Published on February 15, 2021
AHMEDABAD: Archaeological light has been shed on the diet of Buddhist monks at Vadnagar, the hometown of PM Narendra Modi — findings suggest that two millennia ago, monastic cuisine consisted of rice and legumes (peas, pulses, and beans).
A team of researchers have authored a paper titled ‘Rice, beans and pulses at Vadnagar: An early historical site with a Buddhist monastery in Gujarat, western India’. The paper was recently accepted by Elsevier’s journal Geobios. The authors include Anil Pokharia from Birbal Sahni Institute of Palaeosciences (BSIP); Shalini Sharma and P C Pande from Kumaun University; Y S Rawat from the directorate of archaeology, Gujarat; Alka Srivastava from DG College, Kanpur; and Bhushan Dighe from National Museum.
“The archaeobotanical samples were collected from two sites near an excavated monastery in Vadnagar after going through hundreds of kilograms of excavated earth,” said Dr Rawat. “The sites were of the same age as the monastery, and thus there’s enough reason to believe that they represent the circumstances prevailing from 1st century Before the Common Era to 4th Century Common Era (2,100 to 1,600 years before the present time).”
Digging for recipes of ascetics
The findings showed a diverse diet. While rice consisted of 83% of the grains found from the sites, other grains included barley, wheat, cowpea, green gram, black gram, and horse gram. Other remains pointed at the presence of linseed, cotton, tamarind, and jujube.
Pokharia, Scientist ‘E’ at BSIP, said that the findings are important in more than one way. “It’s the first instance of archaeobotany being deployed at a known Buddhist site to decode diet.
We are yet to link the findings to other known Buddhist sites on the Indian subcontinent,” he said. “But it will be interesting to see whether rice came from Gangetic plains to the western region.” He went on to say: “Rice, as we know, also holds religious significance and is used in rituals even today.”
Another aspect of the discovery is a peek into climatic conditions and farming practices of that era. “We have found a few remains of grains from Harappan sites in Gujarat,” Pokharia said. “After that, it’s the first continuation of crops after a gap of several hundred years. The dominance of summer crops hints at warm and humid climate conditions with good precipitation.”
History etched in ancient grains
AHMEDABAD: It could well be grains like any – but when they are discovered from several metres of excavation along with relics of the past, their significance and role changes dramatically for the archaeologists.
For example, the discovery of grains, dating back to first century BCE to fourth century CE (2,100 to 1,600 years before present), gave insights into the possible climate of the region and possible food habits during the Buddhist era of the ancient town.
Findings of the study, carried out by a group of researchers including Anil Pokharia from Birbal Sahni Institute of Paleosciences (BSIP) and Y S Rawat from Gujarat state archaeological department, have taken the shape of a paper ‘Rice, beans and pulses at Vadnagar: an early historical site with a Buddhist monastery in Gujarat, western India,’ which was recently accepted in Elsevier’s journal Geobios.
‘The study of the plant remains from Vadnagar Monastery site has proved to be informative and highlights the potential for plant diversity research during Buddhism in the subcontinent… Presence of variety of crops along with rice spikelet bases and weeds suggests their local cultivation on arable lands of northern Gujarat to feed the expanding population,’ stated the paper.
The paper claimed that presence of 99% of traditional summer crops among the grains found point towards warm and humid climatic condition compared to present semi-arid region of north Gujarat. The researchers also pointed at rice’s role in rituals and elite consumption during early historic times. Rice is considered to have been introduced in central India through trade and later became a locally produced crop.
‘The region (north Gujarat) lacks major perennial rivers for irrigation; people might have opted for rain-fed cultivation. Monsoonal variability would have caused an increase in rainfall for significant non-irrigated wet-rice agriculture. The settlements in the region are situated in fertile soil with high agricultural potential… The dominance of rice suggests better hydrological and conducive (summer monsoon) environmental conditions in the semi-arid region of Gujarat during the 100 BCE−400 CE time interval. Evidence of caves used by Buddhist monks for shelter during the monsoon season also suggest high rainfall,’ mentioned the paper.