A Study on the Origin of the word Vrihi

Asko Parpola has assumed that the cultivation of rice have spread from the Ganges valley to Swat, Pirak (Kachi plain) and Gujarat during the first quarter of the second millennium BC. He says that the rice undoubtedly came from the Ganges valley, and this suggests a new level of mobility in the North India. Again he says that, the etymology of the Vedic word for rice does not tally with the Proto-Austro-Asiatic words. Asko Parpola considers that the words for rice in Tamil (arici) and Sanskrit (Vrihi) have failed to demonstrate with any certainty the influences of the Austro- Asiatic loan words on the oldest phase of Indo-Aryan in the northwest.[1]

It seems that the word arici traveled westward. Inside India also several languages adopted the word arici. The possible answer to this predicament is that rice was not found as an alternative for the wheat-eating people in the Sanskrit belt, who were satisfied with wheat and they never felt the need to cultivate rice in their fields. This attitude can be seen in the south even today, where traditional rice eaters, are never interested to switch over to wheat, on any consequences.

It is interesting to recall references made in Sukraniti about Vrihi. Sukraniti mentions that Vrihi (oryza sativa) is used in rubbing the oyster pearls, soaked in to saline water during the previous night, in order to test its genuineness. Again it says that the culpability of an offender was determined by divya sadhana or divine test. In this the offender has to chew with out anxiety or fear one karsa amount of rice. In doing so, if the offender experiences difficulties through palpitation of heart or want of salivation the man would be declared guilty. The rice-ordeal is to be applied in a case involving theft of Rs. 125. A law has forbidden the king from receiving milk of cows & c., for his kith and kin nor paddy and clothes from buyers for his own enjoyment.

Rgveda mentions about rice. But it received more mention, with the advent of Yajurveda[2] Arthasashtra says that Sanskrit has used different words to refer a variety of rice.  Wheat, barley, rice were commonly known as vrihi. The knowledge about the stage in which rice came to be included in this word will enable us to fix up the road map of origin of domesticated rice cultivation in India.

Inside India, the word arici for rice is widely distributed with slight regional variations. Instead of picking up that trend why Sanskrit accepted Vrihi as the word to denote rice is really a baffling question. The time that is being taken for deciphering the origin of that word has made it a historical conundrum.

The prevailing opinion of the scholars is that the word Vrihi has got no relation with any Dravidian words. We will have a fresh look on the question of vrihi, not having any similarity with the Dravidian language.

Rice varieties

Rice - staple foodRice formed an important item of food next only to yava which was considered as the most important.

Based on seasons, rice crops are distinguished by names like, the graishmic, varshic, hemanti, sharada for summer, rainy, autumn, winter crop respectively. The late maturing rice is ptasuka vrihi and the early maturing one is asu vrihi.

Sali, Vrihi and Sastika are the main varieties of rice. Raktasali considered being the best of all the corns, is one among them. Others are Mahasali, Kalama, Sugandha and Kasthasali. Vrihi is considered inferior to Sali and sastika. Vrihi was largely used in sacrifices and eating. [3]

It is tandula for threshed out paddy grain, akshat for unbroken rice, nivar, namba and vrihi for the transplanted rice. The unhusked and pounded rice mixed known as akshata, is used in religious ceremonies and the homam using this mixture is known as akshata homam.

Vrihi ripened in autumn, Sali in winter, Sastika in summer. Sastika is quicker in growth, which can be harvested with in sixty days of cultivation (Arthashastra). Vishnu Dharmottara makes reference about the two varieties of swastika, rakta sastika, a medicinal variety, and pramodaka sastika.

Shashty is sixty in English. The completion of sixty years of age is shastypoorthy. Navara rice is of two kinds, whitish and blackish (kakalakam). Shastikam is the navara variety, which takes sixty days for harvesting. It is a graishmic variety. The field in which navara is cultivated is known as shastikyam. Navara rice is also known as shastihayanam.  Gundert claims that there are two varities of navara, one that ripens at the end of two months and the other at the end of three months. Gundert says that the origin of the word navara may be from navati.

According to Hindu Mythology sarad is Saraswati or Durga. One aspect of the saptamatr is also known as shasti. Navara is known as paadalam. Durga Bhagavathy is known as paadala/ paadalavathy.

One-sixth part of the income is shashta. The king was known as Shastamsavrithi. One by sixth of the rice harvested belonged to the Rajah. So the raja came to be known as shastamsavrithi. Rice is poured on the head of the rajas of Kerala as a part of the installation ceremony, known as ariyittu valccha.

Karingali is the name of a tree. But a variety of rice is also known by that name. Salini is the name of a rice variety. Arundhati is also known by that name. Salyannam is the cooked rice of this variety of rice.

Efforts made by Gundert and Asko Parpola are praise worthy. But the deduction made by Gundart (vridha?) stands as an incomplete effort. We shall not allow it to remain as such forever. Vrihi is generally used for any grain including wheat, barley and rice. It is a generic term applied to all varities of rice. This word might have accommodated rice at a later stage. Similarity has been observed for the word Vrihi (Sanskrit) with the Dravidian words vari, and ari. Similarity can also be observed for the wrijzey (Pushto), birinji (Persian), brinji and the Malayan word beras. The words for rice in Greek and Latin shows more affinity to the Tamil word arici.

To cite an example, the advent of regular maritime communication, Indonesia made it easy for the transport of staple cereal into Indonesia. Sorghum (Sorghum vulgare) was the first cereal to be introduced, followed by foxtail millet into Indonesia. But foxtail millet in West Indonesia is known as sorghum. In Malay jawa (jawa-wut, jawa-ras, zawaH), equally means grain, including foxtail millet. Barley is java in Pali and yava in Sanskrit.

So all the successive interpretation failed to explore whether there are any influence from the far south in the shaping of the rice culture in India and abroad.  Asko Parpola has pointed out the Gangetic plane for the rice in the Indus valley. It is also suggested elsewhere that the India got the rice culture from the Greek. The word arici came from the Malaysia and so on.

Tendency in south India is also the same. In our dictionaries the word pathayam is considered as a Portuguese word. Really the word pathayam was originated from Pathu (paddy field) and ayam (income). Both words when combined, attain the meaning the granary, in which we store the grain that we harvest. But unfortunately we failed to identify our own word and attributed its origin to the Portuguese. This loss of direction is seen in the case of the rice also. We are not even bold enough to assume that we were capable of doing things on our own.

Mother Goddess – The Beginning of Agriculture

Malayalam dictionaries have attributed meaning to the word Bharya for wife, as that person who is responsible for collecting/gathering grains for the household. This shows that the advent of agriculture women began to take a leading role in the society.

Monopoly of women folk in the agriculture in the beginnings is the reason for the advent of mother goddess in the Hindu pavilion. The excavation in the Indus valley too establishes this truth. We have come across findings of Shiva and mother goddesses from that civilization.  Sir. Marshall says that only in the prehistoric past, tree worship and blood sacrifice were relevant these rituals were taken over by staff and arattam during later periods. (Introduction to Mohanjadaro and Indus Civilization)

Tree Worship

A curry, made of greens is known as ilakkari. The material used for this curry is known as sakam. While the curry made out of the leaf of the sakam is sakothanam, the field in which this sakam is planted is sakinam. Vegetable food is known as sakaharam. The word sakam also means sakthi. Durga is known as sakambhari.

The crest of a tree or a mountain is known as sikha. Durga is known as sikhara vasini/ Vindhya vasini. No more evidence is needed to prove that Durga was considered once upon a time as the goddess of vegetation.

The village deity, lodged in a small shrine, constructed on a primitive pattern, is typical in South India. This gramadevata cult however preceded by an earlier cult with no temples at all. Lodged in open air, in the shadow of a big tree, the tree itself is regarded as the embodiment of the deity. Considered as the sacred tree of the village it received all paraphernalia of worship, which are found in worshipping the deity in the subsequent phases.[4] Gods and goddesses of South India were worshipped in the form of trees in the beginnings. In fact Gods lived in the trees. Thus tree worship is an important aspect of historic past. Koovalam (Aegle marmelos) is known as sivadrumam. Mango for muniswar; Vinayaka lived amidst paddy fields, on the banks of water channels.

Karanja (Pongamia glabra) is sacred to Varahi. Karanjanilaya is an ancient goddess of vegetation. Vegatative aspect of lord Siva is Durga. The food produces from her body she sustains every one. The other names are yajnanga, yajniyam, bahusaram, krishnakhnam, krisnari, krishnathothanam, krishnaripu. Both karingali tree and durga are known as gayatri.

is a weapon. Karingali wood is used for brushing teeth. Its wood is taken for construction of temple, handles of weapons, plough, oil grinder, cart wheels, etc etc. It is also served as an ingredient for several Ayurvedic medicines, including tooth powder. A product made out of this tree is boiled in water to serve as appetizer or to quench one’s thirst.  Karingali is a necessary ingredient in the khadiraarishta.

A variety of paddy is also known as karingali. Astrology insists that each person born on a particular austerik should protect and worship an animal, a bird, and a tree. There are twenty such trees. For the betterment of their life they were bound to protect them. Karingali is the tree for those born in the austerik makayiram.


Varahi is the consort of Boar, the female energy of boar form of Vishnu. She is also a mother attending on Skanda (Mahabharata) and sow [5]. A form of Devi, she is considered as the consort of Varaha. Head of a female boar and the body of a female, with coral ornaments, constitutes Varahi. So she is known as varahimukhi. As a crown she wears a karantamakutam on her head.

Plough, spear, the karanja her sacred tree, are her emblems. Balarama, Thrivikrama, Shanmukha, Saraswathy, are the others to wield Plough as a weapon. While an elephant is portrayed on her banner, her mount is an elephant, boar or a buffalo. According to the Vishnudharmottara she has six hands. Four of them carry a staff, sword, shield, and noose and the remaining two hands being in abhaya and varada mudras respectively.

Brahmi, Maheswari, Kaumari, Vashnavi, Varahi, Indri, Kali are the six forms of Durga. While some varities of rice is known as Karingali, jaya, paadala, shashtika Durga is known as karingali, Jaya, gayatri, karanjanilaya, Vindhyavasini, Sikharavasini, shashti, patalavati, sakambhari.

The meaning of the word Vrihi includes a grain, paddy, and a grain of paddy. It is a varshic crop. Mahavrihi, vrihisrestam are the names of a kind of rice. Vyhreya is that which is related to vrihi. Vyhreyam is the field in which the vrihi is grown. Bahuvrihi is the place where there is plenty of vrihi grain. Vrihyagaram means a granary.

The words in Malayalam like veranda, viral (a kind of fish) became vranda and vral. Likewise the word varahi might have changed in to vrihi.
Images under license with Gettyimages.com
[1] Asko Parpola, Deciphering the Indus Script, p.137.
[2] Om Prakash, Food and Drinks in Ancient India, Munshiram Manoharlal, Delhi, 1961,p.7-33.
[3] VishnuDharmottara Purana, 3.314,v.lb.
[4] see N.Venkata Ramanayya, An essay on the origin of South Indian Temple, Asian Educational Services, New Delhi, 1985.
[5] Menaka Gandhi, The Penguin Book of Hindu names,Penguin Books India (Ltd.), New Delhi, 1989.


More by :  Dr. V. Sankaran Nair

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Views: 4754      Comments: 2

Comment vrihi is a red colour rice. which is a medicine for stomach(easily digestible) and food for mind. Man who want to know more about this rice and purchase it can contact 09466319097 or can email.

23-May-2013 05:55 AM

Comment Thanks for information sir,where we find these varieties,any contact address for tasting and future cultivating.i am indian never tasted genuine varieties of rice.my heart says no to gmo food.so please even keep some links to get the seeds of god.
thank you.

P Anil
24-Aug-2012 23:48 PM

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