KOCHI: There was a time before the pandemic that farming went out of vogue. Low returns and the white-collar technology revolution forced many people to abandon cultivation, leaving paddy fields barren. But Covid has taught us a thing or two about self-sufficiency and understanding our food. For those getting back in touch with their roots, Praseed Kumar Thayyil from Sultan Bathery, Wayanad, has something interesting to offer. Hailing from a farming family, the 47-year-old has around 125 rice varieties in his collection now.
His research commenced when he got his hands on the ‘Krishna Kamod’ seeds from a friend. The violet, unique, aromatic variety from Gujrat is a great source of nutrition. “That’s when I came to know that there are many indigenous coloured rice varieties that hold medicinal properties. Further research revealed that India has around 3,000 varieties available with farmers across the country,” says Praseed.
The farmer blames the influx of hybrid, fast-yielding varieties for the gradual disappearance of indigenous rice varieties. “The 125 varieties I collected were not getting the recognition they deserve. That is why I decided to take an artistic approach towards popularising them,” he adds, elaborating on his paddy field art.
To create them, he turns his paddy fields into a canvas. “The grains come in different shades — yellow, violet, dark purple, black and dark green,” adds Praseed. In 2017, he made India’s map. Then, Guruvayur Kesavan, the popular tusker of Guruvayur Sri Krishna temple. Last year, he ade a frame with two fishes, that gained some popularity.
This year, he is in the process of making a portrait of Lord Buddha, along with his friend Prasad. “After the India map, we had made an eagle, but it got washed away during the floods. The third figure, Swami Vivekananda, also failed after wild animals ravaged the field. Apart from the artist and I, six more people help us with the process, which almost takes a whole day,” says Praseed.
Once the paddy field is levelled, the outline of the drawing is made using rice flour or turmeric powder. Then the seeds are sown. “Once the seeds germinate, they are replanted according to the outline. The art remains until harvest,” he adds.
The rice paddy art or Tanbo Art was originally developed by the farmers of the Inakadate village in Japan. “If you bring art into something, the chances of people recognising it is higher. Now, people approach me wanting to visit the field, get some seeds to recreate the same, or grow a coloured variety in grows bags,” says Praseed.
In almost 10-acres spread across three locations in the district, Praseed has kala namak, Burma black, Japan violet, kaattuyaanam, black rice, annoori, karuvachi, and many more nutritious varieties. “Kala namak absorbs 50 types of salt variants from the soil, and it is a medicine for Alzheimer’s and kidney failure. Kaatuyaanam grows upto 7 feet. The variety found in Tamil Nadu can cure diabetes,” says Praseed. Black rice has anti-cancer properties.
Praseed even cultivates a rice variety that is found in the wild- Annoori. The grains are found in Sabarimala and it flowers and ripens on the same day between sunrise and sunset. “Since it grows in the wild, we can’t call it paddy. I have been growing them in 20 pots,” he says. Another variety from Assam called Boka Saul is green in colour and can be cooked in water or milk.