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Agriculture in India – Cultural evolution

India’s glory in agriculture back in the ancient times has to be accredited to its mind-boggling bio-diversity wherein, there are 6 sub-climatic conditions, ranging from mountains to hot and cold desert, arid and semi arid zones and tropical rainforest. Thus championing its title of being called as Indian Sub-Continent, wherein the massive spectrum of various climatic conditions is packed in a relatively small piece of land! India encompasses a mind-boggling 127 agro-climatic zones that boasts of being able to grow almost every crop known to man thus far. And over 40% of its total land mass is arable. This massive spectrum of bio-diversity is due to one trump-card India holds – the monsoon – a religiously appearing, 4 month long rainy season just after scorching tropic summer distributes rain across the sub-continent in varying proportion. Torrential rain gave the right condition to grow spices such as black pepper and cardamom while scanty rain gave right conditions to grow cumin and super-hot chilli! India is blessed with 2 distinct sub monsoons, awarding more time to grow 2 spells of crops. One being Kharif (June to September) and the other being Rabi – (October to February). The Kharif is characterized for growing water intensive cereals and the Rabi is characterized for growing less water intensive crops such as lentils/pulses.

Summers for Indians is marked by the advent of New Year as per the Gregorian Calender that falls in the middle of April every year. The rituals surrounding the New Year is again marked by the indigenous biodiversity and their significant role of the season. Most of the food and ritualistic offerings are marked by food produced in the bygone 2 growing seasons including pulses. All completely, locally grown and with the changing biodiversity, the vegetative offering also varies.

The agricultural system and the agro-ecology is so diverse in India that it bears a great influence in its cuisines too. It is noticeable when one travels that the cuisine changes every 25 kilometers as the agro-ecology changed every 25-30 kilometers, sometimes even lesser. With changing bio-diversity, the nature gifted the people with food-systems that were indigenous to the local elements at play, like for example the paddy. India had over 110,000 native varieties of paddy up until the mono culture based chemical farming took over in the 1960s. These varieties were bred to suit various challenges nature posed from inadequate water to local terrain to soil texture to rain pattern etc. There are several paddy varieties that do not require much of water at all. The so called “Dry-land paddy” just asked for the land to be moist. Defeating the conventional notion that one needs to flood the field and keep them flooded to grow paddy. Another example is of indigenous chillies. India also happens to be home to some of the most diverse chilli collection where from Ghost Chilli (Notorious for its heat quotient in the world) to Bird’s Chilli (Still a hot one), to Byadgi, Guntur Red, Gundu Mulagu, Indian Jwala, Kashmiri, Kanthari (Kandahari) etc. All of them completely indigenous to their respective zones of growing, meaning, when one tries to grow it elsewhere, it tends to lose some of its character.

Culturally, Indian agriculture has shaped the way of life itself of its population. Since the beginning of cultivation in India, sustainable agricultural practices have been inevitable ingredient. India championed botanical knowledge through “Vrikshayurveda” – an Ayurveda (Indigenous medicinal science of India), Vriksh – translates into Tree/Plant life, composed in 10th Century AD. Vrikshayurveda speaks at lengths about treating ailing trees and wellness of local plant-life, from the nature of soil to different elements of nature and its influence on flora. Vrikshayurveda scripture documents various indigenous organic concoctions that one could prepare using easily available resources to treat various disorders in plant life. India respects the nature to an extent that it worships nature that nurtures its agriculture system – from its mountains to its rivers to its soil to its flora and fauna.

It is a well known fact that Indian calendar is marked with umpteen festivals round the year, except for the months of June, July and August when monsoon showers are prevalent because that’s when agricultural activities happen in massive scale, the season when every member in a family is busy working hard, breaking sweat in the fields turning the lands green and thus securing their survival and prosperity for another year, until the next monsoon season. During the monsoon, rarely does one see social celebrations such as marriage ceremonies and soon after august, a plethora of celebrations begin. From Ganesh Chaturthi to Dasara to Diwali, the entire economy surges as the spending power of agrarian population would have harvested their crops and an income to be spent in buying food, clothes, implements and other novelties, thus providing impetus to the entire economy. Soon after Diwali, around October, the second crop cycle begins which is normally called winter-crops. And the culmination of winter crop is marked by celebrating spring and expressing gratitude for nature and for a great agrarian season, when even cattle are pampered and worshipped, so are the elements of nature such as the Sun for blessing the land with its benevolence.

The subsequent months, especially from the second half of February to March, April and the three weeks of May are characterized by the scorching season of tropical summer. The summer season is marked by the indigenous vegetation biding their time for the impending monsoon, having lost their leaves owing to their quality of being deciduous, blooming and fruiting. The birds and animals feasting on the seeds and fruits the local trees had to offer, and then broadcasting them across the landscape, and those seeds broadcasted bide their time till the first shower of monsoon to germinate and become a tree themselves one day, like their parent. And thus, continuing the circle of life.

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