Through the Rig Vedas: The Journey of Rice

Updated: Feb 18

Though there has been a lot of speculation regarding the origin of rice and when it came to India. Scientifically speaking, the Oryza Sativa or Asiatic Rice is native to the Indian subcontinent. It has flowed out from here with the movement of people.

The Hindi word for rice also evolved with time. It was earlier known as“jom” which means “to eat” and comes from the word Munda. , it is thought to have become “chom-la” and then “chaval”, which is the most popular Hindi word for rice. It is called bhaat too.

Before going into the Rig Veda, traces and physical pieces of rice cultivation evidence were found in Kashmir. Terraced fields perfect for rice cultivation were found in these mountains as early as 10,000 BCE. In parts of northern and north-western India, the earliest evidence of rice was found. And though it's eaten more in the southern part, it arrived there much later. The Sanskrit word for rice, “varisi,” gave way to the Tamil word “arise” which travelled to Europe and became rice.

The contradiction

Evidence from research suggests that in the Vedic period, barley was the major grain eaten. The grain used to be fried and consumed as cakes, called “apupa.” It would then be dipped in ghee and honey. In fact the contemporary version of the eastern pua and malpua are direct descendants of apupa.

Traces of Rice in the Rig Veda are argumentative. Some say that Rig Veda does not contain any reference to rice and that a subsequent Veda, the Yajur Veda, has reference to rice. Published in 2005, a paper called “Rice research in South Asia through ages” references dhana. This word, according to Sanskrit, dictionaries means rice. And the word has been used in the Rig Veda.

There is some mention that rice was cooked with water back then too. One can also refer to a dish called “odana” or “bhataka” which was bath or the east's modern bhath. Then there was “Kshira” which is rice cooked with milk and is often called the forerunner of khichdi. Today, this humble khichdi is still popular and exists as a mixture of rice and dal. Alongside, boiled rice was eaten with curd, ghee, mung, beans or meat preparations. Even the humble cha was called “Chipita” which is basically the flattened rice or modern chivda.

Author YL Nene of ‘Rigveda has References to Rice?’ says that that the presence of rice in the Rig Veda is further supported by Monier- Williams, 1872) and Charaka, who lived before Susruta, also gave much

more details about rice than wheat. Other historians and authors like Sayanacharya (1400 AD) of Vijayanagar, in his commentary on Rigveda (I.16.2) have mentioned the word tandula, which, most scholars agree, means rice.

Various other works emphasis that the Rig Veda does mention rice in addition to barley, wheat, sesame, black gram, and few other crops. Commentaries that support the same are Rigveda (Griffith, 1896; Sontakke and Kashikar, 1983; Sharma, 1991), dictionaries (Monier-Williams, 1872; Apte, 1965; Amarsimha’s Amarkosa by Jha, 1999) along with the Encyclopedia Britannica (1993), books on barley and rice, as well as communications available on the Internet.

English translation of the Rig Veda

Rig Veda was the first Veda to be published or translated in a Western language. It wa

s translated into Latin by Friedrich August Rosen (Rigvedae specimen, London, 1830). This predates Friedrich Max Müller’s Editio principles of the text, The Hymns of the Rigveda, with Sayana’s commentary (London, 1849–75, 6 vols.; 2nd ed., 4 vols., Oxford, 1890–92).

Most of these translated works have references to rice. The word yavagoo means rice gruel, sour gruel made from rice or any other grain, such as barley (Apte, 1965).

There is evidence of rice being consumed during the period of the Rig Veda. It is also said that the Aryans knew about rice cultivation; parched rice and cereals were a common method of processing during their period.