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Agriculture has flourished in India under all changes of dominion, and was practiced even in the early period of Rig Veda, where fields are frequently mentioned and the produce carried home in carts.

Models of ancient ploughs were exhibited at the Great Exhibition in 1851, and a species of drill-plough is attributed to Dr. Royle to the ante-Christian centuries of which we are treating. And not only of seed were these ancient farmers economical, but also of the soil, sowing “plants which require transplantation in the same field with rice-plants, which mature in sixty days; and swing mudga and masha beneath a tall cereal, called in the Code barley, but which is in fact a millet.

Rotation of crops is also practiced by the native farmers, who alternate the pulses, which improve the land, with the cereal grasses, which exhaust it; and to India Dr. Roxburgh believes the western world to be indebted for this system. In a country so luxuriant in coco-nuts and other fruits, edible roots, and water-plants, it bespeaks considerable civilization to make laws in favor of agriculture; and we therefore read with interest that

“If the land be injured by the fault of the farmer himself, as if he fail to sow it in due time, he shall be fined ten times as much as the King’s share of the crop that might otherwise have been raised.”

Indigo refers itself to India by the name which it has certainly borne in Europe since the time of Pliny; in its own country it is called Nili or blue. It is supposed to have been early exported to Arabia, Tyre, and Egypt, and to have been adulterated or imitated; for Pliny writes, “Cast the right indigo upon live coals, it yieldeth a flame of most excellent purple.” Indigo is a common looking little plant, with a bluish-green juice, and is only converted into a handsome color and a permanent dye by a process of oxygenation; and Bancroft thinks it wonderful that so many thousand years ago, the natives of India should have discovered means by which the colorable matter of the plant “might be extracted, oxygenated, and precipitated from all the other matter combined with it.”

(source: Phases of Indian Civilization – by Mrs. C. Speir p. 15-153).

Dr. Voelcker, a Consulting Chemist with the Royal Agricultural Society of England wrote in 1889:

“On one point there can be no question, that the ideas generally entertained in England, and often given expression to even in India, that Indian agriculture is, as a whole, primitive and backward, and that little has been done to try and remedy it, are altogether erroneous…At his best, the Indian Ryot, or cultivator is quite as good as, and in some respects the superior of, the average British farmer….”

Nor need our British farmers be surprised at what I say, for it must be remembered that the natives of India were cultivators of wheat centuries before those in England.

Abul Fazl, found agriculture flourishing “in high degree” in Bihar, where rice, “which for its quality and quantity was rarely to be equaled.”

The variety of agricultural produce is well documented too. Writing about the indigenous plantations of south India, Buchanan noted the practice of having a separate piece of ground allotted for each kind of plant. “Thus one plot is entirely filled with rose-trees, another with pomegranates, and so forth.” The coconut tree supplied a great deal of necessities; pith, liquor, fruit, “cloths,” roofs, sails, and ropes. In Bengal, notes another traveler, “the plantations have no end.” He mentions mangoes, oranges, citrons, lemons, pineapples, coconuts, palm-fruits, and jack-fruits. Stavorinus adds bananas, and guavas. Other fruits, grown in large scale plantations, included melons, apples, peaches, figs, and grapes. Ives refers to “the endless variety of vegetables” used by Indians in their curries and soups.

Bengal itself produced a surplus that was traded all over the country: grains, spices, and pulses. “To mention all the particular species of goods that this rich country produces is far beyond my skill.” Rice was grown in such plenty that, writes Orme, “it is often sold at the rate of two pounds for a farthing.” In general, the valleys of all rivers consisted of “one sheet of the richest cultivation.” Berar, with its black soil, produced cotton, wheat, barley, and flax. Nagpur wheat matured in three months. The Northern Circars are described as “the granary of the Carnatic.” The spices of Malabar, including pepper, ginger, cardamom, and cinnamon found their way into Europe.”

Irrigation Technology
India, have been under continuous irrigation from ancient times. The earliest reservoir and dam for irrigation was built in Saurashtra. According to Saka King Rudradaman I of 150 BC a beautiful lake aptly called 'Sudarshana' was constructed on the hills of Raivataka during Chandragupta Maurya's time.

In the Rgveda there are copious mentions of flood-irrigation. Indra dug channels for flood waters to flow through them. Kareze, a sloping horizontal bore to bring underground water to the ground level was developed by Indra so as to use this water for irrigation purpose. The famous Dasarajna battle between king Sudasa and other tribal kings is described in the Rgveda. It reveals that changing of a river course was a technique well known to Indians even at that ancient time.

The Kautiliya Arthasastra gives information on irrigation laws and irrigation cess. An interesting building called 'Himagriha' is described in the Kadambari of Banabhatta. It is an air-cooled house, the summer temperature being brought down by a flowing water channel and innumerable water-sprays.

The Grand Anicut built by the Chola king across the river Kaveri is the best example of the great achievements of southern engineers in irrigation engineering. They have perfected flood irrigation method and took utmost advantage of the flat land slope in the Krishna, Kaveri delta systems. They have also created irrigation system in which there were innumerable interconnected small reseviors with their network of irrigation channels. This system not only ensured assured supply of water even in the summer season but also it was the best solution to avoid devastation by the river in spate.

(source: Irrigation In Ancient And Medieval India - Dr. R.P. Kulkarni).
The opinion, however, that India’s irrigation works, were of little or no consequence has been so influential that even Indian historians have glibly accepted. Alexander Walker comments:

“the practice of watering and irrigation is not peculiar to the husbandary of India, but it has probably been carried there to a greater extent and more laborious ingenuity displayed in it than in any other country.”

In Bengal, dykes were the usual response to floods, and tanks and reservoirs stored water if rains proved scarce. Wells were a common feature; even today, every village continues to have its own well. Where there were no rivers, deep extensive tanks, measuring from three hundred to four hundred feet at their sides, were constructed, with a short temple alongside for adornment.

Lord Elphinstone reports that extensive embankments had been constructed on the rivers of Khandesh for irrigation purposes, and in Rohilkhand the local chiefs had built aqueducts “traversing corn-fields in all directions.” In the hilly regions, dams blocked streams. Bishop Heber, in the early part of the 19th century described Bharatpur State as “one of the best cultivated and watered tracts which I have seen in India.”

Alexander Walker observed:
“The vast and enormous tanks, reservoirs, and artificial lakes as well as dams of solid masonry in rivers which they constructed for the purpose of fertilizing their fields, show the extreme solicitude which they had to secure this object. Besides the great reservoirs for water, the country is covered with numerous wells which are employed for watering the fields. The water is raised by a wheel either by men or by bullocks, and it is afterwards conveyed by little canals which diverged on all sides, so as to convey a sufficient quantity of moisture to the roots of the most distant plants.”

(source: Homo Faber: Technology and Culture in India, China and the West 1500-1972 - by Claude Alphonso Alvares p. 48-54).

India invented sugar
It would be interesting to many to learn that “it was in India that the Greeks first became acquainted with sugar.” It was known to Pliny as a medicine. Sugar bears a name derived from Sanskrit. With the article the name traveled into Arabia and Persia, and thence became established in the languages of Europe.

Sugar from sugar-cane was pre-eminently an Indian commodity and there is reason to believe that the rest of the world derived their equivalent of sugar from the Indian 'Sakara' (and Shakar) (Compare Arabic 'Shakar' Latin 'Sacharum', French 'Sucere' German 'Zucker' and English 'sugar.'











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