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
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...
...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 vasantatilika,
malini, shardulavikridita, upendravajra, indravajra,
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...
...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
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
|Gemini, Aries, Taurus, or Pisces
||Leo or Sagittarius
|Gemini, Aries, Taurus, or Pisces
||Virgo or Leo
|Gemini, Aries, Taurus, or Pisces
||Cancer, Aquarius, Scorpio, or Libra
Balkundi (1998) has given Varahamihira's technique of forecasting rain. It
is obvious that Parashara does not take into account the lunar mansion.
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:
1 drona = 4 adhakas = 6.4 cm.
This formula will be helpful in correlating Parashara's measurement to the
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
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
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
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).
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
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
47 ICRISAT Colony-I, Brig. Sayeed Road Secunderabad 500 009, Andhra Pradesh,
Citation: Sadhale, Nalini (Tr.). 1999. Krishi-Parashara (Agriculture by Parashara).
Agri-History Bulletin No.2. Asian Agri-History Foundation, Secunderabad 500