Stem of munja grass

Ashok Aklujkar aklujkar at INTERCHANGE.UBC.CA
Sat Apr 6 10:44:14 EST 2002


I herewith forward the following message received from Dr. Vidyasankar
Sundaresan. -- ashok aklujkar

1. Botanically speaking, grasses and coconut/palm/areca are not too far off
in the modern classification. Grasses belong to the family Gramineae under
the subclass Commelinidae, while coconut/areca/palm belong to the very next
subclass, namely Arecidae (this name is derived from the word areca). Both
subclasses fall under the class Monocotyledonae, i.e plants with seeds that
have only one cotyledon (as opposed to two cotyledons).

2. There are about 10000 species under Gramineae, including food grains like
rice and wheat, and also such plants as bamboo, sugarcane etc. As we all
know, bamboos and sugarcane can grow very tall, with even wood-like
formation in the stems, but they are nevertheless "grasses". Also, the
scientific name of Munja grass is Saccharum munja or Saccharum bengalense or
Saccharum sara (i.e. zara (Sanskrit)). I think bengalense is the preferred
botanical name, as botanists tend to give priority to geography over
language, although of course, there is no reason in these post-British-India
times why Bengal should be thus specially priviliged! Anyway, I notice that
the online Monier-Williams gives the botanical name Saccharum sara under
both entries. If munja and zara are closely related (much like both Africans
and Chinese are Homo sapiens), the ritual use of one instead of the other
makes perfect sense, and there may be no botanical confusion at all in this
case. Also, given that sugarcane also belongs to the same genus, i.e.
Saccharum, I have no difficulty in believing that munja can grow rather
tall.

3. In the context of 1 above, the word t.r.na used to refer to
coconut/areca/palm seems quite understandable. Common usage might consider
t.r.na to be tuccha, but maybe not so for special usages. And if we think
about it, both garden variety grass and coconut trees have many similarities
- monocotyledonous seeds, blade like leaves, clusters of flowers,
adventitious roots, no hard wood formation. The only major differing
characteristic is that the clusters of flowers give way to clusters of
medium to big sized nuts in coconut/areca/palm, while grass flowers do not.

4. Having cleared the botany, may I suggest that instead of "stem", one
should probably be thinking of translating as "pith"? This would make better
sense in the context of having to remove multiple outer layers in order to
expose the iSIkA. The interesting biological fact is that grass stems are
usually jointed with a solid vertical joint, and solid horizontal joints at
nodes. So they are hollow inside (think of bamboo flutes, but not so in the
case of sugarcane), enclosing only AkAza. I don't know if munja is also
ultimately hollow inside, but I would guess that it is. The comparison to
the invisible Atman would then be absolutely perfect, both in the anugItA
and in the pancadazI!

5. Finally, for pictures of Saccharum munja, people working in the areas of
water conservation and prevention of soil erosion may have them, or would
know what sources to search. This and other grasses are being extensively
studied in environmental programs in India and elsewhere. See for example
www.vetiver.org <http://www.vetiver.org>  (vetiver is derived from Tamil
veTTivEr)



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