Buddhist Monks Cultivate Fabled Rice That They Hope Will Help in Drought-Prone Areas

A group of Buddhist monks in Sri Lanka are cultivating an ancient variety of rice, which they say is more nutritious than modern varieties and grows in drought-prone areas. Researchers continue to look at the unique grain and hope it will revolutionize agriculture.Rangaji Abesinghe, 35, shows a sample of rice grains from a Swayanjatha plant cultivated by her mother, Padma Kahaduwa, in their home garden near Colombo.Sri Lanka

GONAGALDENIYA, SRI LANKA — The serene setting of the Waharaka Ariya Chinthashramaya, a Buddhist temple, seems an unlikely setting for an agricultural revolution, but that is exactly what the priests here are trying to bring about.

Here, the priests are cultivating a rice plant that produces a grain of rice locally known as Swayanjatha El Haal. According to Buddhist texts, this variety is the first recorded rice variety.

“The cold war between the state, which does not recognize this grain as a rice variety, and the researchers, who are convinced this grain can feed the hungry, was something I gradually began to realize.” Read Inside the Story to learn more about this unique debate.


The Thripitaka, a collection of teachings of Buddha, contains a section which refers to the origins of the Swayanjatha grain, says Aththidiye Sukhithadheera Thero, a monk at the Waharaka Temple who is involved in the cultivation of the plant. The temple is located in Gonagaldeniya, about 50 kilometers (31 miles) from Colombo, the country’s commercial capital.

Buddhist teachings say the first grain of this type of rice self-generated in the soil, and it is named Swayanjatha, as it was born of itself and not from another plant, Sukhithadheera Thero says.

“However, as man’s greed grew, the grain lost a lot of its taste and nutrition, and grew a chaff around the grain, and became the seed that is seen today,” he says.

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