Kalanamak (‘Kala’ means black derived from the husk and the suffix ‘namak’ means salt) is one of the finest quality aromatic rice grown in India. This scented variety has been cultivated since 600 BC i.e., since and probably before the Buddhist era. It is also known as ‘Buddha rice’ as it is believed that Mahatma Buddha broke His fast on the day of enlightenment when kheer made from Kalanamak rice was offered to Him by Sujatha.
It has been further documented by the Chinese traveller Fa-Hein that Lord Buddha gave the grains of Kalanamak rice that he received as alms to the villagers of Mathla who asked for prasad when he visited Kapilavastu after attaining enlightenment. He asked them to sow it in a marshy place and said that the rice will have a distinctive aroma which will always remind people of him. It is also said that this rice variety loses its quality and aroma if grown elsewhere! The actual belt of Kalanamak rice is believed to be the tract between Bajha jungle and Aligarhwa.
Archaeological excavations discovered carbonized rice grains resembling Kalanamak from one of the rooms in Aligarwha (Siddharthnagar, Uttar Pradesh) which is on the foothills of the Himalayas and has been identified historically as the territory of Buddha’s father, king Shuddodhana (‘Shuddhodhana’ means pure rice).
The famed Kalanamak is rated as very high grade in rice varieties and grows abundantly in the Himalayan Tarai belt of Eastern Uttar Pradesh bordering Nepal which comprises of the districts of Siddharthnagar, Gorakhpur, Maharajganj, Kushinagar, Basti, Deoria, Sant Kabir Nagar, Barabanki, Gonda, Bahraich and Balrampur and is popularly called as the scented black pearl of Uttar Pradesh.
Kalanamak rice is often cooked for marriages as it is considered to be auspicious and its smoke is believed to be purifying. The cooked rice is fluffy, soft, nonsticky, sweet, palatable and easily digestible with a relatively long shelf life.
The quality, fragrance and taste of Kalanamak rice is consistently maintained through organic cultivation using neem, mustard cake and cow dung. As fertilizers and pesticides are not used, the cost of cultivation comes down drastically. The rice provides about 40 – 50 percent of more yield in the same area as compared to other varieties. An important factor is that the organic techniques make the rice highly resistant to several diseases like stem rot, brown spot and panicle blast, Bacterial blight and others.
Kalanamak rice is known for its medicinal and curative properties. It is rich in antioxidants and has a high anthocyanin content that helps in the prevention of heart disease and improves the health of the skin. As the rice is rich in iron and zinc, it helps in regulating blood related problems. Recent research has shown that Kalanamak rice is excellent for diabetic patients and must be included in their daily meals.
This exotic crop has tremendous potential in the international markets but is struggling against the higher yielding and popular Basmati in the market. Efforts are being made by the Government to improve the low yield through high-yield variety seeds. This ‘pride of Purvanchal’ has traits that far outrank those of Basmati with its great head rice recovery which, after polishing increases the profitability (recovery rate of Kalanamak is 65 percent which is way more than Basmati’s 45 percent). The amount of water required for cultivation and transplantation is substantially lower as compared to Basmati rice. Hence, Kalanamak rice stands firm and remains unaffected when cultivated in areas that either face drought or have a perennial water crisis.
Kalanamak rice commands a higher price than basmati rice (roughly about 4 to 5 times higher). Due to its long-standing association with Mahatma Buddha, it is becoming more famous as ‘Holy Rice’ and the aroma of the Kalanamak rice originating from the villages of Siddharthnagar has now started reaching countries that practise Buddhism namely Japan, Thailand, Myanmar, Sri Lanka and Bhutan.
A total of 11 districts of Purvanchal have received the Geographical Indication Tag (GI) in 2013 for this tasty Kalanamak rice.
Written by Lakshmi Subramanian
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