The Asian Agri-History Foundation (AAHF), a non-profit trust, was established and registered in 1994 in Secunderabad, India to facilitate dissemination of information on agricultural heritage in order to promote research on sustainable agriculture in South and Southeast Asian regions. These regions provided food security to its population for several millennia with occasional famines in limited pockets due to drought. Farmers here had evolved some of the most sustainable agricultural management techniques suitable for different agroecoregions. There is a great deal to be learned from the traditional wisdom and the indigenous, time-tested technologies that sustained the farmers of South and Southeast Asia in the past. One of the major objectives of ASHF is to disseminate information on ancient and medieval agriculture by translating old texts/manuscripts into English and published these translations with commentaries on the scientific content of the texts. The aim of these commentaries of the experts is to stimulate research to validate old practices.
The Asian Agri-History Foundation has so far published six bulletins: Vrikshayurveda (The Science of Plant Life) by Surapala (c. 1000 AD), Kishi-Parashara (Agriculture by Parashara) (c. 400 BC), Nuskha Dar Fanni-Falahat (The Art of Agriculture), a Persian manuscript by Dara Shikoh (c. 1650 AD), Kashyapiyakrishisukti (A Treatise on Agriculture) by Kashyapa (c. 800 AD), Vishvavallabha (Dear to the World: The Science of Plant Life) by Chakrapani Mishra (c. 1577 AD), and Lokopakara (For the Benefit of People) by Chavundaraya (1025 AD). This present bulletin has the translation of a Malayalam manuscript edited by Vidwan C Govinda Wariar. This edited manuscript was obtained from Adyar Library, Chennai, India through the assistance from Mr. S Parthasarathy, IAS (Retd.), Hon. Member, International Advisory Board of AAHF.
It seems several versions of “Krishi Gita” are available. The one we have translated is classified as D. No. 298 by Adyar Library, Chennai. The original author Krishi Gita is not known and there is no date indicated on the manuscript. Because the crops described in the text are the indigenous ones, and not those introduced by Europeans (Portuguese), we believe the date be c. 15th century.
An interesting fact about this text is that the advisor on agriculture is Parasurama (Axe-wielding Rama) the sixth incarnation of Vishnu. Parashu means axe, hence his name literally means Rama-with-the-axe. He received an axe after undertaking a terrible penance to please Lord Shiva, from whom he learned the methods of warfare and other skills. He is a Chiranjeevin (long-living), who fought the advancing ocean back thus saving the lands of Konkan and Malabar (Maharashtra-Karnataka-Kerala coastline). The coastal area of Kerala state along with the Konkan region, i.e., coastal Maharashtra and Karnataka, is known as Parasurama Kshetra (Parasurama’s area). Parasurama is said to be a “Brahma-Kshatriya” (of the duty between a Brahman and a Kshatriya), the first warrior saint. While advice given by sages such as Parashara and Kashyapa are well-known, association of Parasurama with agriculture is not so well-known outside the India west coast.
Through the courtesy of Dr. MR Rao, Hon. Editor to AAHF, we requested Dr B Mohan Kumar to translate the text from Malayalam into English. Dr. Kumar has done a fine job of translation. Two excellent commentaries, one by Dr. Kumar himself and the other by Dr PK Ramachandran Nair, have highlighted the salient features of the text, and have indicated practices that need to be validated. The AAHF is highly grateful to Drs Rao, Kumar, and Nair.
We have reproduced the text edited by Vidwan C Govinda Wariar. Unfortunately the photocopied text that we had received needed considerable cleaning. In the process, bottom lines on very few pages were erased. We apologize for this inadequacy.
We hope this publication, like the other publications of AAHF, will prove useful to all those interested in agriculture not only in India but elsewhere in the world.
The book of verse titled Krishi Gita, written in four parts by an anonymous author(s) in ‘old’ Malayalam language, contains a wealth of information about the agricultural practices of Malayalam desam (contemporary Kerala) and the nearby regions (parts of present-day Tamil Nadu and Krnataka) of India. Compiled at an unspecified time in history, Krishi Gita epitomized the equivalent of the present-day recommended ‘package of practices’ for crop production. It covers a wide spectrum of crops including cereals, pulses, vegetables, fruits, and nuts, grown in Kerala since time immemorial, and many aspects of crop production such as varieties, cultural practices, and pest incidence in a lucid style. Also included are aspects relating to agricultural water management, tillage operations (including the implements used), and animal husbandry (e.g., how to select a bullock pair for draught purposes, and where in the farm to construct a cattle shed).
Apparently many versions of Krishi Gita are available (see Menon, 1912; Gangadharan, 2004). The version of Krishi Gita edited by Vidwan C Govinda Wariar and published in the Bulletin of the Government Oriental Manuscript Library, Madras (1950), largely based on the version described as D. No. 298, was used for this translation. I believe that the English translation of the antique manuscript, with annotations and commentaries, may be useful especially from the point of view of making available traditional agricultural knowledge to a larger audience and extrapolating the information to the present times.
While translating the work, I have provided the words that in my thinking are most appropriate to convey the contextual meanings of the Malayalam/Sanskrit words and expressions in the original works for which exactly corresponding English words are not available. Plain transliteration has been used for varietal and other common names. I has also attempted to include some descriptive notes, wherever deemed appropriate.
The script is mostly written in an imperative mode of writing (‘do’s and don’ts’), which is unavoidable in a piece that supposedly translates the discourse between a great sage and his disciples in a bygone era.
On a final note, I express my sincere gratitude to the Asian Agri-History Foundation (AAHF), particularly its Chairman, Dr. YL Nene, and the founding member, Dr MR Rao, for asking me to undertake the translation of this remarkable piece, and making available a copy of the Government Oriental Manuscript Library Bulletin containing the vernacular text of Krishi Gita. Dr PK Ramachandran Nair, Distinguished Professor, University of Florida, USA made several constructive suggestions on a previous version of the script, besides writing a commentary on it. I also wish to place on record the help of Dr Jayasree Krishnankutty and Mr Shaju K Francis of the Department of Agricultural Extension, Kerala Agricultural University, Mr Katangot Prabhakaran, a language expert previously with the Kerala Sahitya Academy, Thrissur, and Mrs Sheenu S Nair, my wife, in the translation process; however, whatever blemishes are remaining these are entirely mine.
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