India - Once Plentiful

Dr. Jai Maharaj jai at
Mon Jun 16 00:09:03 UTC 1997

The following was recently posted
by the Hindu Vivek Kendra ( )

India - Once Plentiful

Hinduism Today
May 1997

Records reveal British schemes diminished crops and dismantled a native
system of abundance

Most of us college-educated Indians were taught that inefficient
technologies and low productivities pervaded through long ages in
practically all parts of India," states Dr. S.K. Bajaj, director of the
Centre for Policy Studies, a Chennai think tank. In the 1920s Gandhi's
Young India presented some proof of a rich and prosperous pre-British
India. Then in the 1960s, the Centre's founder, historian Sri Dharampal,
discovered at the Thanjavur Tamil University a set of palmleaf records
documenting a British survey of 2,000 villages of Chengalpattu, a large
area surrounding present-day Chennai. "Startling features of Tamil society
in the 18th century emerge from these palmleaf accounts," said Bajaj.
"Between 1762 and 1766 there were villages which produced up to 12 tons of
paddy a hectare. This level of productivity can be obtained only in the
best of the Green Revolution areas of the country, with the most advanced,
expensive and often environmentally ruinous technologies. The annual
availability of all food averaged five tons per household; the national
average in India today is three-quarters ton. Whatever the ways of
pre-British Indian society, they were definitely neither ineffective nor

Food production is just one aspect of the colonial impact being addressed
by the Centre. The Chengalpattu records are part of Dharampal's research
which has uncovered a politically, technologically and economically
vibrant Indian society of the 18th century. "That society was dismantled
and atomized by the British, by force," states the Centre's brochure, "and
the diverse skills of the Indian people were pushed out of the public
sphere and made to rust and decay. For India to become a vibrant and
dynamic nation again, we only need to re-awaken the political, economic
and technological skills of our people." The records are especially useful
for understanding how Hindu religious institutions were originally
supported, and why they declined under Britishrule.

Dharampal believes Indians must rediscover their nation's traditional
sense of chitta, mind, and flow of time, kala. "Since we have lost
practically all contact with our tradition, and all comprehension of our
chitta and kala, there are no standards and norms on the basis of which to
answer questions that arise in ordinary social living. Ordinary Indians
perhaps still retainan innate understanding of right action and right
thought, but our elite society seems to have lost all touch with any
stable norms of behavior and thinking. The present attempt at imitating
the world and following every passing fad can hardly lead us anywhere. We
shall have no options until we evolve a conceptual framework of our own,
based on chitta and kala, to discriminate between right and wrong, what is
useful for us and what is futile."

The Centre's three main researchers are: M.D. Srinivas, a theoretical
physicist teaching at the University of Madras, who specializes in Indian
science; T.M. Mukundan, a mechanical engineer specializing in technologies
such as water management and iron smelting; and J.K. Bajaj, also a
theoretical physicist, now involved in economy, agriculture and energy.

The Chengalpattu data was a Godsend for the Centre, and has allowed them
to support many of their central theories about pre-British India. The
accounts detail a complete economic, social, administrative and religious
picture of the society. Every temple, pond, garden and grove in a locality
is listed, the occupation, family size, home and lot size of 62,500
households meticulously recorded. Crop yields between 1762-66 are tallied.
Per capita production of food in this region (which is of average
fertility) was more than five times that achieved on average today.

Bajaj and his associates didn't do all their work in a library. The team
set off in person across the Chengalpattu region to verify the picture
presented in the leafs. They found most of these villages
deserted--perhaps since the beginning of the 19th century--by all who had
any resources, education or skills. Inhabitants had left behind their
palatial houses, their temples and groves. Abandoned as well were the
eyrs--the irrigation tanks and channels--often cut across by British-built
roads which left dry land on one side and stagnant water on the other.
Their on-the-ground inspection confirmed many aspects of the inscribed

Of importance to Hindu history is how the religious institutions were
maintained. Lands called manyam were assigned for the support of various
functions, including religious activities. Certain percentages of the
production from this land were divided among the various public functions,
such as administration, army, education and religious institutions. Small
temples received income from nearby villages. Larger ones, such as those
of the great center of Kanchipuram, received income from over a thousand
villages. The amount dedicated to religion from the manyam lands,
accordingto the leaves, was a substantial four percent of the total
produce of the region. It supported temples, academies of learning,
dancers and musicians. A portion was also provided for Muslim and Jain
institutions. This system resulted in the vast network of temples, most
now neglected, seen across South India.

The British government changed this system. In some areas they calculated
a percentage figure of total tax revenue going to the institutions and
fixed it as a dollar amount, in 1799 dollars. Some institutions still
receive this same government allotment--worth next to nothing today.
Others became owners of the land from which a share of production once
came. This introduced its own set of problems, also still with us today,
where temples are unable to collect the rent. The collective result was
that the great religious and cultural institutions of the 18th century
decayed and lost touch with the community. The British taxes were so high
there was no money left to support the administration or cultural
establishments. School teachers, musicians, dancers, keepers of the
irrigation works, moved away, or took to farming. By 1871, 80% of the area
was engaged in agriculture (up from less than 50% earlier), and many of
the services and industrial activities that dominated the Chengalpattu
society of the 1770s ceased to exist.

The value of the Centre's research is obvious: India, and Hinduism with
it, flourished in the not-so-distant past--without the Green Revolution or
the Industrial Revolution or the Worker's Revolution. Dharampal, Bajaj and
their associates want India to look back at this time, dissect and
understand it, and use that indigenous knowledge to reinvigorate the
world's largest democracy.

How the Green Revolution failed

Dr. Ramon De La Peqa of the University of Hawaii is one of the world's
foremost experts on rice. He also happens to be a neighbor of the ashram
from which Hinduism Today is produced. Asked to comment on the
Chengalpattu reports, he said: "Such yields as 12 tons per hectare were
definitely possible with the old methods and two crops a year. The best
modern US production is eight to nine tons per hectare (one annual crop).
The world average is presently three to five tons/hectare. Before the
Green Revolution[which introduced new, high-yielding strains] the average
was one to one-and-a-half tons/hectare. The Green Revolution worked in
some areas but not in others. The short variety of rice developed for it
grew just one meter high. To be productive, it needed fertilizer, and the
fields had to be kept weed free. The old varieties were two meters high,
not so suspectible to weed competition, resistant to insects and did not
need fertilizer. If the new varieties are not managed correctly--with
fertilizers, pesticides and insecticides--the harvest is less than with
the old methods of minimum input. New is not always better."

End of post by the Hindu Vivek Kendra.

Jai Maharaj
Jyotishi, Vedic Astrologer
Om Shanti

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