All creatures great and small

The Asian Agri-History Foundation (AAHF) is a nonprofit trust set up (in 1994) to "facilitate dissemination of information on agricultural history to promote research on sustainable agriculture in the South and Southeast Asia region. This region had generally provided food security to its population for several millennia, with only occasional famines in a few limited pockets (due primarily to drought). Farmers in the region had evolved some of the most sustainable agricultural management technologies suitable for different agroecoregions."

Well... one of the things that they do is to take tradition seriously and ask serious questions of it. Some of the research projects I found listed on their site are interesting: Scientific Validation of Incorruptible Self-purificatory Characteristic of Ganga Water or Medicinal Smoke (Havan) Reduces Airborne Bacteria. These are old chestnuts, and one would really like to know, using modern science, what the truth of the matter is... Some other projects seem very worthwhile: Managing Tea Plantation Using Vrikshayurveda, Rediscovering Scented Rice and so on...

A book that they have just published is Mriga⋅pakshi⋅shastra (The Science of Animals and Birds) by Hamsadeva, translated into English by Nalini Sadhale and Y L Nene.

One might quibble that Shastra is hardly synonymous with Science, as a reviewer, Darshan Shankar has done in the latest issue of Current Science, but the book offers a fascinating peep into the practice of natural history in the 13th century. The sense of classification and observation was clearly strong enough for the author to differentiate six different types of the Asiatic lion: Simha, mrigendra, panchasya, haryaksha, kasarin, and hari. Of these, Mrigendra (The Majestic lion) is described so:

• "Those (lions) having all physique and long mane, and are bereft of anger are called mrigendras by the experts.

• They are slightly irate when hungry. They are fond of capturing deer and other animals. They are often in search of elephants and are stated to roar louder.

• They wander in bushes and also in sandy areas. Tall, intoxicated, and brave they are dreadful with their formidable molars.

• They are sexually active in rainy season. They sleep less but are very healthy. They like to roam in the shade and can sustain hunger.

• Although calm in appearance, they cannot be overpowered and cause fear in the minds of other animals. Although slow in gait, they cannot be ensnared.

• The front portions of their body are covered with mane. They have shining yellow eyes. Some have long hair on the chin and spots on the skin. "

Oversize, 400 pages, with 160 colour plates. Rs 1200. ISBN: 9788190396318

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