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Krishi-Parashara (Agriculture by Parashara)

Krishi-Parashara (Agriculture by Parashara)
A text on ancient Indian agriculture in Sanskrit
Translated By Nalini Sadhale

Commentaries by H V Balkundi and Y L Nene
Agri-History Bulletin No.2

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By Balkundi (1998), he must be an authority on the science of polity and therefore different from the author of Krishi- Parashara.
Two more aspects must be taken into account while discussing the identity of the author: (i) Parashara being 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. Further research leading to new discoveries was also recorded in the name of Guru making it more difficult to determine the genuine and spurious portions of the text and complicating the problems of detennining the identity of the original author. In many cases the preceptor composed brief and concise sutras (formulae) to help the students remember the topics and gave elaborate oral explanations while teaching them. The subject got its final book-form with the necessary finishing touches such as interlinking topics and supplementing quotations and other factual details at the hands of the disciples. Singh (1971) has hinted at a possibility that the book Krishi-Parashara in its present form must have been an abridged redaction of the original work of Parashara.

Fixing the date of Krishi-Parashara

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 6th century AD but certainly not later than the 11th century AD. Leaving Parasharas associated with the Vedas, Mahabharata, and Artha-sastra outside the present 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. Since he is often quoted along with Kashyapa and Garga, a margin of at least a century preceding Varahamihira would be a reasonable time for three noteworthy scholars in the same disciplines to be respectfully recognized as authorities on the subjects. If Parashara of Krishi-Parashara is to be credited with the authorship of Vrikshayurveda [according to Bhat (1992)] and to be associated through it, with the medicinal subjects of the manuscripts of the 4th century, then that becomes the lower limit of Parashara’s date (though not necessarily of Krishi- Parashara). Kane and other scholars of Dharmasastra fix the date ofparashara Smriti between 1 st and 5th century AD. If this Parashara is identified with the author of Krishi-Parashara [according to Singh (1971)], this conjecture that the 4th century is the lower limit is further strengthened.

About the text of Krishi-Parashara

The text of Krishi-Parashara is available in printed form. It was first published in 1960 by the Asiatic Society, Calcutta, India with English translation by Majumdar and Banerji. Later, it was published at Varanasi by Singh…

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…to be the primary meaning of the root. The primary meanings are:

To draw, to drag, to drag away. The action of drawing or dragging is necessarily associated with a plow used for cultivation. Hence in a restricted sense the root came to be used in a secondary meaning, viz., ‘to plow’.

To draw into one’s power; i.e., overpower. Through plowing, land is for the first time drawn into man’s power.

To obtain. Through plowing man learnt to ‘obtain’ food and the land became a perennial source of ‘obtaining’ this basic need of human survival ever since.

To tear, to cause pain, to torture. Plowing implies the act of ‘tearing’ the surface of the earth. To do it for the sake of one’s survival must have given rise to a sense of guilt in an innocent, God-fearing mind of the first cultivator.

The word ‘krishi‘ has also these shades of meaning and through them takes us to the very root of this epoch-making discovery of agriculture that revolutionized man’s life on earth. Agriculture necessarily involves hard work. The use of this word in Telugu (krishi) in this sense is noteworthy.

‘Krishti ‘ a derivative of the same root means’ cultivated land’. The meaning of the word is further extended to indicate ‘inhabited land’ since cultivation brought with it inhabitation. The nomadic culture came to an end and people began to settle down wherever they undertook cultivation. Ultimately the word ‘krishti‘ came to mean ‘the inhabitants of a cultivated land’. In this sense the word indicated a particular race of people. Thus it is clear that the word ‘krishi‘ shows an interlink between agriculture on one hand and man’s history of civilization on the other.

Contents of Krishi-Parashara

The text consists of two hundred and forty-three verses mostly composed in the popular anustubh (shloka) meter. Prose is used exceptionally. The verses are neatly divided into sections according to the topics they deal with. The titles of the topics are given at the beginning of each section in prose, falling outside the metrical text. Salutations to Prajapati, the Lord of Creation, the divinity presiding over procreation, are offered in the opening verse, followed by a respectful reference to the name of the author as ‘rishi Parasharah‘. In the same verse the subject of the work is briefly stated as ‘krishikarma vivechanam‘ which came in vogue as another title of the book. The purpose of the work is stated to be ‘the usefulness to the farmers’ (krishakanam hitarthaya). After this traditional beginning the author proceeds systematically, glorifying the profession of agriculture in a few verses. The author then takes the reader straight to the subject beginning with rainfall on which depends the success of farming. This is dealt with in great detail propounding several theories of rain forecast, keeping…


…the author occupied for sixty-nine verses, which is more than quarter of the entire text. General management of agriculture is then briefly described followed by detailed directions for cattle management. Later, description of the plow and other implements offarming, followed by detailed instructions for plowing are given. After these preliminaries the actual procedure of farming is dealt with, step by step, covering most of the farming operations such as procuring seeds, plowing, sowing, leveling, transplanting, water management, weeding, and plant protection. In the concluding portion the harvest and the harvesting festival are described in detail. Threshing, and measuring and storage of food grains are also briefly dealt with. The last verse contains a prayer to Laxmi, the goddess of wealth, seeking her blessings for the farmers. The colophon once again refers to Parashara Muni as the author, stating that the book is completed at that point.

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 farmers’ 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.
To suit this purpose, the language used by the author is simple and clear. The embellishments and bombast which are so typical of the Sanskrit language are conspicuously absent here. But this lack of ornateness and ostentation does not make it prosaic. The language has the force of directness and the fervor of naturalness. The verse-form chosen by the author like several others, has its natural rhythm and fluency enabling him to convey the intended sense in an effective manner. Though most of the verses are composed in the simple anustubh (shloka) meter, more elaborate and longer meters such as vasantatilikamalinishardulavikriditaupendravajraindravajra, and upajati are occasionally used with considerable ease and skill. The author has a good command on the metrical fonD. It is in the composition of anustubh that he has taken some liberties. Some of them are noted below:

There are some discrepancies in the script.
Verse 89, quarter 1: 2nd or 3rd letter should have been long.
Verse 121 and 127, quarter 4: 5th letter should have been short.
Verse 105, quarter 2: 3rd letter should have been long.
Verse 179, quarter 3: The order of letters 7 and 8 should be interchanged.
Verse 203, quarter 2: 4th letter should have been short.
Verse 229, quarter 1: 6th letter should have been long.

There are several instances where the vowel ‘ri‘ is not joined to the previous vowel and is utilized as a separate letter to complete the required number of letters in a quarter. Verses 47,58,97, 109, and 242…

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…are some examples? Technically this is called ‘visandhi dosha‘.

The basic rule that a letter preceding a conjunct consonant becomes long is sometimes ignored as in verses 76, 121, and 127.

These irregularities, however, do not create any difficulty in comprehending the text. Some other characteristics of the language are:

Doubling of consonants after ‘r‘, a feature common to many old works; e.g., varddhate for vardhate, and saarddha for saardha.

Long compounds such as ‘avirala prithy dhara sandra vrishti pravahaih‘ or ‘krishana sara kedara vrisha nirada sanchayah‘ are occasionally used but most often they are the copulative type of compounds and therefore, easily understood. Verses 166, 170, 218, and 240 are some examples.

Vowels in some words such as loha and Jyeshtha are used with their vriddhi change; e.g., lauha (verse 103) and Jyaishtha (verses 155, 168, and 174).

Instances of awkward constructions as in verse 94,quarters 3 and 4 or in verse 162, quarters 3 and 4 are exceptional.

Examples of clumsy compounds such as ‘ravi bhauma shaner dine‘ are seldom met with.

On the whole it is a text, well conceived, neatly and properly worded and systematically presented. Being a book on a scientific subject, the importance of. Parashara lies more in the matter it has to offer 1 the manner in which it is presented. Even a cursory, of the contents of Krishi-Parashara will show Contains significant information on topics su meteorology, cattle-care, and most of the agric\J operations.

In meteorology, Parashara has laid down some Principles of studying the climatic and atmospheric conditions through careful observations. He has advanced several methods and theories of rain forecast. His main technique of rain forecast is based on the position he Moon and the Sun.

Sign of The Moon

Sign of the Sun

Predicted total rainfall of the year

Gemini, Aries, Taurus, or Pisces Cancer 100 adhakas
Gemini, Aries, Taurus, or Pisces Leo or Sagittarius 50 adhakas
Gemini, Aries, Taurus, or Pisces Virgo or Leo 80 adhakas
Gemini, Aries, Taurus, or Pisces Cancer, Aquarius, Scorpio, or Libra 96 adhakas

Balkundi (1998) has given Varahamihira’s technique of forecasting rain. It is obvious that Parashara does not take into account the lunar mansion.

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Parashara’s basic Unit of measuring rainfall is ‘adhaka‘ which he has defined in verse 26 as thirty yojanas depth of water spread over an expanse of hundred yojanas. If yojana means (the width ot) ‘a finger’ (Apte, 1977) and if the word ‘vistima‘ in the verse is interpreted as ‘square’, we get the three measurements required for fixing the gauge (10 x 10 x 30 cu. angulas). Balkundi (1998) has explained Parashara’s ‘adhaka‘ taking the third dimension (depth) to be 8 angulas. The end result of his calculations is:

drona = 4 adhakas = 6.4 cm.

This formula will be helpful in correlating Parashara’s measurement to the modern units.

Varahamihira also defines ‘adhaka‘ (Bhat, 1992). According to him, a pot of one hand expanse, containing 50 palas of water is an adhaka.

Here also the words ‘hasta vishala‘ are open to different interpretations. It is rendered as a square, of one hand in length and one hand in breadth by Misra.

Kautilya’s unit of measuring rainwater is ‘drona‘ (4 adhakas). In his Artha-sastra, however, he discusses only the yearly distribution of rainfall in different parts of Ancient India in terms of ‘dyana‘ without explaining as to how the unit itself is fixed.

An ‘adhaka‘, a unit of measuring food grains also defined by Parashara in verse 238 is twelve human fingers in width. However, the depth of the vessel is not defined although ‘twelve fingers’ can be taken to mean a diameter of a circular vessel or a square of that measurement. This detailed discussion on ‘adhaka‘ became necessary, as it forms the basis of Parashara’s main theory of rainfall prediction. Other theories propounded by him are:

By determining the ruling planet of the year.

By determining the minister planet and the type of cloud pertaining to the year.

By observing every month the movement of winds by affixing a flag to a rod firmly planted in open place (danda pataka siddhanta).

By observing rainfall during months beginning from Pausha (January).

By observing other climatic conditions such as clouds, fog, storms, snowfall, gale, hailstorms, heat waves, and lightning in the months preceding the seasonal rains.

By observing the movements of the planets and their relative positions.

By noting down special planetary conjunctions.

By recording the Sun’s transition to Aries with reference to the nakshatras for facilitating which the nakshatras are divided into four groups and put in a certain order to mark those groups (Meshasankramana siddhanta) (see figure on p. 50).

By noting the time at which the Sun crosses the Vishuva (equator) (the theory of Vishuvasankranti).

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By observing the rise or fall in the level of a running stream of a river with the help of a rod on specific days (the Pravaha Danda theory).

Indications of sudden rains are noted.

Indications of famine are also listed.

In the section called ‘vahanavidhana‘ the subject of cattle-care is dealt with methodically. Avoiding overwork for the cattle, ensuring proper hygienic conditions in the cowsheds, construction of cow sheds, useful nourishment for the cattle, disposal of the cow dung, the number of bulls to be yoked to a plow, branding of cows with hot iron, and long-distance movements of cattle are some of the topics discussed.

Basic rules for general management of agriculture are eloquently expressed. Detailed instructions to farmers regarding procuring and preserving seeds, plowing, sowing, water management, weeding, plant protection, harvesting, threshing, measuring food grains and storing them are given in a scheduled form along with precautions to be taken from time to time. Knowledge of climatic conditions largely dependent on astronomical theories, vigilance, hard work, and love for the agricultural profession are stated to be the essential qualities of a successful farmer.

The detailed description of the agricultural tools, especially of the plow along with the measurements of the various parts is yet another noteworthy feature of the book. Different parts of the plow are first identified by names, and measurements of each one of then prescribed. The units of measurements are of CI human fmgers, hand, and extended palm. (The ha the ruling king used to be the standard. However, in actual practice, probably every farmer used his own as a unit. Since the tools were locally manufactur the carpenter or blacksmith of the village, it mus1 been possible to place individual orders and get thc manufactured as per the desired measurement.) Emphasis is laid on the quality and strength of the imp1e and the farmer is warned that the sub-standarc would frequently obstruct his work.

Although it has been stated earlier that Parashara’s language is very simple and easy to follow, at few it is not possible to understand the intended sense is primarily due to our ignorance about the traditions and techniques followed by the ancient farm illustrate this, three farming practices are discussed.

Mayikadana (verse 182)

Mayikadana is an agricultural operation performed after sowing the seeds and is intended for even growth of seeds. The Sanskrit root ‘may‘ which means ‘to go’ or ‘to move’ does us much in determining the meaning of ‘mayik‘ probably it is of non-Sanskrit origin. Majumdar and Banerji (1960) equate it with madika, a word that form in Krishi-Parashara itself (verse 11: connect it with ‘mai‘ a Bengali word meaning and explain it as ‘a ladder-shaped contrivance levelling rice-fields’. In this interpretation or presume that ‘mayika‘ is the same as ‘madika

Asian Agri-History Foundation
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Citation: Sadhale, Nalini (Tr.). 1999. Krishi-Parashara (Agriculture by Parashara).
Agri-History Bulletin No.2. Asian Agri-History Foundation, Secunderabad 500 009, India