Tilling the millet field
Tilling the millet field

This is a story that has been passed down through the generations in Ittarai village in Hasanur. Long ago, two brothers lived in a village with their families. They had a large millet field that they cultivated together. One year, during sowing season, a quarrel that began between children at playtime escalated to the brothers fighting bitterly between themselves. In his anger, one brother ran his plough through the millet field where the seedlings had started to germinate and push their way through the soil. Not satisfied with that, he let his bullocks loose to graze in the field. Once he had done all the damage that he thought he could, he left the village with his family. An elder in the same family fenced off the field, hoping that one day the brother would let go his anger and come home. To the elder’s surprise, the damaged millet crop grew at a tremendous pace, developed many shoots, crowns and ear-heads and the harvest from the field was substantial. The other farmers observed this closely and tried to replicate the process. Thus was born the process of Araganai – splitting the millet root base so that multiple shoots are formed.

Practiced with millet cultivation, specifically ragi (finger millet), thinai (foxtail millet) and samai (little millet), araganai is described as araku=scrap/trim/slice and anai=retain or raise the soil. This process is used to split millet seedlings so that multiple shoots are formed leading to more earheads and better harvest. Araganai also has precise timing and uses instruments like the alumane andkallape. The 3-4-stage operation also entails the planting of other crops with the millet field – mixed cropping.

First araganai using the alumane

1st  araganai: 8-10 days after seeds are sown, the alumane is dragged through the field, either manually or using bullocks. The direction of the ploughing is perpendicular or across the slope. The furrows thus formed are 2inches deep and wide and about 4 inches apart. Beans, maize or mustard is planted in these furrows.

2nd araganai: 14-16 days after the first araganai (22-26 days from sowing) is when the second araganai is done, this time with a kallappewhich is a heavier and dragged by bullocks. This is because the crop has now grown higher and also the direction of the cut is perpendicular to the first drag, i.e. parallel to the slope. The furrows created by the kallappe is 6 inches wide and 4 inches deep and the soil so displaced supports the millet plants. Being parallel to the slope, the furrows also retain rainwater and control soil displacement.

The 3rd araganai is practiced if crop density is high even after two araganai operations.

At the 4th step, controlled grazing is done to maximize the result of araganai. Two or three buffaloes or cows are driven into the field and allowed to graze. At this point, the plants are about 4 inches height and around 28 days from date of sowing. This way, the crop is trimmed and the plants are trampled as well. What appears to destroy the crop results in the young plant’s root bases separating from each other and each one emerging as an individual plant.

Much like the timing, weather on the day of araganai is also important. Araganai yields best results in dry soil and on a sunny day with the next two days having similar weather as well. Under such conditions, uprooted weeds and unwanted plants will dry out in the sun – an inbuilt weeding process. The practice of Araganai as mentioned here is followed among the Irula, Kurumba and Sholiga communities in Dimbham and Thalavady areas of Erode district. Other areas practice different versions adapted to their topography, soil-type and crops cultivated.