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Historical Millets

Millets have been the staple since prehistoric period. Archeological evidences reveal that, millets have been cultivated since Neolithic  era when agriculture became a mainstay about ten to twelve thousand years back especially in dry climate of Africa, India and northern China. Many earlier civilizations thrived on millets and not rice. Variety of millets were found during excavation in Harappa and Mohenjo-Daro. Mayans, Incas and Aztecs of Africa have left proof of millets as staple. More interestingly, Hou Chi the ruler of Shang dynasty of China in 2nd BCE was  literally named as  "the ruler of millet".  The Sumarians, Romans and Gauls also used millets. They prepared millet porridge. In fact, the Hanging Garden of Babylon had millets in its plant collection. The holy Bible has also mention of millet for preparing bread. Sathpatha Brahamana a vedic scripture of 8th to 6th Century BCE (Indian Iron Age) has liberal reference to millets which were used in rituals and preparation of Soma, a ritual drink.  Kalidasa's  an epic play Abhijnana Shakuntala of 1st Century BCE has mention of millets where sage Kanva pours foxtail millet to Shakuntala's hand while bidding her a tearful farewell at Dushyanta's court. Rigveda, Yajurveda and Atharvanaveda mention the use of millets.

Millets have also found their way in classical Ayurvedic texts which comprehensively deal with the science of life. They are referred as Kudhanya or Trindhanya in Ayurvedic texts. The great Samhitas like Charaka Samhita and Sushrutha Samhita advocate millets as diet (Pathya) as well as therapeutics.  Ayurveda characterizes millets as madhura (sweet) in taste (rasa); madhura in vipaka (taste which emerges after digestion); hot potency (Ushna veerya) and it has dry and light quality which is easy to digest. Millets balance Kapha and increase Vata and Pitta. The hot potency and easily digestible quality of millets render them as medicine to treat excess Kapha, poor digestibility, diabetes, obesity edema. But Ayurveda also cautions that if eaten in excess millets may aggravate Pitta or Vata due to its hot potency. So it is suggested to presoak the millets before cooking and to add a few drops of oil or ghee while cooking. It is recommended to eat the millets by seasoning or cooking them with cooling spices like fennel and coriander which help in balancing the tridoshas.

Millets are time tested, traditionally used among all cultures around the world and are considered as special diet in Ayurveda. Whenever you feel sluggish or suffer from loss of hunger go for millets. They make you lighter and healthier. Do not forget to add subtle spices like cumin, fennel or coriander to make it tastier and to reduce the hot potency of millets. 

3 January, 2019