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Full-length paper Asian Agri-History Vol. 16, No.

1, 2012 (45–54)  45

Potential of Some Methods Described in Vrikshayurvedas

in Crop Yield Increase and Disease Management

YL Nene

Asian Agri-History Foundation, Secunderabad 500009, AP, India


Knowledge of plant protection generated by our ancient and medieval scholars has become
available during the last two decades. A good deal of that knowledge, the author believes,
is applicable to the crop production in modern India, especially at the small farmers level.
It is necessary, however, to validate effectivity of several ancient practices. This paper
attempts to suggest the potential of some of those old practices in managing plant diseases.
It is hoped that plant pathology researchers will take interest and conduct experiments to
check validity of the suggested practices.

In the recent past, whereas the Sanskrit known amongst agriculturists not only in
term “Vrikshayurveda” (the science of plant India but also in other countries.
life) was known to a few scholars, most
agricultural graduates, including me, had In fact the term “Vrikshayurveda” has
been in use since ancient times. By the
never heard the name during our college
time Kautilya (296–321 BC) compiled his
education. This situation continued until the
“Arthasastra”, the term “Vrikshayurveda”
Asian Agri-History Foundation (AAHF),
was well-established and well-known. The
Secunderabad, India began its activities
next document on Vrikshayurveda, a very
in 1994.
brief one, was compiled as “Brhat Samhita”
There is only one ancient copy on palm by Varahamihira (505–581 AD).
leaves of Surapala’s Vrikshayurveda (c.1000 We then find two texts compiled in the 11th
AD) in the world preserved at the Bodleian century AD; Surapala’s Vrikshayurveda
Library, Oxford University, UK. The (c. 1000) and Vrikshayurveda chapter in
author obtained a microfiche in 1994 from Lokopakara composed by Chavundaraya
the Bodleian Library. A printout was then (1025). In the 12th century AD, Chalukya
obtained using the microfiche. A Bulletin King, Someshvardeva compiled an
with Sanskrit text, its English translation, and encyclopedia “Abhilashitarthachitamani”
commentaries by scientists was published or “Manasollasa” in which a full chapter
in 1996 by AAHF. In the last 15 years, the on Vrikshayurveda was included. We
term “Vrikshayurveda” has become widely then find a 13 th-century AD text titled
46  Crop yield increase and disease management in Vrikshayurvedas

“Upavanavinoda”, which deals with preparation of pits for planting; seed

landscape gardening. Upavanavinoda was treatments; nourishment; protection; and
compiled by Sarangadhara, a courtier and some other relevant information.
scholar in the court of King Hammira.
In the court of great Maharana Pratap, a
Use of kunapajala
scholar, Chakrapani Mishra, compiled (c.
1577 AD), adding his own experience, the Depth of pits and spacing between trees was
text “Vishvavallabha”, which has contents almost the same as we follow today. Pits
similar to Surapala’s Vrikshayurveda, with were dug and soil was allowed to dry. These
a good deal of additional information. were then filled with crushed bones and
cattle dung and burnt in the pits themselves.
Chronologically the last text available Only after the ash became cool, kunapajala
is “Shivatatvaratnakara” (in Kannada) (described later) was liberally sprinkled on
compiled by King Basavaraja of Keladi, all sides of the pits. Pits were then filled with
now in Karnataka; it has a chapter on good soil. Saplings were placed in the pits.
“Vrikshayurveda”. Figure 1 shows where Cattle dung manure was applied and mixed
these authors lived and worked. in the top 20 cm soil for up to only 5 years.
In general, Vrikshayurvedas deal with the Trees that developed flowered and fruited
following aspects: abundantly. We should critically evaluate
whether annual application of fertilizers,
Detection of underground water; spacing which is so commonly done today, is really
between trees; methods of propagation; needed.

Author Vrikshayurveda
Cp – Chakrapani Mishra Vishvavallabha
(courtier) (1577 AD)
Sa – Sarangadhara Upavanavinoda
(courtier) (1283–1301 AD)
V – Varahamihira Brhat Samhita
(scholar) (505–581 AD)
S – Surapala (physician) Vrikshayurveda
(c. 1000 AD)
So – Someshvardeva Manasollasa
(king) (1131 AD)
C – Chavundaraya Lokopakara
(scholar, poet) (1025 AD)
BK – Basavaraja of Shivatatvaratnakara
Keladi (king) (1698–
1725 AD)
Figure 1. Location of Vrikshayurveda authors.
Asian Agri-History Vol. 16, No. 1, 2012  47

Besides the cattle dung manure, animal transfer to a 200 L container and add items
wastes and products manure, kunapajala, 5, 6, and 8–10 (Table 1), and water to make
liquid manure prepared essentially from up the volume to 100 L. Stir the mixture
animal wastes, was used for manuring. twice everyday for 1–3 months; longer the
Constitution of kunapajala was flexible and better. Twelve hours before straining, stir
no standard formulation was prescribed in the mixture so that the supernatant can be
any of the Vrikshayurvedas. easily removed. The strained liquid should
be filtered further depending upon needs.
Since kunapajala was a liquid ferment For spraying, fine filtering will be necessary.
from animal wastes that contained animal Make the final volume 200 L. The author has
flesh, dung, urine, bones, marrow, and skin, always seen positive effects of kunapajala on
the fermented product contained basic growth, flowering, and fruiting of plants. An
constituents such as amino acids, sugars, alternative method is anaerobic fermentation.
fatty acids, keratins, macro- and (almost After all the ingredients are placed in the
all) micronutrients in available form, it was container, it is sealed and placed in a large
natural that plants responded very well to pit and buried for 3 months (Sadhale, 1996).
the nourishment provided by kunapajala Substitution of a non-available ingredient
and flourished with excellent growth, with a similar one is acceptable.
flowering, and fruiting.
To keep supply of kunapajala always
To assist present-day researchers, I suggest available, prepare new batch of kunapajala
the formulation given in Table 1 for every two weeks. Total batches will depend
making a start. The kunapajala thus upon the size of the farm/garden/plantations,
prepared will surely give excellent response. etc. For the purpose of spraying field crops,
Afterwards, researchers themselves can the kunapajala batch of 200 L will have
make modifications in the constitution. to be subjected to mixing/grinding/and
Cook items 1–4, and 7 (Table 1) together in 5 fine filtering, to avoid clogging of spray
L or more water. After the liquid has cooled, nozzles.

Three applications of kunapajala to seasonal

vegetables will be needed: one in nursery,
In fact the term “Vrikshayurveda” one at growth stage, and one prior to
has been in use since ancient times. flowering. For fruit trees, four soil drenches
By the time Kautilya (296–321 BC) in one year or 6 spray applications in a year
compiled his “Arthasastra”, the term would be adequate. However, changes in
“Vrikshayurveda” was well-established schedules must be made on the basis of
and well-known. The next document experience.
on Vrikshayurveda, a very brief one,
was compiled as “Brhat Samhita” by Ingredients suggested for plant disease
Varahamihira (505–581 AD). management in addition to kunapajala are:
mustard, honey, milk, neem bark, vidanga,
48  Crop yield increase and disease management in Vrikshayurvedas

Table 1. Formulation of kunapajala.1

Item Quantity
(1) Animal flesh (fresh or stale, not rotting) 2 kg
or Eggs (fresh or old)2 25
or Soybean meal or nuggets plus Paneer2 1 kg + 1 kg
or Fish meal 2 kg
or Paneer2 2 kg
(2) Marrow (crushed bones) or Tofu2 from soybean 0.5 kg / 1 kg
(3) Rice husk or any grain husk 1 kg
(4) Available oilcake 1 kg
(5) Cattle dung 10 kg
(6) Cattle urine 15 L
(7) Black gram (optional) 0.5 kg
(8) Honey 0.25 kg
(9) Ghee 0.25 kg
(10) Milk 1L
1. Developed by YL Nene and SL Choudhary (AAHF).
2. Not mentioned in any of the Vrikshayurvedas.

and hair/nails/horns. Their key properties yield sinalbin. Both species possess the
are given below. property of insect antixenosis [a resistance
mechanism employed (usually by a plant)
Mustards. When black mustard (Brassica to deter or prevent pest colonization;
nigra) seeds are broken, the enzyme intended to parallel antibiosis] and are
myrosinase is released and acts on a antifungal, acaricidal, insecticidal, and
glucosinolate known as sinigrin to give nematicidal. White mustard is preferred
over black because of low volatility and
allyl isothiocyanate. Likewise the white
pungency, compared to black mustard, and
mustard [Brassica (Synapsis) alba] seeds
has extended residual effect.

Honey. Honey is antimicrobial, used for

In general, Vrikshayurvedas deal with treating wounds in plants and animals; contains
the following aspects: detection of proline, which induces systemic resistance
underground water; spacing between in plants, increases contents of cytokinins
trees; methods of propagation; and auxins, and protects against stresses –
preparation of pits for planting; seed salt, drought, etc. Proline-rich peptides are
treatments; nourishment; protection; antimicrobial; honeybee apidaecin is a unique
and some other relevant information. antibacterial peptide derivative found in
immune honeybee lymph.
Asian Agri-History Vol. 16, No. 1, 2012  49

Milk. Milk is a sticker (on leaves) and growth fecundity and egg sterility, attractants, etc.
promoter. Bovine milk contains a number of Neem bark has also antibacterial and anti-
proteins such as lactoferrin, lactoperoxidase, insect properties.
glycolactin, angiogenin-1, lactogenin,
alpha-lactalbumin, lactoglobulin, and Vidanga (bidanga). Vrikshayurvedas by
casein. Milk proteins contain amino acids different authors have recommended
such as proline, which, as stated before, is fruits of vidanga/bidanga (Embelia ribes)
known to induce general disease resistance as an anthelmintic material. Embelin (2,
in plants. Lactoferrin present in bovine milk 5-dihydroxy-3-undecyl-p-benzoquinone) is
has antifungal, antibacterial, antiviral, and found to be the active principle of Embelia
anti-nematode properties. ribes and reported to possess a wide
spectrum of biological activities including
Neem. Neem contains a number of antibacterial and insecticidal properties.
antimicrobial chemicals. Seeds are the main
source of active ingredients of neem. The Hair, nails, and horns. These contain
bitter taste of neem is due to the presence keratin, which have large amounts of the
of an array of complex compounds called sulfur-containing amino acid cysteine,
limnoids or limonoids (triterpenoids). So required for the disulfide bridges that
far, nine limnoids have been isolated and confer additional strength and rigidity by
identified in neem seeds, viz., salanin, permanent, thermally-stable cross linking.
salannol, salannol acetate, diacetyl salanin, When burnt, keratin emits sulfurous smell
14-epoxy azaradion, gedunin, nimbine, as it consists of sulfur in high amount.
D-acetyl nimbenin, and azadirachtin. Smoke from nails, etc. releases sulfur that
Of these, azadirachtin is the most active controls diseases and pests.
compound. The neem derivatives do not
Panchamula. Panchamula consists of a
kill but modify the biological processes of
powdered mixture from dried roots of five
harmful insects in a detrimental way. The
plants. Names of these plants and their
actions include antifeedant effect, larval
properties are given in Table 2.
repellent, oviposition deterrent, growth and
metamorphosis inhibiting effects, effect on
Rabbing (parching) for paddy
disease management
Besides the cattle dung manure, The word rab in Marathi (possible origin:
animal wastes and products manure, in Sanskrit raksha means ash, which is
kunapajala, liquid manure prepared raakh in Marathi; rab may be the corrupt
essentially from animal wastes was form of raakh) signifies burning. Rabbing
used for manuring. Constitution (parching) paddy nursery soil controls most
of kunapajala was flexible and no seedling and adult paddy plant diseases
standard formulation was prescribed in in the field. This is a practice of burning
any of the Vrikshayurvedas. refuse to parch the soil reserved for raising
nurseries before the advent of monsoon.
50  Crop yield increase and disease management in Vrikshayurvedas

Table 2. Plant species used in preparing Panchamula and their relevant properties.1

Plant species (Latin and Hindi names) Properties

Aegle marmelos (bael) Antifungal, nematicidal, insect antifeedant
Clerodendrum phlomides (agnimantha, arani) Antifungal, antiviral, antibacterial, insect antifeedant
Gmelina arborea (gambhari) Antiviral
Oroxylum indicum (sonapatha) Antimicrobial
Stereospermum suaveolens (padhal) Antifungal, antibacterial
1. Dashamula powder, which has dried root powder of five more plant species, is commercially available. This can be used.
Separate ingredients of Panchamula can be bought and Panchamula prepared. Decoctions are prepared in water.

The steps taken were: (i) elevated land for argument does not hold ground because the
nursery, bunded to prevent surface washing; organic matter thus burnt for rabbing is so
(ii) 2.5 to 5 cm thick layer of broken cattle little and the benefits are likely to exceed
dung cakes (when plentifully available); the loss of burnt organic matter.
(iii) a layer of leaves or chopped loppings
(preferably of Terminalia tomentosa) to It is noteworthy that rabbing nursery soil
provide intense heat; (iv) a layer of dry was recently reported from Karimnagar
grass; and (v) a layer of finely divided (Andhra Pradesh), Dang (Gujarat), Shimla
straw or husk to close openings between (Himachal Pradesh), and Sindhudurg
the stems of the coarse grass and prevent (Maharashtra) (ICAR, 2003). I sincerely
the earth (final layer) falling through. To hope better sense would prevail and rice
prolong burning the fire was started on the researchers would try to study rabbing in
lee side. depth.

The system of rabbing is commonly

Crop protection practices in
practiced in Thane district of Maharashtra
and was first documented in 1787 (Nene,
2005). The ash provides nutrients and the Protection and treatment practices
weeds are reduced. Rice seedlings grow recommended in Vrikshayurvedas involve
vigorously. Farmers also find the nuisance methods of applications that are followed
of weeds, pests, and diseases greatly even today, but with more efficacious
reduced in the transplanted crop from appliances. These are balanced nutrition
rabbed nurseries. It is claimed that yields using kunapajala, seed dressing (dry/
double if the practice of rabbing is followed. wet), root-dipping, wound dressing,
It is intriguing why most rice researchers in soil drenching, fumigation (smoking),
the last 60 years have outrightly dismissed crude spraying (sprinkling), and dusting.
the practice of rabbing on the grounds of Application of fishmeal to standing paddy
‘wasting’ compostable organic matter. This crop might give better results than top
Asian Agri-History Vol. 16, No. 1, 2012  51

dressing with urea. The suggested crop people do not eat meat. Even amongst those
yield increase and disease management who eat meat, my guess is 10% people will
prescriptions are given in Table 3 for not like to handle raw meat; such people go
experimentation. to restaurants to eat meat dishes. This is the
reason I have suggested non-meat alternatives
in making kunapajala. I would also like to
General discussion
point out that most authors of Vrikshayurvedas
With over 40 years of experience as a were vegetarian Brahmins, but they had no
professionally active plant pathologist, I hesitation in recommending use of animal
firmly believe that Indian agriculture, and flesh and bones as plant nutrient. Invariably
plant pathology in particular, has been at these authors have observed excellent effects
a great loss because of our ignorance of of kunapajala on growth, development, and
knowledge documented in Vrikshayurvedas health of all kinds of plants. The positive
written by different scholars over a period effects of kunapajala should not surprise
of two millennia. We were thoroughly anyone. Normal solid manures are slow in
and systematically brainwashed, through releasing nutrients because the process of
formal teaching since the beginning of decomposition is slow. Liquid manure such
twentieth century, to think and apply to as kunapajala contains fully decomposed
Indian agriculture the knowledge generated nutrients in readily available form and roots
by European and American agricultural absorb them quickly. It is the ingenuity of
scientists. Therefore generations of Indian our scholars, without formal knowledge of
agriculturists and plant pathologists for over nutrient uptake by plants, to think in terms
100 years have mostly been reading and of fermenting complex organic wastes to
learning from Western journals for new ideas simple nutrient ingredients. In no other ancient
and then spending their time in “applying” civilization, scholars thought of manure similar
those to Indian situation. My prediction to kunapajala. Our vegetarian farmers must
is that the present situation will continue understand the science involved and overcome
unless and until the top leadership in the reluctance to use animal flesh and bones in the
Ministry of Agriculture, Government of interest of prosperous farming. In recent years,
India and the Indian Council of Agricultural Panchagavya (five items from cow: milk,
Research (ICAR) demonstrates aggressive curd, ghee, dung, and urine) is being used to
faith in our own agricultural heritage and “purify” polluted premises and to “purify”
equally aggressively discourage “repeat self. In fact only fresh Panchagavya has to be
research” from the West. used for “purification”, and not the fermented
one. Panchagavya thus recommended and
Reluctance to prepare and use used is a kind of kunapajala.
kunapajala Foul smell emanating from kunapajala in
In my lectures, I have noted a sense of general the process of fermentation is yet another
reluctance of the audience towards using reason given for not using it. This is
kunapajala. This is because nearly 40% surprising because several agrochemicals
52  Crop yield increase and disease management in Vrikshayurvedas

Table 3. Suggested procedures for crop yield increase and disease management based
on recommendations made in Vrikshayurvedas.

Disease/Pest Prescription Notes

Seed and seedling rots Prepare 10% cattle dung (dry or wet) More than one batch of seed can
slurry with water. Dip the seed for 10 be treated with same slurry.
min and sun-dry.
Leaf and stem blights Kunapajala 30% with appropriate Foliar sprays at 10-day intervals,
(fungal) herbal (e.g., Clerodendrum root starting before the expected disease
extract) ferment (3 days) in cattle incidence.
Downy mildews Kunapajala 30% with mustard + Foliar sprays as above. Instead
honey + milk ferment (3 days) in of mustard, honey, milk, use
cattle urine Panchamula ferment in cattle
urine as alternative.
Powdery mildews Kunapajala 30% with 68% milk Foliar sprays at 10-day intervals
(10%) + 2% honey starting just before flowering time.
Foliar rusts (not for white Kunapajala 30% + 60% milk + Foliar sprays at 10-day intervals
rust) crushed white mustard ferment (3 just before flowering time.
days) in urine (10%)
Leaf and stem blights Kunapajala (30%) + white mustard (1 Spray at 10-day intervals and after
(bacterial) kg) + curd (5 kg) in cattle urine (10 every rain (with winds).
L) in a 3-day ferment; final volume
200 L (70%)
Nematodes (on roots) Soak seed overnight in a 3-day old Drenching soil around plant base.
ferment of neem bark and crushed Quantity according to size of plant
vidanga (Embelia ribes) seed in cattle (range 5 to 20 L).
urine (70%)
Vi r a l d i s e a s e s o f Kunapajala 30% + 3-day old ferment Start spraying weekly as soon
perennials of Clerodendrum roots and leaves in as symptoms are visible in some
cattle urine 60% + milk 10%; final plants or trees; later the sprays can
volume 200 L be reduced to 2-week intervals.
Alternative: drench soil around
trees with 5 L suspension every
2 weeks.
Seed transmitted smuts Soak seed overnight in 3-day old Dust-cover the seed with dry cattle
(both internally and ferment of milk (50%) and cattle dung powder so that the seed can
externally seed borne) urine (50%) be handled easily for sowing.
Leaf diseases (and pests) Fumigation with a mixture of Place materials on dried cow dung
of trees powdered hair, nails, white mustard or hemp fiber. Use one to two
oilcake, and/or horns smoking apparatuses per tree.
Asian Agri-History Vol. 16, No. 1, 2012  53

Because long distance communications were

The system of rabbing is commonly difficult, life was village-centered. All needs
practiced in Thane district of of farmers were met in the village itself
Maharashtra and was first documented or at short-distance locations. Resources
in 1787. The ash provides nutrients and used were local. Therefore scholars, who
the weeds are reduced. Rice seedlings looked for answers to farmers’ problems,
grow vigorously. Farmers also find the depended on local resources and indigenous
nuisance of weeds, pests, and diseases techniques. Knowledge of Ayurveda had
greatly reduced in the transplanted crop developed very well and medicinal powders,
from rabbed nurseries. It is claimed decoctions (fresh or fermented), fumigations,
that yields double if the practice of pastes, etc. were made from locally available
rabbing is followed. materials. The raw materials used were cattle
products, herbals, and natural products such
as honey. Since scholars treated plant life and
emanate strong foul smell that it is difficult human (animal) life as similar, application
to breathe when exposed; even then these of Ayurvedic principles and prescriptions
are used. Thus the argument of “foul smell” to plants slowly developed into a distinct
is untenable. discipline, Vrikshayurveda. It must have
been realized at some stage that plant growth
and development are better with fermented
Isn’t Vrikshayurveda outdated? animal products in comparison to other
Another question often asked is: What materials; preparation of kunapajala was the
guarantees these “old, possibly outdated” result of such a realization.
methods would work in fields and will
farmers adopt these? This question really I should strongly emphasize that I am not
arises from ignorance of our millennia- suggesting that knowledge of Vrikshayurveda
old agricultural past. Our agriculture should be used as such. In fact I would
degenerated because of continuous fights, like to bring entire Vrikshayurveda into a
battles, and wars throughout the second research domain. Every item, formulation,
millennium AD and colonialists reshaping procedure, technique, etc., which are
Indian agriculture to suit their needs. All found useful in initial testing should be
we need to do is to connect our present-
day agriculture to the rich past prior to
second millennium. Many old techniques Therefore generations of Indian
can be reintroduced and modified with agriculturists and plant pathologists
the help of modern knowledge. This is the for over 100 years have mostly been
right time to do so because of the whole reading and learning from Western
world’s concerns about using “environment- journals for new ideas and then
unfriendly” chemicals and also because of spending their time in “applying” those
strong interest in organic agriculture. In to Indian situation.
ancient times lifestyle of people was simple.
54  Crop yield increase and disease management in Vrikshayurvedas

It is the ingenuity of our scholars, Many old techniques can be reintroduced

without formal knowledge of nutrient and modified with the help of modern
uptake by plants, to think in terms of knowledge. This is the right time to do so
fermenting complex organic wastes to because of the whole world’s concerns
simple nutrient ingredients. In no other about using “environment-unfriendly”
ancient civilization, scholars thought of chemicals and also because of strong
manure similar to kunapajala. interest in organic agriculture.

scrutinized. Better substitutes to materials, these could be 1 to 4 plants provided these

herbal and non-herbal, should be looked for. give results comparable to Panchamula.
We possess today a wide basic knowledge The same holds true for other herbals and
base that should be used to make advances in new herbals can be tried. For example,
Vrikshayurveda. Let me take one example. garlic and onions can be tried in place
As described before, Vrikshayurvedacharyas of mustard, since the former two contain
learnt an excellent medicinal concoction allicin, which is antimicrobial.
from Ayurveda called Panchamula, and
In the very recent past, I have noted
found it effective in restoring plant health.
plant pathologists undertaking validation
Today we know the families to which each
research to confirm Vrikshayurveda
of the five species of Panchamula belongs.
methods. This is highly encouraging. I
We can evaluate other species that belong to
have said this before and I would like
the respective families. For example, Aegle
to state again that if I were to start my
marmelos belongs to family Rutaceae.
professional career in 2011, I would have
We know the Citrus species and Murraya had my entire research agenda mainly on
exotica (kadhipatta) also belong to Rutaceae. Vrikshayurveda.
We should try to find substitutes to Aegle
marmelos. Likewise Clerodendrum spp. and
Gmelina arborea belong to Verbenaceae
and so do species of Tectona and Premna. ICAR. 2003. Inventory of Indigenous
Oroxylum indicum and Stereospermum Technological Knowledge in Agriculture:
Document 2. Indian Council of Agricultural
suaveolens belong to Bignoniaceae and so
Research, New Delhi 110012, India. 680 pp.
do species of Jacaranda, Spathodea, and
Tecomella. Panchamula was developed by Nene YL. 2005. Rice research in South Asia
Ayurvedacharyas for humans and animals, through ages. Asian Agri-History 9(2):85–106.
and then extended its use to plants. There
Sadhale Nalini. (Tr.) 1996. Surapala’s
is no compulsion on plant health workers to Vrikshayurveda (The Science of Plant Life
strictly confine to Panchamula. Alternatives by Surapala). Agri-History Bulletin No. 1.
to Panchamula can be and should be found. Asian Agri-History Foundation, Secunderabad
Also these need not be roots of 5 plants; 500009, India. 94 pp.