Critical Podium Dewanand India
A Study on the Origin of the word Vrihi (rice)
Sacrificer Dr. V.Sankaran Nair
Sacrifice code wfor0363
Sacrifice date June 1, 2003
A Study on the Origin of the word Vrihi
Courtesy: Dr. V Sankaran Nair
Asko Parpola has assumed that the cultivation of rice have spread from
the Ganges valley to Swat, Pirak (Kachi plain) and Gujarat during the
first quarter of the second millennium BC. He says that the rice undoubtedly
came from the Ganges valley, and this suggests a new level of mobility
in the North India. Again he says that, the etymology of the Vedic word
for rice does not tally with the Proto-Austro-Asiatic words. Asko Parpola
considers that the words for rice in Tamil (arici) and Sanskrit (Vrihi)
have failed to demonstrate with any certainty the influences of the Austro-
Asiatic loan words on the oldest phase of Indo-Aryan in the northwest.
It seems that the word arici traveled westward. Inside India also several
languages adopted the word arici. The possible answer to this predicament
is that rice was not found as an alternative for the wheat-eating people
in the Sanskrit belt, who were satisfied with wheat and they never felt
the need to cultivate rice in their fields.
This attitude can be seen in the south even today, where traditional
rice eaters, are never interested to switch over to wheat, on any consequences.
It is interesting to recall references made in Sukraniti about Vrihi.
Sukraniti mentions that Vrihi (oryza sativa) is used in rubbing the oyster
pearls, soaked in to saline water during the previous night, in order
to test its genuineness. Again it says that the culpability of an offender
was determined by divya sadhana or divine test. In this the offender has
to chew with out anxiety or fear one karsa amount of rice. In doing so,
if the offender experiences difficulties through palpitation of heart
or want of salivation the man would be declared guilty. The rice-ordeal
is to be applied in a case involving theft of Rs. 125. A law has forbidden
the king from receiving milk of cows & c., for his kith and kin nor
paddy and clothes from buyers for his own enjoyment.
Rgveda mentions about rice. But it received more mention, with the advent
of Yajurveda. Arthasashtra says that Sanskrit has used different words
to refer a variety of rice. Wheat, barley, rice were commonly known as
vrihi. The knowledge about the stage in which rice came to be included
in this word will enable us to fix up the road map of origin of domesticated
rice cultivation in India.
Inside India, the word arici 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
that is being taken for deciphering the origin of that word has made it
a historical conundrum.
The prevailing opinion of the scholars is that the word Vrihi has got
no relation with any Dravidian words. We will have a fresh look on the
question of vrihi, not having any similarity with the Dravidian language.
Rice formed an important item of food next only to yava which was considered
as the most important.
Based on seasons, rice crops are distinguished by names like, the graishmic,
varshic, hemanti, sharada for summer, rainy, autumn, winter crop respectively.
The late maturing rice is ptasuka vrihi and the early maturing one is
Sali, Vrihi and Sastika are the main varieties of rice. Raktasali considered
being the best of all the corns, is one among them. Others are Mahasali,
Kalama, Sugandha and Kasthasali. Vrihi is considered inferior to Sali
and sastika. Vrihi was largely used in sacrifices and eating. 
It is tandula for threshed out paddy grain, akshat for unbroken rice,
nivar, namba and vrihi for the transplanted rice. The unhusked and pounded
rice mixed known as akshata, is used in religious ceremonies and the homam
using this mixture is known as akshata homam.
Vrihi ripened in autumn, Sali in winter, Sastika in summer. Sastika is
quicker in growth, which can be harvested with in sixty days of cultivation
(Arthashastra). Vishnu Dharmottara makes reference about the two varieties
of swastika, rakta sastika, a medicinal variety, and pramodaka sastika.
Shashty is sixty in English. The completion of sixty years of age is
shastypoorthy. Navara rice is of two kinds, whitish and blackish (kakalakam).
Shastikam is the navara variety, which takes sixty days for harvesting.
It is a graishmic variety. The field in which navara is cultivated is
known as shastikyam. Navara rice is also known as shastihayanam. Gundert
claims that there are two varities of navara, one that ripens at the end
of two months and the other at the end of three months. Gundert says that
the origin of the word navara may be from navati.
According to Hindu Mythology sarad is Saraswati or Durga. One aspect
of the saptamatr is also known as shasti. Navara is known as paadalam.
Durga Bhagavathy is known as paadala/ paadalavathy.
One-sixth part of the income is shashta. The king was known as Shastamsavrithi.
One by sixth of the rice harvested belonged to the Rajah. So the raja
came to be known as shastamsavrithi. Rice is poured on the head of the
rajas of Kerala as a part of the installation ceremony, known as ariyittu
Karingali is the name of a tree. But a variety of rice is also known
by that name. Salini is the name of a rice variety. Arundhati is also
known by that name. Salyannam is the cooked rice of this variety of rice.
Efforts made by Gundert and Asko Parpola are praise worthy. But the deduction
made by Gundart (vridha?) stands as an incomplete effort. We shall not
allow it to remain as such forever. Vrihi is generally used for any grain
including wheat, barley and rice. It is a generic term applied to all
varities of rice. This word might have accommodated rice at a later stage.
Similarity has been observed for the word Vrihi (Sanskrit) with the Dravidian
words vari, and ari. Similarity can also be observed for the wrijzey (Pushto),
birinji (Persian), brinji and the Malayan word beras. The words for rice
in Greek and Latin shows more affinity to the Tamil word arici.
To cite an example, the advent of regular maritime communication, Indonesia
made it easy for the transport of staple cereal into Indonesia. Sorghum
(Sorghum vulgare) was the first cereal to be introduced, followed by foxtail
millet into Indonesia. But foxtail millet in West Indonesia is known as
sorghum. In Malay jawa (jawa-wut, jawa-ras, zawaH), equally means grain,
including foxtail millet. Barley is java in Pali and yava in Sanskrit.
So all the successive interpretation failed to explore whether there
are any influence from the far south in the shaping of the rice culture
in India and abroad. Asko Parpola has pointed out the Gangetic plane for
the rice in the Indus valley. It is also suggested elsewhere that the
India got the rice culture from the Greek. The word arici came from the
Malaysia and so on.
Tendency in south India is also the same. In our dictionaries the word
pathayam is considered as a Portuguese word. Really the word pathayam
was originated from Pathu (paddy field) and ayam (income). Both words
when combined, attain the meaning the granary, in which we store the grain
that we harvest. But unfortunately we failed to identify our own word
and attributed its origin to the Portuguese. This loss of direction is
seen in the case of the rice also. We are not even bold enough to assume
that we were capable of doing things on our own.
Mother goddess - the beginning of agriculture
Malayalam dictionaries have attributed meaning to the word Bharya for
wife, as that person who is responsible for collecting/gathering grains
for the household. This shows that the advent of agriculture women began
to take a leading role in the society.
Monopoly of women folk in the agriculture in the beginnings is the reason
for the advent of mother goddess in the Hindu pavilion. The excavation
in the Indus valley too establishes this truth. We have come across findings
of Shiva and mother goddesses from that civilization. Sir. Marshall says
that only in the prehistoric past, tree worship and blood sacrifice were
relevant these rituals were taken over by staff and arattam during later
periods. (Introduction to Mohanjadaro and Indus Civilization)
A curry, made of greens is known as ilakkari. The material used for this
curry is known as sakam. While the curry made out of the leaf of the sakam
is sakothanam, the field in which this sakam is planted is sakinam. Vegetable
food is known as sakaharam. The word sakam also means sakthi. Durga is
known as sakambhari.
The crest of a tree or a mountain is known as sikha. Durga is known as
sikhara vasini/ Vindhya vasini. No more evidence is needed to prove that
Durga was considered once upon a time as the goddess of vegetation.
The village deity, lodged in a small shrine, constructed on a primitive
pattern, is typical in South India. This gramadevata cult however preceded
by an earlier cult with no temples at all. Lodged in open air, in the
shadow of a big tree, the tree itself is regarded as the embodiment of
the deity. Considered as the sacred tree of the village it received all
paraphernalia of worship, which are found in worshipping the deity in
the subsequent phases. Gods and goddesses of South India were worshipped
in the form of trees in the beginnings. In fact Gods lived in the trees.
Thus tree worship is an important aspect of historic past. Koovalam (Aegle
marmelos) is known as sivadrumam. Mango for muniswar; Vinayaka lived amidst
paddy fields, on the banks of water channels.
Karanja (Pongamia glabra) is sacred to Varahi. Karanjanilaya is an ancient
goddess of vegetation. Vegatative aspect of lord Siva is Durga. The food
produces from her body she sustains every one. The other names are yajnanga,
yajniyam, bahusaram, krishnakhnam, krisnari, krishnathothanam, krishnaripu.
Both karingali tree and durga are known as gayatri.
Karajam is a weapon. Karingali wood is used for brushing teeth. Its wood
is taken for construction of temple, handles of weapons, plough, oil grinder,
cart wheels, etc etc. It is also served as an ingredient for several Ayurvedic
medicines, including tooth powder. A product made out of this tree is
boiled in water to serve as appetizer or to quench one's thirst. Karingali
is a necessary ingredient in the khadiraarishta.
A variety of paddy is also known as karingali. Astrology insists that
each person born on a particular austerik should protect and worship an
animal, a bird, and a tree. There are twenty such trees. For the betterment
of their life they were bound to protect them. Karingali is the tree for
those born in the austerik makayiram.
Varahi is the consort of Boar, the female energy of boar form of Vishnu.
She is also a mother attending on Skanda (Mahabharata) and sow. A form
of Devi, she is considered as the consort of Varaha. Head of a female
boar and the body of a female, with coral ornaments, constitutes Varahi.
So she is known as varahimukhi. As a crown she wears a karantamakutam
on her head.
Plough, spear, the karanja her sacred tree, are her emblems. Balarama,
Thrivikrama, Shanmukha, Saraswathy, are the others to wield Plough as
a weapon. While an elephant is portrayed on her banner, her mount is an
elephant, boar or a buffalo. According to the Vishnudharmottara she has
six hands. Four of them carry a staff, sword, shield, and noose and the
remaining two hands being in abhaya and varada mudras respectively.
Brahmi, Maheswari, Kaumari, Vashnavi, Varahi, Indri, Kali are the six
forms of Durga. While some varities of rice is known as Karingali, jaya,
paadala, shashtika Durga is known as karingali, Jaya, gayatri, karanjanilaya,
Vindhyavasini, Sikharavasini, shashti, patalavati, sakambhari.
The meaning of the word Vrihi includes a grain, paddy, and a grain of
paddy. It is a varshic crop. Mahavrihi, vrihisrestam are the names of
a kind of rice. Vyhreya is that which is related to vrihi. Vyhreyam is
the field in which the vrihi is grown. Bahuvrihi is the place where there
is plenty of vrihi grain. Vrihyagaram means a granary.
The words in Malayalam like veranda, viral (a kind of fish) became vranda
and vral. Likewise the word varahi might have changed in to vrihi.
- Dr. V.Sankaran Nair
June 1, 2003
 Asko Parpola, Deciphering the Indus Script, p.137.
 Om Prakash, Food and Drinks in Ancient India, Munshiram Manoharlal,
 VishnuDharmottara Purana, 3.314,v.lb.
 see N.Venkata Ramanayya, An essay on the origin of South Indian Temple,
Asian Educational Services, New Delhi, 1985.
 Menaka Gandhi, The Penguin Book of Hindu names,Penguin Books India
(Ltd.), New Delhi, 1989.
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