Indologist confirms maize in ancient sculptures

Yuri Kuchinsky yuku at
Tue Oct 13 14:59:20 EST 1998

Thanks for all this interesting info, Hu.

All this is certainly very good evidence for ancient Americans
contributing to world civilizations many centuries before Columbus. 

Also, I have now shown conclusively, also using in part botanical
evidence, that Native South Americans influenced the civilization of
Easter Island (see my webpage). These two areas of research are clearly
related when one considers the big picture.

It is amazing when one considers all the implications of Gupta's research
fully. Obviously, Gupta herself did not, as your post indicates. But
nevertheless, she has done huge amounts of research, and came up with
plenty of valuable evidence -- while not trying to contribute to
investigating the problem of ancient transoceanic contacts as such. All
this should just make the results of her research ever so much more
important and meaningful.

This is the kind of evidence that will one day overcome the dogmatic
resistance of mainstream academe, I believe. And I think this new evidence
demonstrates quite clearly that a refusal to consider these matters
seriously for so long has been the result primarily of entrenched
Eurocentrism in mainstream Western anthropological and archaeological

After all, to suggest that traditional cultures of Asia and America had
important cultural links many centuries before the Great White God
Columbus... is just so discomforting to so many?



Yuri Kuchinsky -=- Toronto -=-


Hu McCulloch (mcculloch.2 at wrote on Tue, 13 Oct 1998 16:36:48 GMT:

Indologist and Ethnobotanist Shakti M. Gupta of Delhi University 
confirms the presence of maize and at least five other New World 
plants in pre-Columbian temple sculptures in India in her new book, 
_Plants in Indian Temple Art_ (B.R. Publishing Corp, Delhi, 1996.  
ISBN 81-7018-883-0).

Maize had previously been reported in several Hoysala temples by 
Carl Johannessen and Anne Z. Parker ("Maize Ears Sculptured in 
12th and 13th Century AD India as Indicators of Pre-Columbian 
Diffusion," _Economic Botany_ vol. 43, 1989, pp. 164-180).  
Photos of a few of these sculptures are on-line at 
<>, and 

Vocal critics of Johannessen and Parker have argued that it was
their lack of understanding of the intricacies of Hindu 
iconography that prevented them from realizing that what is 
depicted in these sculptures is in fact not maize, but rather 
something else - variously muktaphala (lit. "pearl-fruit", an 
imaginary fruit made of pearls), some exotic tropical fruit, 
or even, by one account, the Kalpavriksha, a mythical 
wish-granting tree (!).

Gupta's earlier books, including _Plant Myths and Traditions 
in India_ (1971), _Vishnu and His Incarnations_ (1974), _Legends 
around Shiva_ (1979), and _Festivals, Fairs, and Fasts of India_ 
(1990), establish her as an authority on Indian mythology and, 
in particular, the role of plants in Indian mythology. 
Now, she has provided a definitive text on some 70 varieties
of plants depicted in Hindu, Jain, and Buddhist temple art in India.  

Prof. Gupta writes, "Different varieties of the corn cob 
[Zea mays Linn.] are extensively sculpted but only on the 
Hindu and Jain temples of Karnataka.  Various deities are shown 
as carrying a corn cob in their hands as on the Chenna Kesava 
temple, Belur.  The straight rows of the corn grains can be 
easily identified.  In the Lakshmi Narasimha temple, Nuggehalli, 
the eight-armed dancing Vishnu in his female form of Mohini is 
holding a corn cob in one of her left hands and the other hands 
hold the usual emblems of Vishnu.  .... In the Trikuta basti, 
Mukhamandapa, Sravanbelgola, Karnataka, a 12th century A.D. 
sculpture of Ambika Kushmandini sitting on a lotus seat under a 
canopy of mangoes holds in her left hand a corn cob.  Plate 223 
depicting a Nayika holding a corn cob in her left hand is from 
Nuggehalli, Karnataka.  

"Temples where the sculptures of corn cobs are found are 
dated 12-13th century A.D.  The common belief [!] is that 
maize originated in Mexico and came to India by the 11th-12th 
century.  By the time these temples were constructed, maize 
would have been fairly common in India." (p. 176).

Gupta does not stop with maize, but goes on to identify 
sunflower, pineapple, cashew, custard apple and monstera, 
all new world species, in pre-Columbian temple art.  

She finds Sunflower (Helianthus annuus Linn.), a native of 
Central and South America, in the Rani Gumpha cave, Udaigiri, 
2nd century B.C. (p. 30).  Johannessen independently reports 
sunflower in his article, "Pre-Columbian American Sunflower and 
Maize Images in Indian Temples: Evidence of Contact between 
Civilizations in India and America" (in Davis Bitton, ed., 
_Mormons, Scripture and the Ancient World: Studies in Honor of 
John L. Sorenson_, FARMS, Provo UT, 1998).

Pineapple (Ananas cosmosus [Linn.] Merrill), a plant indigenous 
to Brazil, is, according to Gupta, "clearly depicted" in Udayagiri 
cave temple, Madhya Pradesh, circa 5th century A.D. (p. 18).  
Cashew (Anacardium occidentale Linn.), a native of Brazil, is 
depicted in a Bharhut stupa balustrade relief, circa 2nd century 
B.C. (p. 17). Gupta finds custard apple (Annona Squamosa Linn.) 
sculpted at Bharhut, circa 2nd century B.C., and at Kakatiya, 
Karnataka, 12th century A.D. (pp. 19-20).  According to the 
Encyclopaedia Britannica, this plant is native to the New World 
tropics and Florida.  And finally, monstera (Monstera deliciosa 
Liebm.), a large splitleaf evergreen climber native to Central 
America, appears in Hindu and Jain temple in Gujarat and Rajastan 
from the 11th to 13th centuries (pp. 108-9).

According to Gupta, the chili pepper (Capsicum annuum Linn.) is 
mentioned in the Siva and Varmana Puranas, circa 6-8th centuries 
A.D.  Unfortunately she does not give page references or indicate 
the term used for it there, and the only temple carving she 
has found of it dates to the 17th century A.D.  This very 
important native of Mexico and Latin America deserves further 

The naga lingham, the flower of the South American and West 
Indian cannonball tree (Couroupita guaianensis Aubl.), was, 
according to Gupta, "cultivated in India from very early times."  
In her timeframe, this would mean very early pre-Columbian times.  
She notes that it figures into the worship of Shiva at several 
temples.  Nevertheless, the only sculpture of it she shows again 
dates from the 17th century A.D.  This plant also merits further 

Gupta's book contains a wealth of evidence for pre-Columbian 
contacts between the New World and the Old, despite the fact 
that she is not particularly interested in, or even aware of, 
the possibility.  She does repeatedly reject reports that 
such-and-such plant was introduced by the Portuguese in the 
16th century, but in her conclusion suggests that perhaps plants 
such as the pineapple and custard apple "were indigenous to India."  
Despite the "common belief" (evidently Johannessen and 
Parker's) that maize was brought to India from Mexico prior 
to the construction of the Hoysala temples, she reports that 
"Maize is also believed to have an Indian origin..."  It is 
my understanding that this is botanically impossible, although 
it is quite conceivable that maize was present in the subcontinent 
for many centuries before the Hoysala dynasty, and that distinctively 
Asian varieties were developed early on.

Despite Gupta's confirmation of maize in the Hoysala sculptures 
Johannessen and Parker discuss, she argues that the similar 
but distinctly squatter objects that appear in earlier 
sculptures are not maize but rather Citron (Citrus medica 
var. Limonum of Watt.) or Lemon (Citrus limon [Linn.]), 
both Old World plants (p. 53).  Perhaps so, but it is 
noteworthy that the "citron" she says is held by a Yaksha 
in an 8th century A.D. sculpture from Aihole has kernels 
aligned in maize-like rows.  A citron looks like a large 
lemon with a deeply puckered skin, but the puckering is 
random, and does not simulate maize kernels as in her very 
clear photograph.  

Unfortunately, Gupta makes no mention of Johannessen and 
Parker or their predecessors, or of the lively debate that 
surrounds the "maize ears".  She also makes no mention of 
"muktaphala," or "pearl-fruit," the Sanskrit name said to 
be associated with these objects.  My own hunch is that 
this was actually a name that was used for maize.

Gupta's book is a little hard to find in the United States.  
I had to have the Ohio State University libraries order 
it specially, and at present it has one of only two copies 
in the entire Ohiolink university library consortium.  
At $110 it is a little pricey, but it is informative, 
attractive and well done.  The photos are good but almost 
all black and white.  All the illustrations are well annotated.  

-- Hu McCulloch
   Econ Dept.
   Ohio State University
   mcculloch.2 at

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