the-south-asian.com January/February 2006
Page 3 of 4
Basmati – The King of Rice
Salman S. Minhas [Information Engineers, Lahore, Pakistan]
Of Basmati & Birds:
In the months of October to December, an entire army of birds, Mallard ducks, geese, coots, moor hens, Houbara Bustard [ going to Sindh province], teals and Siberian Cranes [plus smaller birds such as red wattled lapwing, white tailed lapwing, grey plover, black bellied plover], set their nomadic compasses south. They then wing their way in a series of hops in Afghanistan, northern Pakistan, from the cold northern reaches of Russia/Siberia and end their south Asian journey in India in Bharatpur. This route is known in the international migration routes as 'Indus fly-way number 4' or 'green route'. Out of seven flyways, Indus Flyway is one of the busiest routes.
The distance covered by these birds is measured up to 4,5O0-km approximately. The migratory birds start flying from Siberia to Afghanistan, Karakoram range, across River Indus in Pakistan and finally nest at Bharatpur. The birds make stopovers on lakes and water basins in parts of Pakistan at Nowshera, Tanda Dam (Kohat), Swat, Chitral, Punjab Barrages and at Haleji, Keenjaar in Sindh. The birds take about 15 to 20 days for completion of their journey and fly over a height of 2,000 metres. The main season of migration starts in September to November, and the return journey starts from February on a night with a full moon.
The ecological benefits of these migrating birds [by eating insects, weeds] via their faecal material improves the soil and agriculture. Here among these rivers and barrage reservoirs and the harvested Basmati rice fields of the Punjab they land and rest, eating the underwater life, weeds & reeds and grain. Their most important feast is the harvest of the Basmati rice grain.
South Indians call rice Anna Lakshmi. Anna means "food" and Lakshmi is the Goddess of prosperity. From ancient times, Dhanya Lakshmi has been depicted holding a few sheaves of rice in her hand. The most special offering to Lord Ganesha is the modakam, a ball of sweet coconut/jaggery, covered with a thick rice paste. The first food fed a child is rice. In Rajasthan, when a woman first enters her husband's house, a measure of rice is kept on the threshold. This she scatters through her new home inviting prosperity and happiness. In South India, raw rice, mixed with kumkum to redden it, is known as mangala akshadai and showered over newlyweds.
People in Gujarat celebrate Sharad Purnima by soaking flattened rice in sweet milk which they drink at night. Drinking this "dood-powa" on this night is said to protect health. In Northern India, people celebrate the festival of Diwali with sugar candy, batasha, maroondas and khil, puffed rice. In "The Rajah's Rice: A Mathematical Folktale from India" , [ By Barry David ] by offering her the most costly jewels in his kingdom as a reward for curing his sick elephants, the raja is only too happy when young Chandra asks for one grain of rice, to be doubled for each square that is upon a chessboard. Her choice saves her village and cures the raja of his greed, all the while teaching students the concept of geometric progression.
Among Parsis, the Achu Michu ritual is performed to purify the mind and body of the bridal couple. Female members of the family carry two silver platters each containing the following items: egg (symbolizing life giving force), coconut (symbolizing inner and outer worlds), betel leaf and areca nut (symbolizing suppleness and strength), unshelled almond (symbolizing virtue and honesty), dried date (symbolizing resilience), sugar crystal or sugar biscuit (symbolizing sweetness), dry rice (symbolizing abundance), rose petals (symbolizing happiness), and a glass of water (symbolizing purity, sanctity and perfection)
The Latin name for rice (oryza) is borrowed from Arabic traders who took it, ultimately, from the Sanskrit term vrihi. It is said that during the first yuga of this manvantara people ate plain rice because it was so rich in nutrients and sweet to taste. Just as virtue dominated the world, so pure rice was the stuff of life and people ate it unmixed with more earthy foods and with perfect satisfaction. But with the second or Treta Yuga, people began to mix their rice with curds and certain vegetables, no longer satisfied with its simple pure taste. In the Dvapara and Kali Yuga that followed, rice progressively became mixed, covered, surrounded, adulterated and overwhelmed by sauces, tangy vegetables, hot peppers or even meats. Rice by itself had gradually lost some of its nourishment and flavour, while human appetites had become more aroused and voracious. In their custom of eating rice unseasoned in a dish separate from other seasoned foods, the Japanese have preserved something of an age-old awareness of the ideal.
Rice is the only food grain which does not sprout and hence when wet, does not decay as other food grains do. Rice features in many legends about the Buddha's life. In Sanskrit one of the words for rice, dhaanya, also meant 'sustainer of the human race', and the name of more than one ancient Indian king was derived from it. Thus, Shuddhodhana, the father of Gautama Buddha, was known as 'Pure Rice' or, more literally, 'Pure Gift'.In a famous tale, Buddha was offered a bowl of milk and rice by a young woman named Sujata, which gave him renewed strength during his austerities in pursuit of Enlightenment. Sweetened rice thus forms part of offerings to the Buddha in Buddhist ceremonies.
Rice cooked in ghee or clarified butter is said to have been the favourite food of the Prophet
Muhammad. Major harvest festivals include Pongal in Tamil Nadu, Onam in Kerala, Huthri in Coorg (Kodagu). Rice, tinted with the auspicious yellow colour of turmeric, is showered onto newly-married couples, and is part of numerous rites and celebrations. It is offered to the deities and used as an oblation in the sacred fire of Hindu ritual. Rice is primarily a symbol of fertility and prosperity. Hindus particularly associate rice with Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth. Paddy stalks or unhusked paddy is worshipped as embodying the goddess. The uses of rice in traditional medicine are closely interwoven with its use as a food. The main rice-products used as medicines are made from brown rice and rice oil from rice bran. Some of its traditional uses are supported by scientific studies.
Nepal’s Jumli marshi dhan is a cold tolerant variety that is the world’s highest-growing rice cultivated at altitudes of nearly 3,000 metres. Every year from October-December, the people around Ajingara Lake in Kapilbastu collect their seeds called tinna/tinni rice that are eaten during the Chhat festival and fasts like Ekadashi.
Rice remedies --Rice can be used to treat skin conditions. The rice is boiled, drained and allowed to cool and mashed. The rice is then made into a paste or moulded into balls and these can be applied to boils, sores, swellings and skin blemishes. Other herbs are sometimes added to the rice balls to increase their medicinal effects. Sticky glutinous rice is often taken to treat stomach upsets, heart-burn and indigestion. Extracts of brown rice have been used to treat breast and stomach cancer and warts. They have also been used to treat indigestion, nausea and diarrhoea.
Rice Bran Oil [ RBO] is a miracle by-product of the husk of rice and contains gamma-oryzanol, tocotrienols, tocopherols, and squalene. It is heart friendly due to the chemical "Oryzanol which increases HDL and lowers LDL & Tri-glycerides . It is good for the skin and contains squalene which improves skin tone and delays wrinkle formation. RBO fried foods absorb 15 % less oil. Thirty per cent of the husked bran contains embryo of rice and in addition contains Vitamin E , Oryzanol, Tocotrenol and plytosterol which are anti-oxidants.
Japan began producing rice bran oil 50 years ago, where it is popularly known as 'heart oil' because of its special properties. A.P. Solvex Ltd. is the largest producer of rice bran oil in India, with a brand name of Ricela. . Bhatinda Chemicals Ltd. is the second largest producer of rice bran oil in India, with a daily production of 100 tons. Their oil is sold under the name Home Cook. India, has an annual production of 650,000 tons.
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