Some of the rarest and finest aromatic rice varieties of India are found in the Bhagalpur and Magadh divisions of Bihar. Bhagalpur has been a traditional aromatic rice growing area where varieties such as Katarni, Tulsi Manjari and Badshah Bhog are widely grown. Over the years, variations of Katarni like Bhauri Katarni, Deshla Katarni, Sabour Katarni and Ghorayiya Katarni are being cultivated by farmers on a small-scale.
Katarni is an indigenous rice that is renowned for its cooking quality and aroma. Katarni literally means an awl with a hook at the end for sewing. Strangely enough, the shape of its husk actually resembles the tip of an awl!
This short-grain rice is the most widely grown ceremonial scented rice in Bihar and is famous for its palatability and cheura (beaten rice) that is sweet, soft and fragrant. The cooked rice is fluffy, non sticky, sweet and easily digestible with a popcorn-like aroma. Katarni rice is classified under the hard aroma group and is mainly termed as a kheer and khichdi rice.
Katarni rice is cultivated in the south alluvial Gangetic plain of Munger, Banka and South Bhagalpur. This fine quality scented landrace is photosensitive, tall in height and medium to slender grained.
Traditional agricultural practices of ploughing, harrowing, puddling and planking are still adopted by the farmers. The crop is harvested in the last week of November to mid-December when the panicles mature and the plants have turned yellow in colour. The crop is harvested manually with sickles. The grains need to be sundried after threshing for storage.
The average yield is between 15 to 30 quintals per hectare. However, this variety is highly susceptible to pests and diseases like stemborer and bacterial blight. This variety has low export value because of its short grains.
Unfortunately, the yield of this scented rice has been steadily declining over the years owing to lack of adequate remuneration from buyers, lack of and costly irrigation due to excavation of sand from the river and long duration. Katarni paddy along with many other good-quality aromatic rice varieties like Mehijawain, Shyamjeera, Tulsi Phool, Sonachur, Shah Pasand, Kari bank, Moraiya, Lal Champaran basmati, Bhuri Champaran basmati, Kali Champaran basmati, Baharni, Chenaur, Dweta Bhog, Kesar, Kamod, Kanak Jeera, Marcha, Ramjanwain, Sonalari, Tulsi Pasand, Mircha and Malida are either already lost or on the verge of extinction.
Katarni rice was awarded the Geographical Indication Tag (GI) in 2017.
Written by Lakshmi Subramanian
* Photos are only symbolic (Taken from public domain/internet and any copyright infringement is unintentional and regrettable)
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