the Harappa period in regard to several heavenly bodies which were believed, not only in India but also elsewhere, to be rain-bearing agents. These are Mrgasira (Orionis), Krttika (Pleiades) and Venus. In all probability these heavenly bodies got predominance as indicator of seasonal rainfall, cultivation of crops other than barley and wheat, and growth of fish-crops.

The idea of correlation between seasonal rainfall and associated heavenly phenomena is explicit in the Vedic period. Crop prospects began to be studied in relation to seasonal rain, fogginess and dew under the influence of heavenly bodies. Rainfall: The R. gveda recognizes two seasons of rainfall, associated with summer solstice and winter solstice.

Agricultural implements

All the agricultural operations were carried out by implements suited to them. The artefacts and innovations were moulded according to the nature of soil, dimension of cultivable field and above all techniques involved in particular operation. Vedic implements show four types of implements. These are:

Forest-clearance tools: Axe (svadhiti, parasu) and axe type tools are mentioned as tool for cutting wood in the Rigveda. 66

Soil-treatment:67 The Rigveda refers to mower (data) for grass-cutting which might be taken as pre-tilling performance of the soil. The Taittiriya Samhita brought into notice the use of roller for making field even for tilling.

Tillage implements: The plough 68 described in the Rigveda is characterized as traction plough.69 The Vedic plough is distinguished by:

a) two types: langala (small plough) and sira (heavy plough).

b) four parts:70 plough i.e. indicating the rod (langala, sira), the rope (varatra), share (phala), and yoke (yuga). The latter is however absent in some descriptions of plough which indicates a particular type in which the plough itself is fastened to the animal body instead of being tied to the yoke. The Yajurveda71 describes plough as lance-pointed, well-lying and furnished with a handle (tsru).

(c) Animal power dragging the plough: 72 Oxen, sheep and camel were harnessed for dragging the plough. Number of animals varied according to the dimension of plough. Six, twelve, twenty-four formed different animal strength in the dragging of plough. Mention is also made of dragging of plough by one and by two sheeps.

Harvesting tool: Three types of corn-cutting tools are found to occur in the Rigveda. 73 These include: datra (a sort of sickle in the shape of crooked knife), srni (sickle) and jeta (reaping hook).

Corn-cleaning equipments: The sieve and winnowing fan mentioned in the Rigveda, were probably used for this purpose.74

Transport for carrying agricultural products: Two types of carriers, viz ana– sa (carts) and sƒakat.a (wagon) were for commercial types. The former was two-wheeled, made of woods of Acacia and Dalbergia with bamboo poles and wheels rimmed with metal tyre (pavi). The latter was also wooden body and especially meant for carrying agricultural products from the field. The chariots, in addition to those two were used for carrying agricultural products from the field. Animals employed for drawing these carriers were ox, stallion, ram and dog.75

An in depth study of these processes show how our ancient farmer has holistic education in various sciences compared to the modern day scientist.

Adhunika Vyavasayam

In a stark contrast to the traditional agricultural practices, modern systems of agriculture use genetically engineered and/or hybrid seeds of single crop variety, technologically driven implements and equipments such as tractors, shredders, spreaders etc, chemical fertilizers and pesticides, and water to produce large amounts of single crop. A few characteristics of modern agriculture as discussed by Prof. D. P. Mishra include the following

  • It has higher levels of input and output per unit of agricultural area
  • It has higher use of inputs such as capital, labor, fertilizers, pesticides, plant growth regulators, and mechanization for higher crop yields per unit land area. Many gadgets and implements are needed and higher electricity and fuel costs are involved.
  • Indiscriminate usage of fertilizers, pesticides, fungicides and other such chemicals destroy the ecological balance hurting the other agronomy dependent creatures such as bees, birds, snakes, and frogs.
  • Hazards of air, water, earth pollution are rampant and world environmental activists have been fighting with governing bodies to bring these levels down.
  • It involves mostly single crop cultivation which is not always advantageous ecologically and economically.
  • Storage of grains (air-conditioned godowns, preservatives etc) also involve high costs, increasing the price of food production further.
  • It demands detailed analysis of growing conditions including weather, soil, water, weeds and pests.
  • An individual or small community effort is gradually turned into an mechanized industry whose terms and conditions are now dictated by a few rich individuals controlling this modern system. Days are not far off when a farmer is an employee in his own farm and has to buy his own produce in such conditions for his family needs.
  • It relies on innovation in agricultural machinery and farming methods, genetic technology, techniques for achieving economies of scale logistics. What was originally in-line with natural processes now involves industrial scale technical education.
  • It involves large data collection and analysis technology.
  • Ease of trading practices and taxing system of farmers has to undergo an enormous change to bring down the cost of agricultural produce both of domestic and foreign exports.

Ramifications of such models of agriculture such as widespread pollution of air, water and food are visible on the entire ecosystem. As much as modern outlook with technology and education is required, it has be used minimally with caution.

References

  1. 1.0 1.1 Patil, Parashuram Vishnu. (2012) Ph. D. Thesis: Studies on traditional agricultural practices and food grain management from Bhor Pune district and Mahad Raigad district Maharashtra state. Savitribai Phule Pune University. (Chapter 4)
  2. Taittriya Brahmana (Kanda 2 Prapathaka 4)
  3. Ganapati Sastry, Uppuluri. (2000) Vedasara Ratnavali. Dvitiya Bhaga. Hyderabad: Amba Communicatons (Pages 504 - 510)
  4. Dwivedi, Dhananjay Vasudeo. Development of Agriculture in Ancient India in Sanskruti Darpan, Issue 54, Jan. 2018
  5. Kashikavritti of Panini's Ashtadhyayi (Adhyaya 5)
  6. Shamasastry, R. (1910) Kautilya's Arthashastra, Translated into English. (Page 12-13)
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 7.3 7.4 7.5 7.6 7.7 7.8 Roy, Mira. Agriculture in the Vedic Period. Indian Journal of History of Science, 44.4 (2009) 497-520
  8. 8.00 8.01 8.02 8.03 8.04 8.05 8.06 8.07 8.08 8.09 8.10 Gopal. Lallaji, (1997) History of Technology in India, Vol. 1, From Antiquity to c. 1200 A.D. New Delhi: Indian National Science Academy. (Chapter Agriculture : Pages 391 - 416)
  9. Shatapata Brahmana (Kanda 8 Adhyaya 2)
  10. 10.0 10.1 10.2 10.3 Krshi Parashara (Full Text)