Monday, 9 January 2012


International Research Institute on Tamil Language, Philosophy and culture, Tamil Nadu, India

Rice, (Arisi in Tamil) also known as Paddy, a raw crop (Nel in Tamil) is a pre-dominant food for half of the population in the world. It constitutes the staple diet of many of the Asian and African countries. The origin of this wonderful crop and its cultivation history has been a constant theme of search and re-search for not only historians, Plant Scientists but also for sociologists, anthropologists, and other students of cultural studies. The origin of the word ‘rice’, has though been known to philologists and etymologists, it had received little scholarly attention from the botanists , plant paleontologists and Archeologists.

One of the aims of this article is to re-engage the attention of the  ‘rice’ loving scholars of various fields to the  literary and linguistic evidences available in the ancient Tamil Literature and culture of Tamil Nadu. The aim is motivated by the fact that, the noted Indologists have failed to take interest of the hard linguistic and literal evidences available in Tamil Language from the early period of research as, the origin, the uses and characteristics of  Rice. “Inside India, the word Arisi for rice is widely distributed with slight regional variations. Instead of picking up that trend why Sanskrit accepted vrihi as the word to denote rice is really a baffling question. The time, being taken for deciphering the origin of vrihi has made it a historical conundrum.” However, it need not puzzle us for the word ‘vrhi’ - it is nothing but it is a Tamil word’ valci’
The origin of the word ‘rice’  has been closely related to the “tracing the origin, its cultivation culture and dispersal of rice in Asia. The Chinese word for rice in the north, tao or dao or dau, finds its variants in south China and Indo-China as k’au (for grain), hao, ho, heu, deu, and khaw (Ting 1961; Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences 1986). Indian scholars claimed that the word for rice in western languages had a Dravidian root and that ris, riz, arroz, rice, oruza, and arrazz all came from arisi (Pankar and Gowda 1976). In insular south-east Asia, the Austronesian terms padi and paray for rice and bras or beras for milled rice predominate (Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences 1986;  Revel 1988).  Arisi also known as Rice is  one of the oldest foods of mankind from the evolutionary stage. Arisi is the oldest and stable food of Tamils. There is no wonder that they had thorough knowledge in trans-continental maritime trade with other western countries (Latin/Greek).

The vast quantities of gold and silver coins struck by Roman emperors up to Nero (54–68CE) found all over Tamil Nadu testify the extent of the trade, the presence of Roman settlers in the Tamil country.1
It is not a surprising the Tamil etymologists on the spread of the word Arisi to Rice. Arisi (root word ari-arisu-arici-ori-orizu-rice. According to Tamil etymologists, the Tamil linguistic law  - loss of vowel in Tamil makes arisi to orizu.  The trade route taken by ships from Rome to Tamilakam had been described in detail by writers such as Strabo and Pliny, the Elder. The Greek and Arabic names for rice (Oryza and urz), ginger (Gingibar and zanjabil) and Cinnamon (Karpion and quarfa)  are almost identical with their Tamil names, arisi, inchiver and karuva. The imports were mostly luxury items such as glass, gold and wine.
Therefore, in this article, an attempt will be made to trace the evolution of rice in the ancient history of  Tamil Nadu.  In tracing its evolution, the main reliance will be placed on linguistic and literary evidences. 

Archaeological evidences such as the recent discovery in ancient Tamil paddy cultivation  area (Sangam literature described as Maruda Nilam) Adichanallur, where the world's largest three-tier pre-historic cemetery is found is situated in oldest Tamirabarani river.
Porundal is a traditional paddy cultivated area and the encouraging roots of Indus-valley civilization of Dravidian origin by Dr.Parpola.A.2
Other unique ‘Anthropological and bio evidences’ such as the Clans and names of the native farming communities and their continuing age-old tradition in Tamil Nadu; the cultural and social  festivals and elements that are still in practice also will be documented and shown as arguments for advancing the point of view, as to  how the evolution of rice  culture, in ancient India and in the world, closely related to Tamil Nadu and that to the so-called farming communities who were strangely kept out of the of society.  The ancient plant science and paddy diversity and processing knowledge adds strength to the evidences.

In a society of hunters and gatherers, man secured his food by hunting meat of the beasts and birds;  he had skill-fully used his hands and sense organs to gather  the fruits, nuts, seeds , leaves, honey, nector , milk etc that were available in the bosom of  the forests. Among those foods gathered by  man, the rice of the bamboo crop gets the first place in searching the earliest mentioning of rice in the Tamil Sangam literature (300 BC-200 AD) . This ‘moongil arisi’ is as good as the arisi available in the cultivable lands but definitely differs in its colour, shape and fragrance.  There are plenty of references in the Tamil literature to show that ‘mala nel’/ivanam  had been one of the predominant crops that were available in the hilly regions which did not depend on any one for its propagation, survival and  protection.
It was a tall, strong stalked wild species of rice or putative parent of rice. The height of the mala nel’/ivanam  can even hide a tall, huge male elephant. The nel itself is called ‘yani nel’/yanai mulungi. “Madangal ariya nagam addanga marikum nel’  (Is it ancestral?) which means the rice crop that covers up an elephant which does not know bowing or bending.
The origin of rice appears to be doubtful to some of the scholars in this field,  as the undomesticated rice had its origin in the hilly regions or in the pastoral areas before it could be transmitted to the man-made lands i.e ‘marutha nilum’ or cultivable lands, in the light of the evidences available in Tamil literature.
For instance, Poem no. 346 of Agananuru  has an  interesting reference called “ vittha valci” [the rice that grown without being sown]. The word ‘valci’ is transliterated in Sanskrit as ‘vrhi’. This reference strongly concludes that, even before domestication, wild rice, that is capable of ‘self-propagation’ has been identified and was within the knowledge of the early Tamils. (Is it an ancestral variety of Oryza sativa/ Oryza nirava?)
The origin of black rice (karu nel; kalikalu nel; kar nel;  kayam pu nel;  irul samaththanna erungaru nel; maiirul nel; karunavarkaniyanna nel; mattrundu arikila manjur eyahtu nel; kallanvulamkandanna nel; )  white rice (thuvel arisi; thuppaianna velnagai nel; velli vilangu nel; manthur nagai mani nel; ullurai ueranna velmulai arisi;  paruthipoothanna pasum nel); Red rice (keliru kannan kudumsennel; kuruthivoonnna nel; ratha mani nel; rathinam pothithanna nel; murukkam poo nel; sivel nel)  have been abundantly mentioned in the Tamil Sangam literature.

The base of Rice history and cultural evidences
2700 years old understanding of genetics and taxonomy of ancient Tamils

Tamil is one of the longest surviving classical language and existing for over 2000 years in the world. Tamil language is the "most natural" (iyal-mozhi) and also a proto-world language, being the oldest (tol- mozhi) language of the world, from which all other major languages of the world are derived.  It is believed that its literature, later called Sangam literature and usually considered to have been written from 200 BCE and 300 CE, spanned a huge period from 10,000 to 5,500 BCE3

According to Devanaya Paavaanar, a world renouned multi lingual scholar,  dating of  Tamil tradition follows as, Kumari Kandam is referred  as the Land of Purity, a sophisticated kingdom of higher learning, located  at the south of Kanyakumari (Cape Comorin). Lemuria submerged in 16,000 BC;   Second Tamil Sangam established by a Pandya king in 6087 BC.  A Chera prince wandering in the Solomon Islands saw wild sugarcane and started cultivation in Tamil Nadu,  in 3031 BC  .  The Third Tamil Sangam established by a Pandya king in 1780 BC, and Tolkappiyam, the earliest extant Tamil grammar,  in the 7th century4.
Sangam was the ancient academy, which enabled Tamil poets and authors to gather periodically to publish their work. The Sangam met periodically in the city of Madurai in South India under the patronage of the Pandya Kings.
Ancient Tamil’s culture and history evolved along with nature and categorized into five (thinai) lands. Their knowledge on universe, nature, environment, plants, animals and human beings, genetics, classification was magnum opus.  It is very much clear to learn from the earlier literature of  Sangam text called Tholkappiyam, that before the western world civilization emerged, Tamils understanding on genetics and plant sciences were unique. Tholkappiyam is written by Tholkappiyar, a great grammarian of the Sangam age.
Tholkappiyam is the foremost and the best grammar book of the Tamil literature. It is written in the form of noorpa or short formulaic compositions and comprises three major chapters.

According to recent studies of Prof. Nedunchelian, Tholkappiyam was written in 1400 B.C,5 but commonly accepted dating is 500-700 B.C. Tholkappiyam deals with orthography, phonology, morphology, semantics, prosody and other subject matter of literature, grammar and biological sciences.

As we already know, the first and foremost taxonomy and genetics based research findings in written form is on Greek and Latin language around second century.  Aristotle, Theophrastus’ works hold its time around 300 BC.
To explain the advanced scientific and thought process of Tamil people in terms of environment during those olden days, we take Tholkapiyar’s plant, genetics, paddy knowledge from his outstanding Tholkappiyam. Tholkappiyar’s genetic knowledge is equivalent to contemporary science and it is guiding for future science as the base knowledge of evolution. 
As per the available search during the research on Tholkappiyam, scholars find Tholkappiyar is
the first genetic and botanical scientist in the world. An unknown interesting fact is that,
Tholkaapiyar whose period falls far behind 700 BC, had classified plants, animals and human
beings based on their characteristics in his book. Here we can view some of his 2700 years old
conclusions. Being treated as a grammar book in Tamil language, the importance and the    
contents are ignored even by the Tamil scholars and it never come into the lime light of the

While having a conversing with Prof. Mani Vannan, Head-Touch Lab, Bio-Mechanical
Engineering, IIT, Chennai, he comments that it will take more years to understand the complete
biological knowledge base written in Tholkappiyam.

In Porul Adikaram, a separate chapter was named as Marabiyal (genetics), Noorpa (Poetry) 545 -656. He classified human, animals and plants on the basis of their sense and characteristics.

ஒன்று அறிவதுவே உற்று அறிவதுவே;
இரண்டு அறிவதுவே அதனொடு நாவே (571)                           
Tholkappiyar denotes  the chapter called Marabial (genetics),
571 says, plant has sense and life

புல்லும் மரனும் ஓர் அறிவினவே;
பிறவும் உளவே, அக் கிளைப் பிறப்பே. (572)
Grass and trees have one (touch) sense. This is much ahead of J.C. Bose and other scientists and researches.
'புறக் காழனவே புல்' என மொழிப (630)                         
'அகக் காழனவே மரம்' என மொழிப(631) Differentiation of monocots and dicots 
He differentiated monocot (grass ) and dicot (trees) based on the inner and outer thickness. monocot has inner soft and hallow, outer somewhat hard. Dicot  have innercore somewhat hard outer soft in terms of stem morphology. He had also said that there are some more exceptions to be explored and  had paved way for future research .
நெல்லும் புல்லும் நேரார் ஆண்டே (569)
“Nellum  pullum nerai aandae” – verse 569
Tholkaalpiyar says that paddy and grass are one and consider them under same family, Graminea?
Poem 632 – 635:  he classifies, the separate terminology for leaves and flowering components  of monocots and dicots plants. He also mentions that  the terminology related to economic parts such as fruits is common for both plants. It signifies his understanding on leaves, flowers fruits, and its characters. And he mentions, there is a traditional knowledge on plant species classification available before his period in Tamil and  he talks about composition of the species (nuclei) – anu – and the composition of five elements. According to genetics – marabou, if there is any changes in the existing position, the diversity and the sequences will change and  new things  will occur. - (It also applicable for words), 637
By understanding the Tholkappiyar’s plant science and knowledge, there is a possibility that the ancient Tamil would have been involved in better cultivation and veritable selection process. It is very much clear that the ancient Tamil people had vast knowledge in plant science and other related sciences. Our further discussion will strengthen this arguments.

Paddy genetics and varietal knowledge of Ancient Tamils in Sangam Literature
For the other scientists and researchers,  it is very crucial to understand  the ancient Tamil’s native knowledge in rice and their systemic technicality of paddy cultivation. They classified paddy on the basis of origin, quality, texture, colour, fragrance, size, duration,  and specific location( Chamba, Senel ,Vennel ).  Earliest documentations on paddy variety are available  in Sangam literature Manimekkalai, (200 BC- 100CE),  which mentions a glittering variety Kandasalli. Ivanam – a popular variety  suitable for highlands, Vennel -white rice were mentioned in Madurai Kanchi 272-110.

Below Tamil Sangam poems explain the ancient understanding on Paddy and its utilization as food and other medical purposes.

The poems given below are taken from Sangam literature.
நறுங் காழ் கொன்று, கோட்டின் வித்திய 
குறுங் கதிர்த் தோரை, நெடுங் கால் ஐயவி, 
ஐவன வெண்ணெலொடு அரில் கொள்பு நீடி; (Madurai kanji 288)
Madurai Kanji explains about Ivvanam nel variety  in the hilly zones along with Ven Nel? and its ear paddy head

பைது அற விளைந்த பெருஞ் செந்நெல்லின் (Perumban attrupadai-230)
It further explains paddy physiology, the native people’s understanding in harvesting and their understanding of suitable stage of Paddy variety for harvesting

கூனி, குயத்தின் வாய் நெல் அரிந்து, 
சூடு கோடாகப் பிறக்கி, நாள்தொறும், 
குன்று எனக் குவைஇய குன்றாக் குப்பை 
கடுந் தெற்று மூடையின் இடம் கெடக் கிடக்கும்,
சாலி நெல்லின், சிறை கொள் வேலி, 
ஆயிரம் விளையுட்டு ஆக, 
காவிரி புரக்கும் நாடு கிழவோனே. (Porunnar attrupadai -240-45)
matured paddy which  is about to ready for harvest and talks about pumper yield of rice - aayiram veli (it is definitely a very high yield, the quantitative unit veli to be studied. – Aayiram- one thousand.

உணவு கொடுத்து ஓம்பிய முறை
முரவை போகிய முரியா அரிசி 
விரல் என நிமிர்ந்த நிரல் அமை புழுக்கல், 
பரல் வறைக் கருனை, காடியின் மிதப்ப 
 ( Porunnar Attrupadai 105-115)
This poem narrates cooking methods and the selection of rice that is unbroken rice from the par boiled long grain 
அரி செத்து உணங்கிய பெருஞ் செந்நெல்லின் 
தெரி கொள் அரிசித் திரள் நெடும் புழுக்கல், 
அருங் கடித் தீம் சுவை அமுதொடு, பிறவும்,
விருப்புடை மரபின் கரப்புடை அடிசில், 
மீன் பூத்தன்ன வான் கலம் பரப்பி, ( Perumban Attrupadai 475)
This poem narrates harvest, post harvest, drying par boiling techniques, milling at a sequence. This poem represents their paddy processing and usage techniques from Sangam literature

Apart from these literary evidences, I will talk in detail about the recent excavations made by Prof  Rajan of Pondicherry University which also add strength to the ancient rice evolution in the Tamil country. Prof Rajan had excavated certain earthen pots  containing rice samples. Two kilos of paddy samples were contained in air tight pottery engraved with Tamil-Brahmi script6.
In 2006, a tiny village, Porunthal, Pazhani Taluk, Tamil Nadu, India which is situated in the main traditional paddy cultivation filed called Maruda Nilum and on the foreign trade route of Chera and Pandya trade route was discovered to have archaeological value.  
Prof Rajan discovered a pot with around two kilos of rice paddy samples sealed in airtight containers. The more important discovery perhaps is pottery engraved with Tamil-Brahmi script. The rice paddies found in the pottery were from 5th century BC as dated via radiocarbon analysis. As disclosed in an interview with Prof. Rajan, a paddy sample was submitted to Beta Analytic Inc. for Accelerator Mass Spectrometry (AMS) dating. The rice sample was dated 450 BC. It was the second sample that was dated. The previously dated sample was found to be from 790 BC. Later it confined as 490 BC.
Though, paleograhists are divided on the pre-Ashoka or post- Ashoka origin of Brhami script, the discovery of nearly two kilos of paddy unite all scientists of agronomy, paddy breeders, historians and create their interest in searching of the origin of paddy. The carbon dating of the paddy sample indicates that organized rice cultivation, storage etc were in existence in Tamil Nadu even before 500 BC

Porunthal  paddy grains has the following implications in understanding of paddy agriculture:
  1. 2 kg of paddy found from the air-tightly closed jar is the first kind of rice which has been sent for dating for its period.  Accelerator mass spectrometry (AMS) dating of the paddy done by Beta Analysis Inc., Miami, U.S.A, assigned the paddy to 490 BCE.  The paddy species belongs to the Oryza sativa (confirmed by known archio-botanists) which was a preserved cultivated crop. It proves that  highly qualified cultivable process took place in this region
  2. The preserved paddy found in the jar raises the assumption that the paddy may be kept for its uniqueness and preciousness. Though it is used for rituals, it is assumed that the variety is precious.  Does it denote the basic idea of passing it to the next generation? The script read as Va-yi-ra' found at the jar supports the research of paddy that Vaira could be a precious variety, a kind of paddy which was cultivated at Marutham lands. The folk-lores and available documents Pallu of Tamil literature mention kinds of Vairava sambah/vaira mani. 

Vaira  means   name of  the paddy, Vairava Sambah,
Mani means (single piece of paddy)  i.e
Vaira + Mani = Vaira Mani, a name of a paddy

Vairamani  has another meaning of diamond. But here Vairamani definitely denotes the paddy, because, the beads which were found along with paddy are not  diamonds. Tamil people always called glass beads, quartz as Palingu but not as vairam (diamond)

  1. Paddy had been used in each and every  rituals and customs of Tamils in Marudam lands where the Pazhani Cheppu Pattayam also have been discovered. The Cheppu Pattayam documents and strengthen the views of traditional knowledge on paddy that  Pazhani  is the traditional paddy zone

  1. According to Dr. Rajan, the date given to the paddy is applicable to the Tamil-Brahmi script also. So the date of evolution of Tamil-Brahmi could be pushed 200 years before Asoka. Hence Tamil Nadu's ancient history can be pushed back to 5th century BCE and paddy cultivation goes back to 5th century BCE.
Adichyanallur Excavation -  an ancient paddy growing track (Marutha Nilam) of Tamil Nadu  - Rewriting the paddy history
Adichyanallur  is an important discovery, the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI), Chennai Circle, has located the habitational site of the Iron Age people who were buried in big urns at Adichyanallur, 24 km from Tirunelveli town in Tamil Nadu  
According to Dr Pathmanathan Raghavan, a bio-anthropologist working at the Australian National University at Canberra. It is the world's largest three-tier pre-historic cemetery is found so far in the world. Unfortunately, the pre-historic settlements remained in the dark for past many centuries before being discovered by a German scholar in 1866," 7.
A  team of members led by Superintendent Archaeologist of Archaeological Survey of India ASI), Chennai Circle, T Satyamurthy, has recently unearthed nearly 169 clay urns containing human skeletons, dating back to around 3,800 years, which form part of the Adichyanallur 's pre-historic civilisation.
A broken piece of burial urn had a series of stunning motifs of a tall woman, a sheaf of standing paddy, a crane sitting on the paddy stalk, a deer with straight horns and so on. The centrepiece contained Tamil writing in very rudimentary Tamil Brahmi, engraved inside an urn. Epigraphists have tentatively read the writing as "ka ri a ra va [na] ta."
The urns containing the skeletons had exquisite miniature pots along with paddy and husk. Around the urns were bigger, ritual pots and iron implements such as daggers, broken swords, an exquisite spearhead and celts8.
According to Dr. Satyamurthy, the urn-burial site could be dated "to about 1,000 B.C," that is 3,000 years ago. "Contemporary to that, we have got the habitational site."  It was a busy town at the time. There was a pottery industry which consume large quantity of paddy husk.
The slanting position of the bunch depicts that the paddy were physically matured. Well matured grains of paddy  along with its different stages have been mentioned in Sangam literature of Tamil.

Adichyanallur is situated near the river Tamirabharani in between a huge land of paddy cultivation.  Tamirabharani is a prime source of paddy cultivation.  Adichyanallur (Adi + Nel + Oor – a primitive agricultural village) is very closer to Tirunelveli. (Thiru + Nel + Veli) which was called as Marutha Veli in earlier days. Historians believed that Marutha Veli was the capital of Pandiya Kingdom before they sworn Madurai as capital. The Chief deity in Tirunelveli, Lord Nellaiyappar is named after paddy. The historical and anthropological traits prove the history of paddy in Tamil Nadu.
Another old grain sample came from Mohenjodaro of Pakistan and dates from about 2500 B.C. (Andrus and Mohammed 1958).  By considering the above, the Indus-valley and the Tamil script root  and Adichyanallur findings have a possibility that ancient Tamil Nadu has a traditional paddy culture and it can expanded to many places.
Paddy Diversity
The documentation of ancient paddy varieties of Tamil Kingdom is seen in bits and pieces of many amateur  inscripts apart from the Sangam Literature and later Sangam literature. Inscriptions on paddy water distribution and few varieties of paddy available in the Chola and Pandiya Kingdom. In terms of paddy variety documentation, there are two sources namely,  Pazhani Cheppu Pattayam and  Pallu  literature which gives knowledge on unique diversity of the paddy varieties in an exclusive manner  

1.      Pazhani Cheppu Pattayam (Copper Inscription), 1528, published by Tamil Nadu State Archaeology Dept., published to the public on 30th April, 1995 by Indian Express, Madurai. Later published on 16th July, 1995 by The Hindu, Coimbatore; Verified and read by Tamil and History experts.

The salient features of the Pattayam
It was a call-meeting at PAZHANI, Tamil Nadu around 200 kilometres radius of PAZHANI  for the representatives (all the major 3 old kingdoms of Chera, Chola and Pandiya)  of the  farming communities. 120 representatives attended the meeting were from 85 places and they were specialized in agriculture (exactly like an international conference). They discussed about the traditional history of paddy, (Sen Nel – unique variety of rice) origin and cultivation techniques such as transplanting of seedlings, management of water, harvesting, post harvest, that they introduced and practiced. Besides, they discussed about a construction of a common place for free food supply.

The major feature of the Pattayam is that,  it mentions about 100  different varieties of paddy (Pattayam Lines 133-151). Besides these 100 different varieties, they also mentioned around 12000 varieties were cultivated at that time. (The enormous number on paddy variety mentioned during their meeting leads to a further research on history of paddy and diversity of Tamil Nadu).

The authenticity on the varietal name is unique because, they cultivated paddy for more than 2000 years as per their tradition and have proven their techniques in terms of paddy irrigation such as a system of Neerkattis – (traditional water managers) of Tanks and Canals of Tamil Nadu.

Some varieties to mention here are named after the origin, quality, texture, colour, fragrance, size, shape, duration, and specific location.

Some varieties which have fragrance are Mamboo Vasagan – smells like mango flower; Iluppai Poo Vasagan – smells like Bassia Latifolia flower;  Vazhaipoo Vasagan – smells like banana flower; Mahizhamboo Vasagan – smells like Michaeliea species. Karpoora Vasagan –smells like camphor.

 Some varieties which have named after colour are, Moongil Nirathan – like bamboo; Pakku Nirathan – like beetal nuts; Karunguruvai – black; Senguruvai – reddish;

Some varieties which are based on their shape are, Elivali Sambah – like rat tail’ Kadai Kazhuthan – like the neck of the quail

Some varieties which are based on their size are, Siru Milagi – small Pepper; Peru Milagi – big pepper; Sem Modan – bigger in size

Some varieties which are based on their texture are, Thuya Malligai – soft like Jasmine

Some varieties which are based on their duration are Arubadam Kottai or Kuruvai (matures on 60 days), neer velai-  can float and yield on 8th month

A variety which is based on medicine is Sinam Kondan used in Tamil medicine for distress and anxiety

Some more interesting and notable varieties are Thagam Thirthan – eliminates carving for water and one does not feel thirsty:  Iruppulakkai Thavirthan – does not require more effort to remove the husk; can be done by raw hand easily. Unukkiniyan – suitable for cooking with meat (may be for Biriyanis! – Sangam literature talks about techniques of cooking BiriyaniUon suvai Soru  - is that variety?), Umi illa Vasagan – does not have much husk.

2.                              Pallu  literature – a traditional songs of Uzhathiar &  Uzhavar (Paddy Farmers)
91 exclusive books on paddy cultivating methods, people, and their traditional paddy culture and practices and religion are available in Tamil Nadu. Most of the books are in Palm manuscripts and not yet printed. Mukkoodal Pallu, documented  in 1670, and  Sengottu Pallu, 1850  which collectively mention 90 varieties.  So far, around, 270-300 traditional varieties and 110 Bullocks types have been documented by the authors in these books.   Still now, some of the songs are sung by the native farmers of Tamil Nadu. The interest and involvement of people in agriculture and documentation of paddy variety  of Maruda Nilam – traditional paddy zones of Tamil Nadu from Sangam literature is not seen any where in the world.  Based on the Tholkapiyam, 700-1400 B.C, the  paddy classification knowledge is followed even today.

Tamil Heritage a root for Paddy Heritage
During the Sangam age, 200 BCE - 200 CE, agriculture was the main occupation of the Tamils. It was considered as a necessity for life, and hence was treated as the foremost among all occupations. The farmers or the Ulavar were placed right at the top of the social classification. As they were the producers of food grains, they lived with self respect.
The main point to be noted here is that, agriculture was the main occupation of the ancient Tamils and agriculturists were the most respected community. Farmers were aware of different soil types, the best crops to grow (specially paddy crops) and the various irrigation systems suitable for any given region.  The people from this category have been named after paddy as  Sen Nel Mudu Kudiyinar, Setru Kal Selvar’ etc. Historians note that the 9000 years old Pandiya Kingdom had been developed from the Marutha land    clans (Kudi), whose main occupation was agriculture especially, the paddy cultivation.
Tamilians are the pioneers to  divided the land and managed to get the best out of available natural resources. They classified the land into four main categories namely Kurinji, Mullai, Marutham and Neilthal. based on the mood, season and the land.
The Marutam region was the most fit for cultivation, as it had the most fertile lands.  The prosperity of a farmer depended on getting the necessary sunlight, seasonal rains and the fertility of the soil. Among these elements of nature, sunlight was considered indispensable by the ancient Tamils, because in cases of  failure of rainfall,  other methods of irrigation methods could be put to use and if the soil wasn't naturally fertile, artificial manuring would enrich the soil.
They differentiated the lands on the basis of fertility and accordingly cultivated the crops that they were best suited for the kind of soil. They were Vanpulam (hardland), Menpulam (fertile land), Pinpulam (dry land) and Kalarnilam or Uvarnilam (salty land). Vanpulam in Mullai and Kurinji regions did not yield rich produce, whereas in Menpulam the yield was very good.
Dry crops were cultivated on Pinpulam, because of the limited irrigation facilities. The Kalarnilam was unfit for cultivation. Some of the types of soil known to the people of this age were the alluvial soil, red soil, black soil, laterite soil and sandy soil and they knew what crops could be grown on each type of soil.
Kallanai,  in river Cauvery was the first man made dam in the plain land, dates  recently found 400 BC. Grand Anicut (Kallanai) is perhaps the oldest dversion structure in the world, constructed by the Chola King Karikalan as early as in the 1st Century CE.
The original name of Grand Anicut (Kallanai) is Kallanai and Grand Anicut is only the Anglicized version. This oldest dam in the world, Grand Anicut (Kallanai), is located in Tamilnadu, India. It is built on the River Kavery (Cauvery).
 The Grand Anicut (Kallanai) was built by the Chola King Karikalan. The Grand Anicut (Kallanai)was built centuries back, as early as in the 1st Century CE(pervious research). The amazing fact about the Grand Anicut (Kallanai) is that this dam is still in use, though there were minor additions and alterations by the British engineers in the nineteenth and in the twentieth centuries.
 Paddy irrigation  starts with direct irrigation from canals on the basins of the Kaveri, the Periyar and the Tamaraparani. Kallanai, a dam built on river Kaveri during this period, is considered  to be the oldest water-regulation structure in the world.  Kaveri, Pennai, Palaru, Vaigai and the Tamaraparani were the major rivers spreading their fertilizing water on the fields of Tamilakam. Water stored in tanks and reservoirs was delivered to the fields through channels. There is a considerable amount of spring channel irrigation in the Palar, Kaveri and Vaigai beds. To raise a second crop, well water was used. All the above areas are the paddy growing Marutham land.

Standard Agricultural Practices of  2000 year old Sangam Period

The Tamil people practiced a systematic method of cultivation during the Sangam age. It was known that ploughing, manuring, weeding, irrigation and crop protection which are to be followed in a proper way for the rich yield.  Tiruvalluvar, in his Tirukkural,(400 BC) dedicates   10 noorpa (two line poem) exclusively for agriculture, which deals about watering and manuring techniques. It is more or less like  current days  standard agricultural practices in order to get  good yield.
It’s a simple understanding that definitely a civilized cultivation  would have a root at least for 1000 years to streamline the process of paddy cultivation by correlating the Porunthal excavation (790-490 BC) and Adithayanallur has abundant paddy husk (already a pottery making unit consumed this quantities), to attain this standard agricultural practice advise need 2000 years cultivation touch (60 generation approximately)

Paddy farmers techniques :
 The level of intimacy that the Tamils have developed with their crops in the fields is amazing.  Though virgil referred about ‘tillage’ in BC 70, which is the oldest reference to to tillage, the same will pale into insignificance before the references made by The poet Thiruvalluvar who lived  2000 years ago and he  says that if  the Farmer does not go regularly to the field, the  field will lose its luster and start sulking like a wife who is not adequately loved and cared for.[kural:737]. The scientific world also confirmed this fact that the personal touch and care  that is bestowed on the plants improve their yield and growth.
Thus, the Tamils  had in the ancient days itself possessed  intense knowledge about the behavior of the plants and the fields and the need of human touch. The  reference to the importance of a well- tilled and puddled soil for ensuring proper and successful cropping has been  recognized by Thiruvalluvar. [kural:24].
 If the soil is not well plowed, puddled, the transplantation of the crop and its subsequent survival, yield etc all will be affected. Hence, Thiruvalluvar says that a person who has controlled his five senses and cultivated them in a proper direction is  comparable to a well-prepared ,tilled soil in which the seeds can be sowed without any hesitation as to its prospective yields.  In such a saying, two  things are revealed : one, the importance of tillage and thereby the advancement made by Tamils in the field of soil science; two the level of seed technological development achieved by the Tamils. One can further go and say that the Tamils appreciated the organic and interrelated relations between the tillage of the soil and the crop for the improvement of the yield.[kural 1138;1142]
 Not merely, the preparation of the soil and sowing of the seeds, one can trace and marshall evidences from the Sangam Literature  for almost every aspect of crop production, protection ,preservation, marketing and consumption. The importance of manuring the fields for increasing the grain yield, and the importance of irrigation[ life irrigation, first irrigation, second irrigation etc]; the necessity of weeding and its implications for the crop production etc have been well –known to the Tamils.
Thiruvalluavar says that even for reasons uncontrollable one is not able to o for preparatory tillage of the soil, no harm if he could ensure proper manuring of the field . He further in a formulaic manner says that  than manuring , irrigation is important and having done all these it is important to  protect the crop from its pests and predators. “ Arinum nentral eruviduthal , athaninum nendral neratti nendrathan kappu”.[kural:1138]. He also talks of sprinkling the irrigation in Kural :1142].
 The quality of seeds has been stressed by Pura Nanuru in poem no13. The psalm no 47 of Ingurunuru talks about the crop rotation and intercropping. Chilapathikaram [lines72-75] talk about the intensive cultivation and the marketing of the grains.[lines:121-124] Post –harvesting processes and methods  including ratooning of rice crop finds a mentioning in the  collections of Pathitru Pathu[lines:30-44]
The rice and paddy have been both in raw and cooked form consumed by the people . The rice was sold in the market specifically meant for it which is known as ‘koola vidi’ in chilapathikaram. ‘koolam’ means ‘ rice’.
The tamil kings ‘Pandiyas’ are  supposed to have obtained rice  from lord Indira [one of the names for their ancestral god] even in the Dvapara yuga itself. This fact is evident from the inscriptions available in the  Sankaran coil ,‘Kari valam vanda Nellur’ ,Sankaran coil,Tamil nadu.(South indian Temple script books –part 2-page 803,no863) If puranically we take the age of thuva para as 25000 years, the antiquity of rice cultivation has to be counted and traced to the tamils.
 Further, the classification of lands into five types, the classification of seasons into six seasons, the microclassification of  day and night time into six units etc all indicate the advanced level of tamils knowledge about the nature and environment in which they have carried on their  rice cultivation.
The expertise in water management and tank management in Tamil Nadu has been handed over from generation to generation. There are specialised community even since existing in Tamil Nadu who consider them to be the succeeding generation of those specialists. They know all the concepts of modern irrigation and can explain it in their own simple language.  It includes the frequency of irrigation in each fields, water requirements at critical periods of the plant,  water stress periods, quantitative requirement of water in various fields based on elevation, soil type etc.  These local water management experts are called Neerkattis/ Madaikudumban in the case of tanks. In the case of canal management they are called as Kalladi .
According the Dr. Mukundan, the Neerkattis have a thorough knowledge and understanding on dry land paddy varieties and cultivars.  These water managers used to take responsibility of rain water harvesting, maintenance of tanks, maintenance of canals and also water distribution management. They were the living link between nature,  people and agricultural land. They used to worship their god Indra, did special pooja for rain. Erikkattu Ayyanar  is another god who was one of the protectors of the land and tank from period to period from natural calamities and wars.
As per the documentation during colonial period, during  800 AD  there were more than 10000 tanks with dry and wet as well as system and non system tanks constructed and maintained by Neerkatties. They have knowledge on difficult paddy soils in the Ayacut and maintained by Neerkatties9.
As per the documentation, they have good knowledge on various soils, in the ayacut water holding capacity of soils, distribution management of water. The also used to do the sociological functions such as conflict management between farmers on water sharing and other agricultural related disputes. They are also carrying the knowledge of irrigation efficiency, paddy varieties and cultivars, plant protection measures etc10.
These were documented by scientist Dr. Jagadesan and co-Japanese scientist who conducted the study recently. They observed that each Neerkatti is used to travel 42 km in one ayacut (approximately 100 acres) which is the length of the canals.  Neerkattis have the knowledge of the land from tale end to upper end . There are some indigenous knowledge yet to be researched.
There were some observations by Neerkattis in Ramanad plain about the crakes in the field. They observed that it is either due to excessive water or insufficient water. There is a surprising factor that Ramanad big tank Neerkatties use to use novel technologies to reduce the evaporation loss of water during the water scarce period. They use to grow certain herbs on the bunds as well as shores of the tanks and ground it and put it on the water which create a thin film on the water surface. These film used to be acted as anti-transpiration  material during summer season and reduce transpirational loss. The plants are belonging to Pedalium Sp.
Social and cultural engagements on the basis of agriculture
As an indication, there are some rituals and cultural festivals in Tamil Nadu which are celebrating from Sangam Period.

Venkodai Thiruvizha ( White Umbrella Festival)
This festival is mentioned in Sangam literature Chilappathikaram  as Indravilla festival, and a lot of archaeological evidences as well as literature evidences are available. The concept of the festival is that the whole family from the farming community take venkodai  on an elephant and seeking rain from their god Indra who was a Pandya king during time immemorial.  Still a temple near Rajapalayam celebrates Venkodai festival and the temple authorities claimed that they have evidences of the festival for more than 400 years.
Mulappari  festival attached with Aadi perukku
This is a typical method of testing the germination and vigour of various seeds which needs to be sown in the soils. The women take samples of various seeds and sown it in a dark room for 4-5 days and takes it to the god as demonstration during night.  The concept is that the seeds will be selected from the house of best grown mulappari.

Ponnerpoottu Thiruvilla (Golden Plough Festival)
This is celebrated in east Abhiramam, Ramnad District, Tamil Nadu. They make garlands with the mix of paddy seedlings and hariyali grass on the plough and sing folk songs.  The neerkatti does the first plough using the golden plough and this is considered to be the first plough for the entire zone. It is estimated that this festival is about 2000 years old and during those ages. Kings used to come and start the festival; the government officials start the festival   nowadays. During this festival, the people such as Kollans (blacksmiths/fabricators), Asari (the carpenters), Thattan (goldsmiths) and Edayan ( who rear the bullocks and cows) were used to be honoured for the help  that they offered for starting the season.

According to Dr. Gnanasekaran  indicates that this festival have been taken to the entire south-east Asia like Srilanka, Combodia, Thailand, Malasia Lavos and Vietnam  by Chola Kings who conquered those regions.
Transplanting festival
According to the Gnaneswaran, the transplanting festival have evidences of 1200 years based on the documents from Patteswaran temple. The women prepares the Nattru  (seedling) and ties with Valli and worships the Goddess Patchai Nayagi,  who is the wife of Lord Patteswaran.

They have developed a technique like Dapog method of Nursery preparation (about 1200 years back?).  Every morning till the Nattru  is ready for transplanting, they pray the God with Nattru and kulavai  pattu, a kind of local song, until the nattru is ready for 15 days.

As per the concept, Patchi Nayagi,  the wife of Lord Patteswaran, goes along with the women and transplant the seedling in the soil. This is being done by a women from the community who are specialised in paddy cultivation in Tamil Nadu.

Lord Patteswaran takes silver Spade (Manvetti), and accompany them for the final levelling of fields and patch works of the fileds. The Kalladi or Neerkatti does this as a representation of the God along with his wife Patchi Nayagi  Mallammal.
Harvest Festival
Pongal (Thai Pongal) which will be celebrated across Tamil Nadu in the month of January 14, 15 16 as a thanks giving celebration to God  Indra and Lord Surya for the best yield provided by both of them. As per the concept, Indra provided good technology and seed and Surya provided the micro and macro climate which resulted in better yield.

Similarly they also thanks to Ayyanar who protected the land from all kind of calamities. They offer a part of their yield in the form of cooked food with Jaggery and also offer a portion of the yield. They also exhibit Nellmudi  and offer it to Ayyanar in some places.

It is a thanks giving function for the cows and bullocks who supported the farming throughout the season.

We have  so far seen that the paddy civilization of the Tamils has considerable literary, cultural and archeological evidences  which amply bring come the point that the  knowledge of the tamils regarding the various aspects of rice production  is second to none of the oldest rice cultivating nations such as China.
As the evidences relating to the Chinese antiquity of rice cultivation and its impact on their culture  are mostly available in Chinese language as is the case of the Tamils, it becomes difficult to make any bold claims as to the technological superiority  or historical a priority of the rice cultivation by the Tamils. The grain of the truth is that every cultural claim has ‘a grain of truth’ in it!. Thus,  the growth and development of Tamil language is organically related to the philosophy and learning of  the Rice cultivation. It is no wonder that many of the social classes intimately related to the ‘culture of agriculture’ such as th  Ner kattis, their functions such as Indira vila of which reference is already made in this article. It may perfectly be possible that rice had originated in South Asia  that ‘ motherland of rice mankind’
The paddy growing people’s history is still continuing as per our current studies.  From the available research on ancient Tamil paddy history and evolution, there is a strong paddy culture prevailing  in Tamil Nadu – Maruda Nilam and it is a continuation of  5000 years  old paddy cultivation heritage by native people .

There is an exclusive land mass of paddy land in Ancient Tamil land -Marutham occupied  a vast history of Tamils and has oldest efficient irrigation system in the world’s paddy cultivation  from time memorial is unique. The literary evidence unknown  early Pandya  kingdom(Paddy based)– extended in  Pakruli  river , submerged land masses (Pura Nanurooru -9 ) Lemuria, Kabadapuram  have  revealed a lot of interest and in sight on paddy culture. Recent Dr.A. parpalo, Finland Indologist  research on  indus valley and Tamil script link is to be studied in terms of paddy culture. This perspective and research surely revels more understanding on history of paddy and paddy lovers in the world.

Beyond Tamil history of rice, for mankind, Tamil Sangam literature, is aroused to the vast  literary resources available in Tamil Language  which point toward and allude to regarding some of the subtle and certainly not brittle aspects of rice cultivation that the modern scholarship of rice cultivation  regards as path-breaking and as fruits of its modern labour. The approach to Tamil references regarding Genetics as is seen in Tolkappium, the information relating to rice germplasam  in Palani cheppupatayam, Pallu literature, the various aspects of seeding, sowing with respect to lunar and solar movement, nursery cultivation, transplanting,  schedules of  rice irrigation , methods of weeding, soil preparation, storage , harvest, preservation of  seeds and methods , utilization such as food, native  medicine , wine making, use in alchemy  etc., relating to rice  available in the sangam literature  in fact will if seriously scholarly attention is paid will lead us to discover new aspects and also motivate us to be a truth loving tribe of scientists. With this thoughts on the food of the world, and serving these as a food for thought ,this article stands open rather than being closed.

1.      Gilbert Schelater, The Dravidian element in Indian culture(1922)  pp 34, Madras press.
2.      Parpola.A,  June  2010, A Dravidian solution to the Indus script problem, Published Central Institute for Classical Tamil
3.      K.A.N. Sastri, A History of South India, OUP (1955) pp 125–127
4.      G. Devaneyan, Ñanamuttan Tevaneyan,1966, Primary Classical language of the World, pp-12,
5.      K,Nedunchelian ,2010,  “Tholkappiyar Kallam “’ PP 40, Palam Publication
6.      October 15, 2011  ,Hindu Daily, Kavitha Kishore,Porunthal excavations prove existence of Indian scripts in 5th century BC: expert
7.      Times of India  , Daily,  Science section .Jan 1,2006, Skeletons dating back 3,800 years throw light on evolution
8.      The Hindu, Apr 03, 2005,Sunday page , Iron Age habitational site found at Adichanallur
9.      Muniandi JEGADEESAN* and FUJITA Koichi**Southeast Asian Studies, Vol. 49, No. 1, June 2011 Deterioration of the Informal Tank Institution in Tamil Nadu:Caste-based Rural Society and Rapid EconomicDevelopment in India
10.  Seenivasan, R. 2003. Water Manager of South Indian Tank System. In Neerkatti: The Rural Water Manager, editedby R. Seenivasan. Madurai: Dhan foundation.
11.  Sangam literatures – Tamil University Publications




A Very nice article from Dr. Maruthamalai Murugan.. really it is useful to know about the civilization of Paddy.

தை.ரூசோ said...

sir iam also from madurai.i need ur contact number for thanks to this such a article.dr.soundrapandiyan need ur contact number for use this article in weekly magazine.hw wanted to hilight some issues from this article.
thnk u

Unknown said...


Unknown said...

Very good Article Sir.

chendrn said...

Sir i thank you for your hardwork to include all evidences pointing to who are the people who fed and nurished the entire tamil population with their selfless sacrifice of cultivation of paddy and protecting the tamils from non tamilian enemies for thosands of years.

chendrn said...

Sir i thank you for your hardwork to include all evidences pointing to who are the people who fed and nurished the entire tamil population with their selfless sacrifice of cultivation of paddy and protecting the tamils from non tamilian enemies for thosands of years.

Anonymous said...

Good article, hard work, If possible add medical benifits of all type of rices. which will be more intersting.


aayiram nanrigal..

Unknown said...


Surya raghu said...


I need some information about the rice varieties pls contact me through below number

Unknown said...

Any quantification paddy is reported for my information. If so pl. let me know