Black Gram

Black Gram (Vigna mungo)

Origin and domestication

India has been universally accepted as the original home of pulse crop Black gram (Vigna mungo). The black gram has remained more or less confined to South Asia. The progenitor of black is believed to be Vigna trilobata, grown wild in India. The Sanskrit name, mashparni (leaves similar to those of mash or black gram) exists in the literature for Vigna dalzelliana. The Latin names for black gram are Vigna mungo . The ancient Sanskrit name for black gram is masha. Even today in Punjab, black gram is called mash and in West Bengal, it is called mash kalaya. In all other Indian languages, the name urad is used, which seems to have originated from the Tamil word ulundu. Masha (black gram) has been mentioned in the Brahadaranyaka (c. 5500 BC), in the Mahabharata (c. 2000 BC), in the Krishi-Parashara (400 BC; Sadhale, 1999), and in the later literature.

Seed and sowing

Kautilya’s Arthasastra (321–296 BC) mentions preservation of seed for sowing in the next season. As pointed out earlier, the seed for sowing was to be exposed to dew and sunlight for 3–5 days (Shamasastry, 1961; Nene, 1999; 2002). In the medieval Sultanic / Mughal period (1206–1650 AD), it was specified that seed should be mixed with cow dung for faster seedling growth and ultimately for higher yield (Naqvi, 1984. Majumdar (1984) reported a 14th century practice of soaking black gram seeds in bird droppings before sowing to ensure faster growth. In the 16th century text Bhavaprakash Nighantu ( Chunekar and Pandey, 1998 ), and also in Watt (1889), it is mentioned that there were black (large), brown, or green (small)-seeded “varieties” of black gram. It is also mentioned that many “varieties” had an intermediate color range.

Crops in field

Kashyapa mentioned line sowing as early as in 800 AD (Ayachit, 2002). Kashyapa also recommended weeding to be done a month after sowing, to be followed by a top dressing with manure. He reported leaf senescence after about three months, indicating that the crop was approaching harvest. Additional information given under pigeonpea earlier applies to both green gram and black gram. Watt (1889) recorded a few interesting practices and observations of farmers. Broadcasting was the common method of sowing these as intercrops in the Punjab. These were grown extensively as “subordinate” crops to millets or cotton. These crops do not impoverish the soil “in any case to the extent cereals do”. A variety of black gram called mugi was most frequently grown as a mixed crop with pearl millet in the Punjab. These crops were intercropped with finger millet in Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu.  Three varieties  were grown in Bengal
( Sona, Krishna, and Ghora, possibly referring to the golden, dark, and whitish seed color, respectively ). These crops were grown in the postrainy season in southern India. Black gram thrived better than green gram in heavier soils. Black gram suffered from mildew ( Cercospora leaf spot ) under damp weather conditions, and an insect pest attacked pods in the Punjab. Sheep manure was used for black gram in Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu.

Yields, markets, and storage

It is only in a 19th century document ( Watt, 1889 ) that we find precise yield data on these two crops. Yields of black gram in Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu were around 800 kg /ha-1.

The Ain-i-Akbari of 1590 AD ( Blochmann, 1873) mentions black gram price to be 50% of that of wheat. The green gram dhal was costlier than chickpea and lentil dhals, indicating higher demand or less supply. Black gram dhal was not mentioned.

Storage practices were the same as those mentioned for chickpea during the Sultanic period, i.e., 1206–1555 AD
( Naqvi, 1984). In the Risala-Dar-Falahat (c. 1450 AD), it is mentioned that these pulses were stored in large pots with their borders smeared with oil, and ash “applied” on all sides ( Majumdar, 1984 ).