Indologist confirms maize in ancient sculptures

Hu McCulloch mcculloch.2 at
Fri Oct 16 10:55:40 EST 1998

Oscar Schlaf writes, concerning Yuri's comment on my 10/13 
review of Shakti M Gupta's 1996 book _Plants in Indian Temple 

> It's over two decades old and dismissed by subsequent investigations...
> (see quoted article at the end of this follow-up)

I don't understand Oscar's math here -- it seems to me that 
1998 - 1996 = 2, not a number in excess of 20.  Gupta's work
confirming the presence of maize and at least 5 other [!] New World 
plants in pre-Columbian Indian sculptures  is _subsequent to_
the 1993 Payak and Sachan critique of Johannessen and Parker,
not the other way around.  

Oscar continues,

> Yawn.....See what a two non-European non-American Hindus had to say about
>the "Maize statues":

> Payak, M.M., and Sachan, J.K.S.
> 1993 "Maize Ears Not Sculpted in 13th Century Somnathpur
>         Temple in India." Economic botany. APR 01 1993, vol. 47
>        no. 2, P. 202->

While it is true that Johannessen and Parker are neither Indian nor Hindu 
nor experts on Hindu temple art (apart from what they have picked up in 
their search for maize), the significance of Gupta's book is that she 
is an Indian, she is a recognized expert on the Hindu religion (both 
Vaishnavite and Shaivite) and specifically on the use of 
plants in Hindu mythology, and she has no axe to 
grind for pre-Columbian contacts.  Indeed she  doesn't even seem to 
be aware that this is a serious possiblity, yet 6 of the 70-odd  plants she 
identifies in pre-Columbian sculptures are New World species.   Payak and 
Sachan are biologists, and do not share Gupta's expertise on either Hindu 
relgion or Hindu/Jain/Buddhist temple art.  I mentioned in my review that it 
was unfortunate that Gupta did not address their arguments (or mention 
Johannessen and Parker, for that matter), but this does not reduce
the expertise or relevance of her opinion.

It is interesting that Sachan, with M. Kumar, does endorse _genetic_
evidence for the antiquity of maize in India (see working paper linked 
on my web site below).
>This article's abstract says:

>The contention that objects in the hands of male and female deities sculpted
>on the exterior of the Kesav Temple at Somnathpur near the city of Mysore,
>Karnataka State, India, represent maize ears is rejected on linguistic,
>religious, sculptural, archaeological, and botanical grounds. The stone
>inscriptions associated with the temple list items or commodities used in
>worship, maize is not included. We find no evidence for maize figuring in
>any kind of religious ritual or worship.  The word for maize used currently
>in the Kannada language is "Musukin Jola" which refers to a kind of millet
>resembling sorghum (jola).  This appelation is of recent origin and does not
>appear in any literary work contemporary with the period of construction  of
>Somnathpur temple. 

I'd like to see a list of what words _are_ used in these temple lists,
with each of them identified as to what they represent.  Just because 
a modern word for maize does not appear, does not necessarily mean
that maize was not formerly  known by a different term, eg muktaphala.  
> The wall images do not fully simulate in form and
>proportion the actual human figures. 

Some of them have 6 to 8 arms, but many have only 2.  The ones with 
more than 2 arms are not intended to be human, but anthropomorphic 
dieties.  See eg Johannessen's "Photo #2", linked on my website,
It is my understanding that a Nayika, such as is depicted in Gupta's
Figure 223,  "holding a corn cob in her left hand," from Nuggehalli, 
Karnataka,  represents a human dancer/attendant making an offering to 
the diety(ies) of the temple.  She has no nose, but such vandalism is 
quite common in Hindu temples. -- I have a student from India who 
actually believed as young girl that ancient people 
had no noses!    Otherwise, she is unusually busty, but it is not 
inconceivable that sculptors of the day simply sought out the
fullest-busted models they could find.   She is too short to meet the 
Barbie standard, but maybe that's just a European thing.   Even if 
intended to be a divinity, she could easily pass for human.

>The beaded ornamentation, likewise, of
>the hand-held object shows considerable variation and its comparison whether
>on qualitative or quantitative basis with actual maize kernels of both
>primitive and modern maize is inappropriate.  

Johannessen and Parker (_Economic Botany_, 1989) point out that 
maize has substantial variation in its size, proportions, and kernel 
arrangement, and that the Karnataka temple objects lie within this 
range.   Again, Gupta has no problem identifying these objects as 
corncobs, despite her exertise on plants in Hindu mythology and 
in particular in Indian temple art.   Can anyone on bionet.general
tell a corncob from a banana in the Johannessen photos I link
on my website?   The nearest other object to maize is the custard
apple, which Gupta also identifies in the temple art.  But it's 
New World too!

>The variation in form and
>proportion and stylistic features of these objects is ascribed to their being
>the work of different sculptors.  Maize now grown near the temple comprises
>modern cultivars, especially hybrids released during the early 1960's.  It is
>inconceivable that none of the primitive and advanced types of maize
>purported to be represented in the temple sculpture would have been
>considered worthy of cultivation from
>thirteenth century to the present time.  

My hunch is that maize fourished in Karnataka at the time of the temples,
but soon got zapped by a smut or mildew.  Payak and Sachan themselves
note that the 1960's introduction of maize was for a time frustrated by 
an endemic sorghum mildew.  This might be the very mildew that 
wiped out the local pre-Columbian cultivation.

>We hold that these temple sculptures
>do not represent maize or its ear but an imaginary fruit bearing pearls known
>in Sanskrit as "Muktaphala"

Muktaphala literally means "pearl-fruit".  My hunch here is that this was 
an an ancient word for maize.   What better name for maize than pearl-fruit?
As I mentioned in my review, it is unfortunate that Gupta does not mention 
this term or what it meant.  She is at the University of Delhi.  Is anyone
on soc.culture.indian able to contact her and inquire what she makes of
this term and/or the Payak and Sachan article?

>                                           ---Oscar Schlaf---

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

PS:  I guess Yuri added soc.history.ancient.  My original review was only 
on the first 3 groups, but Yuri quoted it in full in his post.

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