Pigeonpea ( Cajanus cajan )


After some debate about its origin in Africa or India, it is now generally agreed that the most likely region where pigeonpea originated is the Eastern Ghats in the Indian subcontinent. The most probable progenitor of pigeonpea, Cajanus cajanifolia, is found in India in addition to about 17 Cajanus species. Some 13 wild species are found in Australia and one in Africa (van der Maesen, 1990). The Latin name Cajanus cajan came from the Malay word cachang, which in turn was a corrupt form of the Telugu word kandi. The Telugu word has its origin in the Sanskrit word kaand (a stem), a reference to the long stem of the pigeonpea plant.


The oldest Sanskrit word for pigeonpea seems to be adhaki; both Charaka (c. 700 BC) and Susruta (c. 400 BC) have used the term adhaki (Krishnamurthy, 1991; Vidyalankar, 1994). We find the same name adhaki in the Buddhist and Jain literature (200 BC–300 AD), and in subsequent writings until the 16th century. Kautilya (Shamasastry, 1961) does not mention adhaki; however, in the Arthasastra, there is a word udaara, which means a sort of grain with long stalks, and daara means to split. I would like to suggest that Kautilya used the word udaaraka for pigeonpea ( Kangle, 1982). Amarsimha (c. 200 BC), in his lexicon Amarkosa, mentions adhaki, kakshi, and tuvarika as names of pigeonpea ( Jha, 1999). Bhavamisra (16th century) adds yet another word shanapushika, probably because the yellow flowers of pigeonpea resemble those of the sunn hemp (Chunekar and Pandey, 1998).

The word adhaki originated most likely from the word ardha, meaning ‘one-half’ or ‘split into two parts’. Dry whole pigeonpea seed is rarely consumed; only the dhal is commonly eaten. One of the two common names used for pigeonpea in the Indian subcontinent is arhar. It is logical to assume that arhar is a corrupt form of adhaki. The second common name for pigeonpea is tuvara. In Sanskrit, tuvara or tubara means astringent. The green seed, which has been consumed in Gujarat for centuries, has an astringent taste. This, therefore, might have led to the word tuvara and its variants, tuvarika, turri, tur, etc. It is interesting to note that the word arhar is common in northern India, and tuvara (with variants) in southern India. The Sangam literature of the Tamil people (100 BC–300 AD) does not mention pigeonpea, indicating that it found a place in Tamil kitchens in the later centuries (Achaya, 1998). The Ain-i-Akbari (1590) does not mention pigeonpea (Blochmann, 1873). Akbar was essentially a “Punjabi” and pigeonpea even today does not figure in the common man’s diet, either in the Indian or in the Pakistani Punjab.


Kautilya (321–296 BC) mentions the sowing of udaaraka with the onset of the rains (Shamasastry, 1961). Kashyapa (800 AD) states that ‘the science recognizes large and small varieties’; the largeseeded types are sown in lines, both in irrigated and rainfed lands (Ayachit, 2002). He also mentions that excess rain after the sowing damages the sown seed. We find a reference to a black-seeded pigeonpea ( krishnadhaki ) in the Sivatatvaratnakara by Raja Keladi Basavaraja (17th century) of Shimoga, Karnataka (Achaya, 1998). Buchanan (1807), who traveled extensively in southern India, mentions line sowing as well as broadcast sowing. For line sowing, a seed drill called curigay was used. In Karnataka, pigeonpea was intercropped with Panicum miliare ( kutki; samai ). Watt (1889) mentions two varieties – normal and early by two months – in Raipur (now in Chhattisgarh state), as well as large- and small-seeded varieties in the Mysore region (Karnataka). Kashyapa (800 AD) mentions a 3-month crop, information similar to that given for chickpea (Ayachit, 2002). This indicates the availability of short-duration landraces, at least during the time when pigeonpea was grown at latitudes 18–22° N in eastern India. Watt (1889) repeatedly states that pigeonpea was cultivated not only as a subordinate crop with sorghum, pearl millet, cotton, etc., but also as a sole crop in some parts of Uttar Pradesh. In Central India (Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh), one row of pigeonpea was grown with 5 rows of cotton; a practice that continues even today with some variations. Watt describes frost to be the chief ‘enemy’ of the crop in northern India, but also mentions that the manured crop withstands frost. Watt further mentions a 4-month crop in Thane (near Mumbai) and that the pod borer was controlled manually. Early morning, when the caterpillars are rather quiet, the plants were shaken, worms collected in baskets, and then destroyed by burying.

Yields and markets

Again, only limited information is available. Watt (1889) mentions an average of 645 kg ha-1 in Uttar Pradesh, with a range from 100 kg to 1480 kg ha-1. This clearly points to the crop management as the key factor that holds well even today. CSIR (1950) mentions an average yield of 767 kg ha-1 in Bihar in 1935–36. Methods of storage were similar to those described for chickpea, i.e., use of leaves, ash, and oil.

Food and feed

Since the ancient times, pigeonpea seed was split and decorticated for preparing soup or dhal; dilute dhal was cooked to go with rice, and thick dhal to go with flat bread (chapati) made from cereal flour. Pigeonpea has been used in preparing very few dishes in contrast to chickpea. The dehulled material leftover after obtaining dhal has all along been fed to cattle. It is a valued feed. Ayurvedic treatises since the time of Charaka (c. 700 BC) mention that pigeonpea dhal has properties of purifying the blood and improving the complexion ( Vidyalankar, 1994 ). Its flatulence-causing property has also been documented.