In India, at least as early as the 16ᵗʰ century – ?, a unit of mass, in concept the mass of a single seed of Brassica juncea (Indian mustard), = 3 khardel = ⅛ barley corn. Currently this crop is called, in Hindi: सरसों sarson, and in Bengali: সর্ষপ sarsapa.
Legal writers said there were 6 gaura-sarshapas to 1 yava (barley corn), but the 8:1 ratio of Akbar was preserved in medical practice,
6 maríchis = 1 rájiká or black mustard seed
3 rájiká = 1 sarshapa, or white mustard seed [see source note 1, below, for an argument that this seed is not white mustard]
8 sarshapas = 1 yava, or barley corn¹
1. H. T. Colebrooke.
E. B. Cowell, editor.
Miscellaneous Essays.Vol. I.
London: Trübner & Co. 1873.
6 Maríchi = 1 Khardal
3 Khardal = 1 Sarshaf
8 Sarshaf = 1 barley corn
The Ain i Akbari. Vol. 3 (Books IV and V)
H. S. Jarrett, trans.
Calcutta: Baptist Missionary Press, 1894.
Written in the 16ᵗʰ century by Akbar's vizier.
[Comment by Jarrett, the translator:] I append a very valuable note by Dr. Parin, Curator of the Herbarium, Royal Botanical Gardens, Calcutta, on the distinction between the kinds of mustard called “Khardal” and “Sarshaf” in the text and which remarkably confirms by actual experiment the accuracy of the weights. …
“Khardal” and “Sarshaf” are both names that are applied to Black Mustard (Brassica nigra).
The former name is, Watt says, (in Dict. Econ. Prod. I, 521) applied, with a qualification, to white mustard; the latter apparently is not.
There is little doubt that by the lower unit of the two (khardal) the seed of Black or true mustard is meant.
The question is as to the identity of the other unit.
Had “Sarshaf” been applied to both and “Khardal” restricted to black mustard, one would have felt inclined to say that white mustard (Sinapsis alba) was intended. But it must be remembered that white mustard is an uncommon plant in Asia; and that Boissier only speaks of it as a plant of waste places and groves in Greece, Palestine and Taurus, (not even admitting that it is a Persian species) and that its seeds, though much larger than those of B. nigra, do not suit the conditions required better than those of another species to be mentioned immediately. This is Brassica juncea—the well-known Indian mustard or rái which is cultivated in Persia, as it is in India, for its oil. The vernacular names given by Watt do not include “Khardal” alone or qualified, but apparently the “Sharshaf” appears, (e.g., the the Bengali name “Rái Sarisha”) and this, therefore, seems to tbe the species that best suits the conditions; for Abul Fazl would be most probably referring to a well-known and common plant by his second word.
As regards the physical conditions, Rai seeds seem to suit very well, so far as the Calcutta Herbarium material goes. For in weighing 3 ripe seeds of Brassica nigra from Madeira against one ripe seed of India Brassica juncea, the scale shows very close approximation in weight; and 8 ripe seeds of Brassica juncea from India exactly balance a ripe grain of barley from Afghanistan, though a ripe barley-corn from Europe outweighs them.
[The works referred to by the authors' names are
Sir George Watt, Edgar Thurston, T. N. Mukharji.
India. Department of Revenue and Agriculture.
A dictionary of the economic products of India.
Calcutta : Supt. of Govt. Print., and London : W.H. Allen, 1889-1896.
Pierre Edmond Boisser.
Flora orientalis, sive enumeratio plantarum in Oriente a Græcia et Ægupto ad Indiæ fines hucusque observatarum.
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Last revised: 20 November 2013.