Water seems to have been the bane of trans-Sahyadri Konkan; it probably still is; the river disputes that plague the states in the region are a living testimony to it, the dispute over Mhadai waters being one of them. As Morrison puts it: “Water harvesting, as well as water conservation and the tapping of groundwater, has always been a major concern in this region. … Structures and strategies of trapping and saving water as well as retarding erosion have been built and refined for the last three thousand years in this region.” [Morrison, 2015: Archaeologies Of Flow – Water And The Landscapes Of Southern India Past, Present And Future, in Journal of Field Archaeology, 8] Farming seems to have begun here around 2,700–1,000 BCE. [Morrison, 2007: Agriculture, Metallurgy, and the Wealth of Nature in South India, in Bankoff (ed): A History of Natural Resources in Asia, 86] But Morrison does not find almost any evidence of such ‘structures and strategies’ for water and land management in the area studied by her; but we need to understand that the domain of her study does not go beyond Karnataka; in fact Morrison’s study is more or less circumscribed by the Vijayanagara capital and its neighbourhood, both in space and time.
However, evidence of water and land management by Chalcolithic inhabitants of Deccan has been revealed by the excavations at Inamagamva archaeological site, about 200 km from Morrison’s site of study. Located approximately 3 kilometres from the modern village of Inamgaon, it lies in a region encircled by Pune (89 km), Ahmednagar (52 km), Jalgaon (50 km) and Baramati (50 km). It is relevant to note that Sankalia et al describe the region as ‘perpetually semi-arid’. [Sankalia et al, 1984: Excavations at the Early Farming Village of Inamgaon 1968–1982, in Lukacs (eds): The People of South Asia, 100] An irrigation canal, 240 metres long and 2.5 metres wide and deep was discovered at Inamagamva, with a parallel embankment wall of stones set in mud mortar; this was most probably built to prevent the canal from silting up. [Dhavalikar, 1978: Settlement Archaelogy of Inamgaon, in Purattatva, no. 8, 47] The canal has been dated 1,500 BCE. A number of small rivers, particularly tributaries of major rivers, may have been dammed in this manner for irrigation purposes.
That the inhabitants of Chalcolithic Deccan practiced some form of trapping and channelising water is a certainty. Offsetting the aridity was the fertile black cotton soil, rich in humus, iron, magnesia, lime and alumina. This soil was not only fertile, but was highly moisture retentive. It developed deep and wide cracks in the dry season and swelled in the rainy season. Due to this process of expansion and cracking, it became easy to plough, even with a wooden hoe.
So, when our ancestors left their homes across the Sahyadri around 1,500 BCE, they were definitely not hunter gatherers. This is not to rule out the existence of hunter-gatherer communities among them; there definitely were; as they existed even in much later times. But by and large they were settled cultivators and animal herders. They grew crops like ulida (black-gram/ullid), mumga (green-gram/mung), kulita (horse-gram/kullit), vala (hyacinth bean/val), masura (lentil/masur), vatanom (grass-pea/vattannom), nacani (finger millet/nachnni) and varica tamdula (vari rice/varicha tandull). They reared cattle, goats and sheep – and where possible, water buffaloes. [Dutta, 2006: A Critical Review of the Economy of the Chalcolithic People of Inamgaon, 128]
Wheat and barley were perhaps added later, brought in by the cattle caravans from the Indo-Gangetic plain. Rice cultivation is conspicuous by its absence. Could it be that they learned the art of rice cultivation after descending into the coastal plains? In any case, rice was difficult to grow in the arid climate back in Deccan, even with the limited irrigation that they had innovated. From whom did they learn the art of rice cultivation when they began cultivation in their new land on the coast? Were they helped by some migrants who came from rice growing regions? We still do not have answers for these questions. Oral history speaks of kunabi from Goa who went to Kerala to develop rice cultivation in the 11th and 13th centuries CE. I cannot vouch for it, in absence of any evidence; but some claim that the entire paddy ecology of Kerala was developed by this community. Irrespective of the truth in the tall claim, could there be some connection between the kunabi and the art of rice cultivation? Even within Goa, agrarian records evidence the fact that some kunabi were taken from some river bank villages in Tisvadi to some villages in Salcete expressly for the development of paddy cultivation, khazanaand sluice-gates (mhus or manos); these natives of Tisvadi today show as ‘zonkar’ (zonnkar) in the comunidades of Salcete. From where did these kunabiskilled in rice cultivation come?
The variations in climate, the migrations of people and the crops they grew are closely related, in a very complex relationship. In absence of sufficient information the puzzle is difficult to unravel; but not impossible. Fortunately the best of science – from flotation techniques to thermo luminescence to capillary array electrophoresis – now serves the search, and the results are widely available. Our last story [The Story That Kalinadi Wrote, 05 Aug 18] is a good example of this. D D Kosambi’s mid-50’s dream for primacy of evidence and analytical and multidisciplinary approach now seems to be coming to fruition.
The beginning of the cultivation of pulses and cereals is one such complex issue. The simple and straightforward belief of origin of rice in the Yangtze basin in China, and its linear propagation across Asia, for instance, could be misleading. Rice is a grass, after all; and it grew in the wild. Humans first harvested this wild rice for their consumption. That was the vegetal equivalent of hunting. Then they gathered the wild rice seeds and sowed them in land they prepared. That was the beginning of cultivation; the vegetal equivalent of herding. Sowing rhythm and manner could not be the same as the natural casting in the wild; the humans carried some seeds and sowed them beyond their natural habitat. Eventually, through natural modification, these seeds acquired traits suitable for the needs of the humans. That was domestication. What was true of rice was true of all crops. The story is both interesting and intriguing.