VEDIC AGRICULTURAL SYSTEM-THE BASE OF MODERN AGRONOMY *
To keep pace with the basic need of fasi changeable world modern science of soil management and crop production is also progressing. But it is very interesting to note that the Vedic agricultural system was very enriched as supported by the numerous references to different stage of cultivation-ploughing, sowing, harvesting, threshing and presentation of agricultural production, etc. Different types of farmers-cornfield, granaries, agricultural implements of Vedic literature give us a clear idea of developed agronomy. Two Vedic terms of farmers karsivana and Kinasa the linguistic basis of later world Kisana, remind us the motto of Indian agricultural society ‘jay jawan jay kisan’.
As food is the basic need of human being and for which a developed agricultural system is most essential. Vedic seers have also gives gop priority of Agronomy.
Three types of cornfields urvara (fertile), irina and sasypa, corn from cultivable land (krstipacya) and uncultivable land, irrigation, different type of food production brihi (rice), yava, masa, lifa, mudga, khalva, priyangu, anu (fine rice), syamaka, nivara, godhuma and masura, use of different fertilizers, various agricultural implements, etc. give us an idea of developed agronomy.
An attempt has been made in this paper to study a systematic investigation on the Vedic agricultural system to prove is as the base of modern agronomy.
Since the primary requirement of any being is food (anna), man started to think for its production, because without production consumption is impossible. India is basically an agricultural country and it is well-known that about 67% of its total population earns its livelihood from agriculture. It is the base of Indian agronomy or rural economy and the proper management of land is most essential for the same. India has sufficient fertile land (urvasā kṣetra), well irrigated by rivers to provide the food of each and every living being of this country. To keep pace with this basic need of fast changeable world, modern progressive thoughts in this area with a scientific approach on soil management and crop production, may be an important subject of modern research for the development of India and its people. But at the same time the researcher should peep into the origin of Indian agricultural system.
A food is the basic need of human being (jīvanti svadhayā annena martyāḥ ) and for which a developed agricultural system is most essential, Vedic seers have also given top priority on the same (annaṃ vai krisih ). The Śatapatha Brāhmaṇa gives a clear description of four important stages of agricultural crop-production: (i) act of tilling or ploughing a land (karṣaṇa), (ii) sowing of seeds (vapana), (iii)reaping or harvesting a ripen crop (lavana) and , (vi) threshing (mardana) of corns for getting the grains (kṛṣanto ha smaiva pūrve vapanto yanti lunanto ‘pare mṛṇantaḥ śaśvaddhaibhyo’ kṛṣṭapacyā evauṣadhayaḥ pecire ). Different type of farmers, cultivation, agricultural land, ploughing with bulls, sowing the seeds of best qualigy, irrigation, fertilizer or manure, agricultural implements and preservation of scops in granaries etc. give us the basic idea of Vedic agricultural system. An attempt has been made here to give a systematic representation on these fundamental ideas of Vedic agricultural system to prove it as the base of rural economy.
The term agricultural is actually a combination of two Latin world ager ‘field’ and cultura ‘cultivatiom’, closely related with two Sanskrit terms ‘kṣetra’ or bhūmi and karṣaṇa or kṛṣṭi (a synonym of manuṣya ), to denote people associated with cultivation. kṛṣi is reflected in several vedic mantras. Two entire vedic hymns on agriculture (Ṛgveda IV.57 and Atharvaveda III.17) and more thatn two hundred vedic references on lad farming, different agricultural implements, irrigation, farmers, fertilizers, crops, etc are sufficient to get a clear idea on the vedic agricultural system.
The Ṛgveda (X.34.13) advises for land-farming as the best means of gaining wealth ‘kṛṣimit kṛṣasva vitte remasva bahumanyamānaḥ. According to the Atharvaveda (VII.10.24) the king Pṛthu Vainya, a scion of Vaivasvata Manu invented cultivation and produced crops. People used to take these crope as the means of living and cultivation was accepted as the best rural profession (tāṃ pṛthīm vainyo dhok tāṃ kṛṣiṃ ca sasyaṃ cādhok, te kṛṣiṃ ca sasyaṃ ca manuṣyā upajivanti, kṛṣṭarādhirupajīvanīyo bhavan). Aśvins are also treated as cultivator with the sowing of barley grain in the tilled fields by means of a plough (yavaṃ vṛkeṇāśvinā vapanteśam ; yavaṃ vṛkeṇa karṣathaḥ ).
According to the Yajurveda, land or agricultural field is the primary need for cultivation and it is the best place for sowing seed (kiṃ vāvapanaṃ mahat, bhūmir āvapanaṃ mahar) and one should produce good crops (susasyāḥ kṛṣiskṛdhī). In the vedic period the duty of a king was also to look after the progress of agriculture (kṛṣyai tvākṣemāya tvā rayyai tvā poṣāya tvā). The Taittiriya Saṃhitā also records the importance of cultivation and suggests to cultivate properly for yielding good crops (kṛṣyai tvā susasyāyai : annaṃ kṛṣir vṛṣṭir vaṣaṭ svāhā). The Atharvaveda (III.17) gives importance on kṛṣi and for producing good harvest it records a prayer to king Bhaga to let the ploughing to deep (bhago no rājā ni kṛṣiṃ tanotu). The Kāṭhaka Saṃhitā also prescribes deep ploughing for the rich production of paddy and barley (adho dūraṃ khaned adho vā asyā (pṛthivyāḥ) vīryam, viryasyābhikirptyai tasmāt sukṛṣṭe vrīhiyavā pacyante… tadimā prajā upajīvanti). But according to modern agriculturists deep ploughing is not at all necessary for producing good crops like paddy, etc. in India. The same text also suggests to produce rich crops from agriculture (kṛṣiṃ susasyām utkṛdhi ).
Since rain is most essential for agriculture. Cloud is praised as personified deity (tak kṛṣiḥ parjanyo devatā ). A griculture depends not only on water but also on all the five primal elements. For production of crops all these pañcamahābhūtas are most essential in different forms. Earth or land or soil is the primary need for sowing seeds. Water supplies the essential sap for growing the plants, in the form of reinfall or irrigation from river etc. Without heat (tejas) growth is impossible. Air (Vāyu) is essential for fertility. Maruts are praised as grinder of soil (pipiṣvatī ). Without space crops cannot take shape. So agriculture depends on all the natural phenomenon. Hence the Śatpatha Brāmaṇa says: sarvade vatyā vai kṛṣiḥ.
To denote the agricultural field or cornfield the term kṣetra is mostly used in the vedic literature. The lord of field ‘Kṣetrasya pati’ is actually the presiding deity of field, praised in the Vedas for good crops. Different types of agricultural lands are mentioned in the Vedas: cornfield full of ripened corns (pakvam kṣetrāt kāmadughā ma eṣā ), barren land, pastureless land (agavyūti kṣetram , khila or khilyā i.e. waste land (khile gā viṣṭhitā iva , urvarā or fertile land (apnavatīṣu urvarāsn iṣṭanī , etc. Indra is treated as the possessor of thousands of fertile lands (taṃ naḥ sahasrabharam urvarāsānī ). The Ṛgveda also records that due to the blazing of fire the fertile or productive land are changed in waster or uncultivable land (uta khilyā urvarāṇāṃ bhavantī ).
Different types of farmers are recorded in the Vedas and they are named according to their works. Viz. kārṣīvana ‘cultivator’, kināśa ‘farmer’, sīrapati ‘ploughmen’, vapa ‘sower’, dhānyakṛt ‘sower of paddy seeds’ and iḍavā ‘carrier of ripen corns or grains to a granary’. The vedi terms kāṣivana and kīnāśa, the linguistic basis of later word kiṣāṇa, remind us the motto of Indian agricultural society – ‘jay jawān jai kisān’. The Atharvaveda records that the gods ploughed a cornfield to produce this barley, where the ploughman is Indra and the Maruts are the cultivators who give rich gifts (devā imaṃ madhunā saṃyutaṃ yavaṃ sarasvatyāmadhi maṇan avacarkṛṣub, indra āsīt sīrapatiḥ śatakratuḥ, kīnāśa āsan marutaḥ sudānavaḥ. Kārṣīvana or cultivators are also known as annavid (nikhananto agre kārṣīvanā unnavido ). Farmers are used to toil the land with ox for the production or sweet beverage (śrameṇa anaḍvān kīlālaṃ kināśascābhi gacchataḥ ). For refreshment a ploughman is most essential (irāyai kīnāśanī ). The expert sower of paddy seeds are known as dhānyakṛt (vapanto bṛjamiva dhānyākṛtaḥ ). According to the Śatapatha Brāhmaṇa Gandharvas were also competent cultivators possessing winnow and barley (gandharvaā āsuḥ śūrpaṃ yavamān kṛṣir advālavān dhānāntarvān ).
In the Vedas ploughing is recorded as an auspicious mark of happiness indicating prosperity. Śuna (prosperity or happiness) and sīra (plough) are two deified objects related with agriculture (śunāsīrāvimāṃ vācaṃ juṣethām ). Following two mantras depict a real picture of tilling a land with the bullocks, happily by a farmer:
śunaṃ vāhāḥ śunaṃ kṛṣatu lāṅalam
śunaṃ varatrā badhyantāṃ śunaṃ aṣṭrāmudiṅgayaḥ.
All the agricultural objects like plough, ox, ploughman, the binding rope, the goad, etc. are the mark of prosperity. Again, as a symbol of prosperity, śuna and sŚra are conjointly praised:
śunaṃ naḥ phāla vi kṛṣantu bhūmiṃ
śunaṃ kīnāśā abhi yantu vāhaiḥ
śunaṃ parjanyo madhunā payobhiḥ
śunāśīrā asmāsu dhattem.
Here we find that the ploughman is tilling the land happily with the sharpened ploughshares and praying to cloud for sufficient rain. The Atharvaveda records a beautiful mantra describing a wellshaped, lance-pointed and sharpened plough with a handle (lāṅgalaṃ pavīravai suśīmaṃ somasatsaru ).
Mainly two agricultural seasons are noticed in the Vedas-Kharif (July to October) and Ravi (November to March/April) as two principle seasonal crops (dviḥ saṃvatsarasya sasyaṃ pacate ). Generally, most of the agricultural crops take three months time for complete production and hence at least four seasonal harvests are mentioned in the Taittiriya Saṃhitā (yavaṃ grīṣmāya auṣadhīr varṣābhyo vrīhiñcharade māṣatilau hemantaśiśirābhyām ). These are the time of ripen crops like barely for summer, medicinal herbs for the rainy season, paddy in autumn, and beans and sesamum in winter. According to the Kauṣītaki Brāhmaṇa, after one day of caitra amāvasyā (i.e. caitra śukla pratipadā), the winter crops are ready for harvesting (chaitrasyāmāvasyāyā ekāha upriṣṭād dikṣerannāgataṃ sasyaṃ bhavatr ).
In this context agricultural implements may be discussed in brief. Though we cannot compare the agricultural implements of vedic period with the modern advanced and scientific implements of agriculture but old and rough implements like wooden plough with a sharpened ploughshare for tilling the agriculture land with bullocks is still the base of rural economy. To indicate a plough following terms are used in the Vedas : lāṅgala, sīra. Phāla and stega denote ploushare which actually tills the soil; tilled by a ploughshare. The term iśa means the plough-stilt or the long wooden stich connected with the plough; yuga means a yoke and varatrā denotes a rope for binding the bulls with the yoke and plough. Handle of a plough is known as traru in the Vedas. For controlling the yoked oxen two implements are used - aṣṭrā and tottra to denote a goad. Sṛni and dātra ‘sickle’ (cf. dātāram in Santali language) are used for reaping the harvest (lavana). Khanitra (shovel) is also used in the Vedas for digging the soil. The Vedas record the use of śūrpa for winnowing the ocrns like paddy, barley, etc. and titau for clearing the flour made of barley (saktumiva titaunā punantaḥ . The two terms sīra and laya are used conjointly for two functions furrowing and harrowing a field respectively (sīrañca me layaśca me .
A brief idia is now given here on irrigation, fertilizers, prevention from natural calamities etc. as revealed in the Vedas. Though the agriculture mainly depends on adequate reinfall (kṛṣiśca me vṛṣṭiśca me ) but as a substitute the vedic farmers take the help of man-made irrigation system for watering the cornfield. The Ṛgveda (VII.49.2) describes four types of irrigated water (1) rain (divyāḥ), (2) from well (khanirtimā), natural (svayaṃjāḥ) and (4) from those rives which are mixed with sea (samudrārthāḥ). Artificial irrigation could be guessed from the vedic terms ‘khanitrimā āpaḥ’ from irrigation from well and hardaṃ kuly for irrigation from canal.
For growing the yielding capacity, manures or fertilizers are also used in the agricultural field. Mostly cowdung is used as manure and it is known to the vedic seers as karīṣa, śakan, śakṛt, etc. They know that the use of adequate cowdung in an agricultural field results to a rich harvest (karīṣinīṃ phalavatīṃ svadhām, nityapuṣṭāṃ karīṣiṇīm ).
Vedic seers are also conscious about the controlling method of natural calamities. The Atharvaveda records that the evils like moles, rats, birds, insects, excessive rain and draught could damage the crops. The same could be prevented by some spells (hataṃ tardaṃ samaṅkam ākhum aśvinā chintam… tarda hai, pataṅga hai jabhya hā upakvasa… ).
In crop production, harvesting is an important work as if the farmer is not able to collect the ripen corns in time surely he has to face a severe loss. The farmers plough the fields, scatter the good seed on fertile land which is fed and watered by natural phenomena but the ripen corn is cut or reaped by farmers with cutters like sickle etc. as cleared in the following mantra of Ṛgveda:
Yunaktu sīra vi yuga tanudhvam kṛta yonau
Vapateha bījam, girā ca śruṣṭiḥ sabharā asanno
Nedīya itsṇyaḥ pakvameyāt.
After reaping the ripen corn, they bound into bundles and beaten out or threshed onto the floor of granary (khale na parṣān prati hanmi ).
In agriculture a farmer really gets happiness when he finds the production from three types of cornfields - urvarā (fertile), iriṇa (barren land) and śaspya (marshy land), corn from cultivable land (kṛṣṭapacye aśane dhānye ). The Yajurveda records twelve types of food-grains in the following mantra:
Brīhayaśca me, yayāśca me, māṣśc ame, tilāśca
Me, mudgāśca me, khalvāśca me, priyaṅgavaśca
Me, aṇavaśca me, śyāmākāśca me, nīvārāśca me,
Godhūnāśca me, yajñena kalpantām.
These twelve corns are: vrīhi (paddy), yava (barley), māsa (a kind of bean, Phaseolus rediatus), tila (sesamum), mudga (a kind of bean, Phaseolus mungo), Khalva (chick-pea or pulses, canake), priyaṅgu (panic seed, Panicum italicum), aṇu) (millet, Panicum niliaceum), śyāmāka (a kind of millet, Panicum frumentaceum), nīvāra (wild rice), godhūma (wheat), and masūra (a kind of lentil, Ervum hirsutum). It is very interesting to note that most of these cultivated grains are known as dhānya in the Bṛhadāraṇyaka Upaniṣad as all these grains are most essential for sustaining life. According to this Upaniṣad there are ten cultivated grains: rice, barley, sesamum, beans, millet, panic seeds, wheat, lentils, pulses and vetches ‘Doliches biflorus linn’ (daśa grāmyāṇi dhānyāni bhavanti, vrīhiyavāstilamāṣā aṇupriyaṅgavo godhūmāśca masūrāśca khalvāśca khalakulāśca ).
In the Vedic period, preservation of food-grains in granary was known to the people. The term khala is used in the Vedas for ‘threshing floor’ and khalapā is a granary made of bamboo mats. The terms – ūrdara, sthivi and kṛdara are used in the Vedas in the sense of granary or treasure house e.g. ‘tām ūudaraṃ na pṛṇatā yavena ‘as a granary filled with barley’, ‘nirgā ūpe yavarn iva sthivibhyaḥ’ as men bring barley from granaries:, ‘samiddho añjan kṛdaraṃ matīnām‘ decking the treasure house or prayers’, etc.
In fine, it may be said that the above study gives a clear picture of vedic agricultural system and it is the base of rural economy because the rural people could maintain their livelihood by engaging themselves in different types of agricultural work. Advancement of any field work depends on the long experience and hence the vedic agricultural system is the pioneer of modern agricultural system in India to provide adequate food to each and every people of this country.
1. Atharvaveda XII.1.22
* Sukumar Chattopadhyay
Department of Sanskrit, BHU, Varanasi
Copyright IGNCAŠ 2014