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Reproduced from Asian Agri-History Vol. 9, No. 3, 2005 (211–219)

Rediscovering Scented Rice Cultivar Kalanamak

U S Singh1, Neelam Singh1, H N Singh1, O P Singh2, and R K Singh3
1. GB Pant University of Agriculture and Technology (GBPUAT), Pantnagar 263 145, Uttaranchal, India (e-mail: Umesh146@yahoo.com; ussingh3@rediffmail.com)
2. Department of Agriculture, Siddharthanagar 272 207, Uttar Pradesh, India
3. International Rice Research Institute, Liaison Office for India, NARS Blvd., Dev Prakash Shastri Marg, New Delhi 110 012, India (Present address: Vikalp Appartments, I.P. Extension-92, Patparganj, New Delhi 110 092, India)


Kalanamak is one of the finest quality scented rices of India. It derives its name from black husk (kala = black; the suffix ‘namak’ means salt). This variety is in cultivation since the Buddhist period (600 BC). It was quite popular in Himalayan Tarai of eastern Uttar Pradesh, India; however, acreage under this variety declined sharply, forcing it to near extinction, due to panicle blast epidemics during 1998 and 1999, tall stature causing lodging, long duration, and low yield and grain quality. During this study natural biodiversity in Kalanamak was characterized and utilized to improve this historical variety and save it from being extinct. Ten germplasm lines were resistant to panicle blast. Similarly several germplasm lines performed well in Usar (saline-sodic) soil of pH 9.0 to 9.5. These selections offer great promise for cultivation in Usar soil. A traditional method of Kalanamak cultivation Kalam, which is at the verge of extinction, was also evaluated.

Kalanamak is one of the finest quality scented rices of India. It derives its name from black husk (kala = black) (Fig. 1). It is famous for taste, palatability, and aroma. Kalanamak surpasses Basmati rice, considered to be finest quality rice in international trade, in all quality traits except grain length. Cooked rice is fluffy, soft, non-sticky, sweet, and easily digestible with relatively longer shelf-life. In local market it earns higher price than Basmati rice, which is approximately 4 to 5 times higher than non-scented rice varieties (Singh et al., 2000). Kalanamak belongs to group V (Glaszmann, 1987).


Kalanamak is in cultivation since the Buddhist period (600 BC). The grains were found from excavation of Aligarhwa (district Siddharthanagar, Uttar Pradesh, India), located at Nepal border. Aligarhwa has been identified as the real Kapilvastu, the Kingdom of King Shuddodhan, father of Lord Buddha. Shuddodhan, as the name suggests, means pure rice. Aligarhwa in the foothills of the Himalayas is considered the paddy bowl (Singh et al., 2003a). During excavation carbonized rice grains resembling Kalanamak (Fig. 2) were recovered from one of the rooms, which was supposed to be the kitchen store (Singh et al., 2003b).

Fa-Hien, the Chinese traveler wrote that when Prince Siddhartha (Lord Buddha) visited Kapilvastu for the first time after attaining ‘pure knowledge’, while passing through Bajha jungle, he was stopped at Mathla village by the people. The villagers asked Siddhartha to give them ‘prasad’. Siddhartha took the rice he had taken in alms and gave it to the people, asking them to sow it in a marshy place. The rice thus produced “will have typical aroma which will always remind people of me,” he said. Since then Bajha jungle has vanished and its place has been taken by Bajha village near Kapilvastu. Instead of Mathla, now Mudila village exists. The actual belt of Kalanamak is still believed to be the tract between Bajha and Aligarhwa (Srivastava, 2002). This variety, if sown elsewhere, loses its aroma and quality (Singh et al., 2003b).

The first effort for the conservation of Kalanamak was made by the Englishmen William Pepe, J H Hemprey, and Edcan Walker (Jamindars of Alidapur, Birdpur, and Mohana) during the British Raj. They built four reservoirs at Bajha, Marthi, Moti, and Majhauli to produce Kalanamak in a large quantity. They not only produced this variety for their own consumption, but transported it to England from Uska-bazar mandi, passing through Dhaka (now in Bangladesh) via sea route. Due to its increasing demand, the British captured the land around Kapilvastu, and established Birdpur and Alidapur states. They produced Kalanamak through bonded labor and exported to Britain. When the shrewd Gujarati businessmen came to know about its business potential they formed a mandi at Uska-bazar to export Kalanamak. To counter them the British “shopkeepers” built a rail route to carry rice on the goods train. But after independence, Uska-bazar mandi became nonfunctional due to negligence, and reservoirs gathered silt. This led to a fall in production of Kalanamak (Srivastava, 2002).

All these evidences indicate that Kalanamak has been cultivated in Siddharthanagar area from or even before Buddhist period (600 BC).


Kalanamak was grown widely in Tarai belt of Uttar Pradesh, which comprised districts Siddharthanagar, Sant Kabir Nagar, Maharajganj, Basti, Gonda, and Gorakhpur. Until 15 years ago, the variety covered more than 10% of total area under rice in Siddharthanagar. However, acreage under this variety in this district declined to <0.5% of total rice area during 2002 (Singh et al., 2003b). It has almost vanished from other areas primarily due to: (i) poor yield, (ii) tall stature causing lodging, (iii) long duration, (iv) decline in grain quality, particularly loss of aroma and taste, (v) panicle blast epidemics during two consecutive years, i.e., 1998 and 1999, and (vi) non-availability of quality seeds and research support. One of the reasons for decline in yield and quality is seed admixture and total absence of any seed purification and production program. Farmers are using their own seed since ages.

Under a joint project of the GB Pant University of Agriculture and Technology (GBPUAT), Pantnagar, India and International Rice Research Institute (IRRI), Los Baños, Philippines titled ‘Indian Indigenous Scented Rices’, natural biodiversity in Kalanamak was explored, characterized, and utilized to improve this historic scented rice cultivar and save it from extinction.

Collection of Germplasm

Seventy-six germplasm lines of Kalanamak were collected from native area of cultivation of Kalanamak, i.e., districts Siddharthanagar, Basti, Gonda, Gorakhpur, Sant Kabir Nagar, and Maharajganj during 1997–2000 and purified by single plant selection at GBPUAT. After discarding duplicates finally 40 germplasm lines were selected. These germplasm lines were evaluated in a multilocational trial during 2000–03 for their morpho-physiological, agronomic, and grain characteristics; molecular characterization; reaction to different diseases and pests; and salt and pH tolerance. Promising germplasm were evaluated in farmers’ fields for their performance.

Morpho-physiological, agronomic, and grain quality characteristics

All 40 Kalanamak germplasm lines were husk colored (i.e., dark brown-black) although the intensity varied (Fig. 3). They showed less variation in crop duration (177 to 183 days), gel consistency (soft to medium), and amylose content (22 to 31%). However, they varied widely in plant height (140 to 178 cm), number of tillers or panicles per hill (5 to 13), 50% flowering duration (141 to 150 days), panicle length (24 to 32 cm), number of grains per panicle (99 to 248), 1000-grain mass (12.2 to 16.3 g), yield (1.8 to 4.1 t ha-1), paddy dimensions (7 to 8 mm  1.9 to 2.4 mm), kernel dimensions (4 to 5.6 mm  1.5 to 2.1 mm), grain length/breadth ratio (2.1 to 3.0), kernel length after cooking (8.2 to 11.4 mm) (Fig. 3), elongation ratio (1.5 to 2.7), gelatinization temperature (low to high-intermediate), and aroma (slight to strong).

Susceptibility to diseases and insect pests

Under natural condition Kalanamak suffers from many diseases like panicle blast (caused by Magnaporthe grisea (Hebart) Barr), brown spot (Cochliobolus miyabeanus (Ito & Kuribayashi) Drechsler ex Dastur), sheath blight (Thanatephorus cucumeris (Frank) Donk), sheath rot (Sarocladium oryzae (Sawada) W. Gams & Hawksw), and stem rot (Magnaporthe salvini (Cke.) Tak.). It is also attacked by the insect pest yellow stem borer (Scirpophaga incertulas Walker). Panicle blast appeared in epidemic proportion during 1998 and 1999 resulting in sharp decline in area under cultivation of this variety.

Susceptibility of Kalanamak germplasm towards different diseases and pests was evaluated at two locations for two consecutive years. Under natural condition different germplasm lines of Kalanamak exhibited wide diversity in their reaction towards panicle blast, sheath rot, stem rot, brown spot, and stem borer. No germplasm exhibited resistance or moderate resistance against sheath blight. All of them were susceptible or moderately susceptible. Ten germplasm lines (3114-1, 3114-2, 3128, 3131, 3131-1, 3131-2, 3213, 3216, 3216-2, and 3259) exhibited high degree of resistance to panicle blast under natural condition when incidence was very high (up to 100%) in susceptible germplasm. Thirteen germplasm lines exhibited moderate degree of susceptibility towards panicle blast. Only seven germplasm lines (3122, 3124, 3129, 3131-1, 3213, 3222, and 3327) were moderately resistant to stem rot; others were moderately susceptible or susceptible. Thirteen germplasm lines (3089, 3120, 3120-1, 3120-2, 3124, 3126, 3131, 3212, 3215, 3256-1, 3257, 3266, and 3329) exhibited resistance towards brown spot under natural condition. Yellow stem borer, causing dead heart and white head symptoms, is the most important insect problem of Kalanamak in field. No germplasm exhibited resistance towards this insect. However, nine germplasm lines (3117, 3126, 3128, 3213, 3219, 3222, 3256-1, 3257, and 3319) showed moderate resistance/tolerance towards yellow stem borer. Some of the germplasm lines showed moderate to high degree of resistance against multiple diseases and pests.

Natural incidence of bacterial blight in Kalanamak is rarely observed. However, under artificially inoculated condition, all the germplasm were susceptible to this disease.

Performance in Usar soil

Soil salinity is a widespread problem. In India alone 6.7 million ha is coastal salinity and inland alkaline and saline soil (Usar) cover an area of about 6.6 million ha (2.64 million ha saline and 3.96 million ha saline-sodic) (Anonymous, 2003). Usar soils are characterized by higher salt concentration and/or high pH. Though salts are found in small quantity in all the soils, their concentration in Usar soil increases to an extent to become inimical to growth of the vegetation.

The suffix namak of the word Kalanamak means salt. However, the purpose of use of this suffix is not very clear as Kalanamak was never recommended for cultivation in Usar soil. Nevertheless Kalanamak was once widely cultivated in Himalayan Tarai of eastern Uttar Pradesh, where Usar soils are widespread.

Tolerance of 40 germplasm lines of Kalanamak to different pH (4.5, 7.0, and 8.9) and salt concentration (0 and 70 mM NaCl) was evaluated under in vitro condition on seed germination and root and shoot growth of 7-day-old seedlings. Their performance was also evaluated in Usar soil in field at different pH. Coarse rice cultivars, Narendra Usar-2, Pokhali, and Sarju-52, recommended for cultivation in Usar soil, were used as control.

Different germplasm exhibited wide variability in their sensitivity towards pH and/or salt both under in vitro and in vivo condition in Usar soil. Most of the germplasm showed salt tolerance and had good root and/or shoot growth at high pH (8.9) under in vitro condition. These lines, 3119, 3120, 3120-1, 3126, 3128, 3130, 3131, 3216, 3216-1, 3222, 3256, 3278, and 3319, also performed well in Usar soil in field even at pH 9 to 9.5.

Based on nine morphological features, viz., grain length, grain width, grain length/breadth ratio, elongation after cooking, gelatinization temperature, gel consistency, amylose content, aroma, and susceptibility towards panicle blast, 37 Kalanamak germplasm lines were grouped into two major clusters with 8 and 29 germplasm lines, respectively. Kala Joha belonged to a separate cluster.

The PCR (polymerase chain reaction) amplification, performed with RAPD (random amplified polymorphic DNA) markers to assess the level of polymorphism in 38 germplasm lines of Kalanamak (including one germplasm of Kala Joha) showed high degree of genomic similarity. Thirty-three out of 38 germplasm lines exhibited >90% genetic similarity. It included Kala Joha, a black husk aromatic rice cultivar from Assam indicating the possibility that probably this cultivar originated from Kalanamak.

The high genetic similarity observed among Kalanamak germplasm is strong evidence suggesting that the different germplasm of Kalanamak did not evolve independently from each other and therefore, may be considered as part of the same ancestral population.

Since Kalanamak is an ancient cultivar, farmers have been using their own seed for cultivation since hundreds of years. There was never any organized seed purification, production, and distribution system for this cultivar. So, whatever variability cropped in either due to mutation or limited outcrossing is retained in the population in the form of small genetic diversity but relatively wider variability in their morphological, agronomic, and grain quality traits and also susceptibility towards diseases and pests. This variability has resulted in decline in both productivity and quality but at the same time it has probably helped in survival of the cultivar in its native area of cultivation. A mixed seed lot behaves as a multiline under natural condition. Probably because of this variability Kalanamak suffers less from different diseases and pests in its native area of cultivation as compared to evolved varieties in the same area (Singh et al., 2003b).

Kalam method of cultivation

Kalam is a traditional method of establishment of Kalanamak, which is probably as old as Kalanamak itself. In Kalam, transplanting is done twice. First transplanting of 30- to 35-day-old seedlings is done in a bunch of 5 to 6 seedlings. After 25 to 30 days, these seedlings are uprooted, separated from each other, and transplanted again at a normal distance. In the past, this method was widely followed by farmers for the cultivation of Kalanamak. However, with decline in area of Kalanamak, this method has virtually gone out of practice. In one study, Kalam method of establishment was compared with normal method (where transplanting is done only once) using 39 germplasm lines of Kalanamak in farmers’ fields. Kalam method of cultivation was significantly superior over normal transplanting method. There was decrease in plant height (average 10.6 cm) and increase in panicle length (average 4.1 cm) and yield (average 1.2 t ha-1) when Kalam method was used as compared to normal method. This method was even more economic.


Out of 40 germplasm lines, 11 showed moderate to high degree of resistance against panicle blast under field condition. Six of them (3114, 3119, 3120, 3130, 3131, and 3216) gave better yields and high quality grain (Fig. 3). These selections were distributed to 47 farmers covering 7.18 ha during 2002 and to 60 farmers covering 18.84 ha during 2003 in district Siddharthanagar, which is the native area of cultivation of Kalanamak. Performance of these lines was much better than traditional Kalanamak during both the years. Their average yield varied between 3.5 and 4.5 t ha-1 as against average yield of 1.3 to 1.5 t ha-1 of traditional Kalanamak in farmers’ fields (Table 1).

In an economic analysis of cultivation of improved selections of Kalanamak involving 100 farmers, the Kalam method of cultivation was more profitable with average net return of Rs 22447 ha-1 than the normal method (single transplanting) of cultivation with net return of Rs 18501. Net return from cultivation of traditional Kalanamak by normal method was only Rs 9250.

The improved selections offer great promise to revive the cultivation of this historical cultivar, which had reached the verge of extinction. Farmers and officials of the native area of Kalanamak, i.e., district Siddharthanagar, are now showing great enthusiasm to cultivate the improved selections. Two high grain quality and high-yielding selections, 3131 and 3216, have been cultivated in approximately 1000 acres (404.7 ha) in farmers’ fields in district Siddharthanagar during kharif (rainy season) 2004. Both these lines yielded >3.5 t ha-1 in the State Government farm in district Siddharthanagar during kharif 2004. Data from farmers’ fields are being collected. These selections were also distributed to few farmers in village Chaker Chaura of district Kapilvastu, Nepal during 2003. These farmers distributed seeds to several other farmers in district Kapilvastu during 2004. Data on yield and area covered under these selections during 2004 in Nepal is being collected.

Two Kalanamak germplasm lines, 3119 and 3131, with high grain quality, resistance to panicle blast, and reasonably good performance in Usar soil, were selected for evaluation in a large area in Usar soil. Both these germplasm lines exhibited excellent performance in Usar soil. They yielded equally well or better than coarse grain rice cultivar Narendra Usar-2 released for cultivation in Usar soil. Kalanamak 3119 and 3131 yielded as high as 3.33 and 2.35 t ha-1, respectively in soil with pH 9.0 to 9.5. This is exceptionally good performance considering the high market value of Kalanamak. Market rate of Kalanamak is approximately 4 to 5 times higher than coarse grain varieties like Pokhali or Narendra Usar-2. These two lines are being evaluated under National Saline Alkaline Screening Nursery (NSASN) of the All India Coordinated Rice Improvement Programme.


Anonymous. 2003. Lowland: Problem soils, salinity. Proceedings of the working group meeting of Consortium for Unfavourable Rice Environments (CURE) held at New Delhi, India on 23–24 March 2003. International Rice Research Institute, Los Baños, Philippines.

Glaszmann, J.C. 1987. Isozymes and classification of Asian rice varieties. Theoretical and Applied Genetics 74:21–30.

Singh, R.K., Singh, Neelam, Singh, H.N., Singh, S., and Singh, U.S. 2003a. Kalanamak: An elite aromatic rice of eastern Uttar Pradesh. India Grains 5(8):16–17.

Singh, R.K., Singh, U.S., Khush, G.S., Rohilla, Rashmi, Singh, J.P., Singh, G., and Shekhar, K.S. 2000. Small and medium grained aromatic rices of India. In: Aromatic Rices (Singh, R.K., Singh, U.S., and Khush, G.S., eds.). Enfield, USA: Science Publishers Inc; and New Delhi, India: Oxford & IBH Publishing Co. pp. 155–176.

Singh, R.K., Singh, U.S., Singh, Neelam, Singh, H.N., and Singh, G. 2003b. Kalanamak: A scented black pearl of eastern Uttar Pradesh. In: A Treatise on the Scented Rices of India (Singh, R.K. and Singh, U.S., eds.). New Delhi, India: Kalyani Publishers. pp. 421–431.

Srivastava, K.C. 2002. Kalanamak. Times News Network, Janpad Plus. The Times of India, Feb 1–15, 2002, p. 3.

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