Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Vedic agriculture

Krishi- Parashara: an Early Sanskrit Text on Agriculture
By Manikant Shah and D.P. Agrawal
KRISHI PARASHAR is a compilation of the original text in Sanskrit, is a translation by
Sadhale with commentaries by H V Balakundi and Y L Nene. The text deals with
meteorological aspects and general agriculture. In the introduction to the exposition of this
work we are told about the Vedic Aryans and their relation to agriculture the import of
which is established with the prominence accorded by the Aryans to the gods of the natural
and atmospheric elements like the rain, the wind and agriculture in general. ‘The
knowledge and techniques of farming have always been a part and parcel of the Indian
civilization. That the culture and civilization of the Vedic Aryans were based on and
centered round agriculture is fully borne out even by the oldest portions of the Vedas. The
importance of Indra, the rain god and the large number of prayers addressed to him in the
Rig Veda prove beyond doubt that the Vedic Aryans were agriculturists’.
The book traces back the evolution of the agricultural science through the literary records
to the time of Kautilya (c. 400 BC), whose work, the Arthasastra, also imparts prominence
to agriculture. The question of the identity of Parashara the author of Krishi Parashara is
discussed in detail. The name of Parashara appears in the ancient texts as an individual, as
also an institution at different periods of time and is related to different sciences like
astronomy, astrology, medicine, agriculture, social rules and code etc. We are told that,
‘two more aspects must be taken into account while discussing the identity of the author: (i)
Parashara also is a gotranama; i.e., a family name, it can be shared by several individuals
belonging to the Parashara clan; and (ii) in ancient India the followers of a certain school of
thought used the same name which was usually the name of the founder of that school. It is
further mentioned that, ‘Singh (1971) has hinted at a possibility that the book KrishiParashara in its present form must have been an abridged redaction of the original work of
The obvious difficulty of fixing the date of Krishi Parashara is also discussed. It says that,
‘the problem of fixing the date of the work is directly and necessarily linked with that of
the author's identity and can, at best, be answered only by venturing a conjecture vacillating
between centuries. Majumdar maintains that the author of Krishi-Parashara was perhaps
earlier than the 6
century AD but certainly not later than the 11
century AD. Leaving the
Parasharas associated with the Vedas, Mahabharata, and Artha-sastra outside the present2
context of Krishi-Parashara, on account of their antiquity, Varahamihira's references to
Parashara as an authority on agriculture, astronomy, astrology, and meteorology become
the starting point for fixing the date of the author of Krishi-Parashara. Kane and other
scholars of Dharmasastra fix the date of Parashara Smriti between 1
and 5
century AD.
If this Parashara is identified with the author of Krishi-Parashara [according to Singh
(1971)], this conjecture that the 4
century is the lower limit is further strengthened’. As
commentaries by Y L Nene to the text appended to the bulletin at the end, while
considering the general aspects of agriculture maintains that Parashara must have written
the manuscript prior to Arthasastra of Kautilya that is prior to 4
century BC.
The ancient texts have usually been constructed in verse and formula form known as
Chhanda (meters), which adhere to the rules of Sanskrit grammar for such construction.
The text of Krishi-Parashara consists of two hundred and forty-three verses mostly
composed in the popular anustubh (Chhanda) meter. Amongst the many kinds of meters
differentiated by the number of syllables in the Sanskrit language the anustubh meter is one
in which there are 8 syllables in each pada (line) of a verse of 4 padas (lines). This means
there are a total number of 32 syllables in the entire verse.
The book is written for the benefit of farmers. Thus it is the theory of agriculture
expounded in such a manner that the farmers would benefit by its application to their
profession. It is in a way a farmer’s almanac containing astronomical and meteorological
data arranged according to the seasons and months of ancient India. It is the farmer’s ready
reckoner containing the basic data of geographical and climatic conditions, which can help
him in planning and managing the activity of farming spread over several months. 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, plowing and all the
agricultural processes involved right from preparing fields to harvesting and storage of
crops. The religious aspect of the Indian psyche is present here as well as the text begins
with the salutations to Prajapati, the Lord of the living, and ends with the prayer to the
Goddess Laxmi, the goddess of wealth and prosperity.
In his commentary on the meteorological aspects H V Balakundi says, “Sage Parashara
shows a remarkable quest of agricultural activities since he knows from his personal3
experience the intimate and close relationship between agriculture and rainfall. It would be
pertinent to note here that the sage makes full use of his astrological knowledge for
predicting the availability of rainwater during the different stages of crop growth. Thus he
enables us to study his concepts of clouds and rainfall”. This leads Balakundi to expose in
some detail the relationship between the meteorological aspects and the astrological
predictions considered by Parashara in his work. Parashara has in a major way linked the
consistent meteorological conditions for agriculture to the planets and their positions.
However, he points out “a critical study of this ancient text is impaired because the
technique for determining the ruling planet of the year is not clear”. Balakundi says that
after this the sage turns his attention to the visible causes of rainfall – the clouds. We are
told that the sage lists four types of clouds, the Aavarta, Samvarta, Pushkara, and Drona.
These four types differ from each other by the nature of rain that is shed by them. Though
Parashara has outlined the gauging or the measurement of rainfall in relation to the
different clouds yet Balakundi finds a practical difficulty in carrying out such tests as are
enumerated. Balakundi says that such an imprecise and unwieldy technique of forecasting
the amount of rainfall from the particular type of cloud for a year may not have satisfied for
long the agricultural community of that era or the scholars of this branch of astrology.
Balakundi makes a guess that a search for a better technique might have culminated in its
evolution in Kautilya’s Arthshastra of the 4
century BC. Here the measurement of rainfall
is in terms of Drona instead of Yojanas. Few interesting points that Balakundi makes are
that the farmers are advised by the sage to observe the monthly rainfall beginning with
Paush that is the mid of the month of March. Parashara stresses that to know the quantum
of monthly rainfall the observer of the weather has to work everyday and keep track of the
direction of winds by fixing a rod with a flag attached to it. According to Parashara, wind
from the north or the west brings rain and that from the east or the south indicates absence
of rain.
Y L Nene while commenting on the general aspects of the work by Parashara says that the
importance of farming, farmers and food production is expressed and emphasized from the
verse 1 to 10. Nene points out that Parashara has highlighted the importance of good
management in farming, using examples relevant to his time (verse 79 to 83). He says one
can get clear and strong messages in verses 79, 82 and 83. These messages are as relevant
today as these were more than 2000 years ago. Nene says that we must remember that talk
of sustainable agriculture without good management is meaningless and that the message
of Parashara will hold true as long as agriculture exists. Nene then embarks upon the4
exposition of the text under various heads such as the management of cattle, manure, the
plow and other implements, the plowing, seed collection and storage, sowing and planting,
water retention, weeding, draining of water, plant protection, water harvesting, reed fixing
ceremony, token harvest, threshing pillar, the pushyayatra festival, harvesting and
measuring yield, and the storage of grains, observations and suggestions which cover the
entire operation, process and procedure of good agriculture.
In his concluding remarks Nene emphasizes that Krishi-Parashara is unquestionably one
of the oldest texts on Indian agriculture. We are told that among the crops the emphasis was
clearly on the paddy (rice) cultivation. He points out that throughout the text the knowledge
base in astrology that existed at the time shows up and it had influenced virtually all
activities. Superstitions existed in plenty along with sound knowledge of basic agriculture.
Finally, Nene says that when the whole text of Krishi Parashara is taken into
consideration one gets an impression that the text is incomplete. This is because Parashara
describes prediction of rainfall, cattle management, construction of a plow and other
implements, making furrows for sowing, and time of sowing different crops, but when it
comes to detailed operations required for successfully growing a crop he concentrates
mainly on rice. It may have been that the original Krishi Parashara was a larger text and
people took out only portions that were of interest to them. So the present text could be the
version that was edited for the needs of eastern India where rice was and still is the
predominant crop.
Since India is known to be a land of agriculture, Krishi Parashara is an attempt of the
Asian Agri-History Foundation to bring to light the agricultural knowledge of the ancient
times, compiled by the sage Parashara.
Sadhale, Nalini (Tr.). 1999. Krishi- Parashara (Agriculture by Parashara). Bulletin no.2 of
Asian Agri-History Foundation, Secundrabad, Andhra Pradesh.

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