Sunday, February 4, 2007


Several of the local Indian restaurants regularly feature Mooli Paratha on the specials menu. I do not recall one that has it on the regular menu, but the well established notion of standing specials seems just as good. It makes for a nice break from the more common Aloo (Potato) and Gobi (Cauliflower).

A typical menu gloss is, “flaky bread stuffed with radish.” There is nothing wrong with this, but I think a more descriptive version would be “… with daikon.” Daikon is what large white radishes are called in supermarkets, at least here in the Northeast. There is no fundamental basis for this priority that one could predict, it could have gone the other way; just as okra might have ended up being known as bhindi or bamia. I wonder whether it is ever reversed in Britain. I believe mooli is in the OED and daikon is not. The BBC has two essentially identical entries. Has a menu or restaurant review ever referred to “Japanese style mooli”? What about Raj travelers to Japan?

As expected, the Wikipedia Daikon entry provides some synonyms for Japanese 大根 daikon, such as Chinese 白蘿蔔 bai2 luo2bo2 and Korean 무 mu. And the M.M.P.N.D.'s Raphanus page has even more, such as Hindi मूली / Urdu مولى mūlī, which got me started, Vietnamese củ cải, Thai หัวผักกาดขาว hŭa-pàk-gàat kăao. Of additional interest is an extended discussion of the taxonomy problems that radish presents. The author "refuse[s] to believe that the true Japanese daikon is the same as the 'Black Spanish winter radish' or the 'Chinese long green radish'" and explores several alternative ways of categorizing. At another end of the debate is the cited Northern Ontario Plant Database entry, which equates pretty much everything.

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मूली mūlī comes from the Sanskrit मूल mūla 'root' (in most senses, including 'origin' and वर्गमूल vargamūla 'square root'). 大根 daikon means 'big root'. Many European radish words, such as French radis, come from Latin radix 'root'. English radish is from Old English rǽdic, just as German Rettich comes from Middle High German retich from Old High German rátih, both from that same Latin root radic-. (From here on, feel free to assume that every use of root to mean lexical source is an intentional pun.)

मूलक mūlaka is Sanskrit for 'radish'. Tamil has மூலம் mūlam  முள்ளங்கி muḷḷangki 'radish'. If the borrowing is Tamil to Sanskrit, then it is presumably a Dravidian root. If the other direction, an Indo-European root, given by Pokorny as *mū-lo- 'root; plant', is viable. This also gives Greek μῶλυ, the magical plant of which Homer writes,

μῶλυ δέ μιν καλέουσι θεοί: χαλεπὸν δέ τ' ὀρύσσειν
ἀνδράσι γε θνητοῖσι, θεοὶ δέ τε πάντα δύνανται. (Odyssey 10:305)
Moly the name, to mortals hard to find,
But all is easy to the ethereal kind. (tr. Pope)
In later works, μῶλυ, like μώλυζα, is a glossed as σκορόδων 'garlic'. Ancient Greek for 'radish' is ῥαφανίς, related to ῥάφανος 'cabbage', whence the generic name Raphanus. This gives Modern Greek ρεπάνι and a few other European 'radish' words like Portuguese rabanete, diminutive of rábano, cruciferous plants in general.

Not surprisingly, other Indic languages have the mūla root: Bengali মুলো mulō; Marathi मूलक mūlaka; Nepali मुलो mulo; Punjabi ਮੂਲੀ। mūlī.

Dictionaries give Persian تربچه torobcheh; Arabic فجل fujl — Lane quotes one of his source dictionaries are saying it is not a genuine Arabic word; Tibetan ལ་ཕུག་ la-phug — also used to translate मूलक mūlaka in the religious sense that we will get to below.

Thai หัวผักกาดขาว hŭa-pàk-gàat kăao appears to mean 'white turnip', but its use for daikon is confirmed by online recipes. Other dictionaries give หัวไชเท้า hŭa-chai-táo 'radish'. The other translations given on the M.M.P.N.D. page for different regions of the country seem to be made up of the same roots rearranged. I believe หัว hŭa is 'head' and ผัก pàk is 'vegetable'. The Wikipedia gloss for 白蘿蔔 bai2 luo2bo2 'white carrot' doesn't quite feel right; 蘿蔔 luo2bo2 (Simplified: 萝卜; sometimes encountered in English as lobok from Cantonese) alone seems to mean 'radish' and 紅蘿蔔 (Simplified: 红萝卜) hong2 luo2bo2 'carrot' adds the 'red' character. Of course, carrots come in many colors; the predominance of orange is due to selective breeding by Dutch patriots. To return from carrots (a subject for another post) to mooli, here is a joke (from among other places here; there do not seem to be enough variations online for it to be well-known and not original to one of the pages):

… One english tutor was heard telling his pupil that … ‘Mooli’ is ‘carrot’. The mother of the student overheard and came in and asked ‘Isn’t Mooli radish ?’ To which the embarrassed teacher replied ‘Yes, yes, Mooli is sometimes reddish and sometimes whitish.’

There is nothing wrong with writing Sanskrit in transliteration. The Clay Sanskrit Library, the Sanskrit equivalent of the Loeb Classical Library, publishes the left-hand pages that way. The biggest advantage of Devanagari on the web is that it avoids having to figure out which of many competing transliteration schemes is in use, particularly for single words. Slightly different schemes would also seem to make proofreading source texts harder and I imagine it is already hard enough. Another issue is how much of the sandhi to reverse to facilitate word search. The CSL has a complex scheme that allows for unambiguous recovery of the underlying form. Online documents seem to do similar things, but not always consistently. None of this makes reading that much more difficult. But combined with the rich morphology, it makes searching hard. Even if all the documents are gathered into a single corpus with a consistent format, I assume it is challenging. But things are actually scattered, so something like a conventional search engine is needed, but Sanskrit-aware. Not surprisingly, one can quickly find mention of related projects underway, such as at TDIL and INRIA. I look forward to their bearing fruit and being generally available.

Sometimes मूलक mūlaka just means 'root'. For instance, searching for मूलकं mūlakaṃ, one of several obvious sandhi forms, finds Mahābhārata (महाभारत) 13:112.98:

फलं वा मूलकं हृत्वा अपूपं वा पिपीलिकः
phalaṃ vā mūlakaṃ hṛtvā apūpaṃ vā pipīlikaḥ
stealing seeds or roots or cakes [one becomes] an ant
This is from a very long litany of negative rebirths depending on what one steals.

For some reason, the Sanskrit source given in Platts for मूली mūlī is मूलिका mūlika 'collection of roots'. For example, the 108 roots used at the coronation ceremony for the king of the birds in the Crows and Owls (काकोलूकीयम् kākolūkīyam) chapter of the Panchatantra. This text is online in Wikisource, one of the very few Google hits for मूलिका mūlika. Unfortunately, there seems to have been some corruption in transferring the text, with part missing and a nukta on a ḍa.

अथ साधितॆ विविध-तीर्थॊदकॆ, प्रगुणीक्ड़्तॆष्टॊत्तर-शत-मूलिका-संघातॆ प्रदत्तॆ सिम्̣हासनॆ, …
whereas another edition gives:
अथानीतेषु तीर्थोदकेषु प्रगुणीकृते च चक्राङ्किता-सहदेवी-प्रभृत्य-अष्टोत्तरशत-मूलिका-संघाते
athā–nīteṣu tīrthodakeṣu, praguṇīkṛte ca cakrāṅkitā-sahadevī-prabhṛty-aṣṭottaraśata-mūlikā-saṁghāte, …
Straightway water was brought from various holy streams; a bouquet of one hundred and eight roots was provided, including the one marked with a wheel and the yellow-stemmed lotus; … (tr. Ryder)
The Wikisource page was submitted anonymously, so it is hard to trace where it might have come from.

The same Platts entry says that मूली mūlī is used metaphorically for something worthless, presumably because it is commonplace food. Ayurvedic dietary principles divide foods into sattvic (सात्त्विक sāttvika 'vigorous'), rajasic (राजसिक rājasika 'passionate') and tamasic (तामसिक tāmasika 'dark'). Radish is considered tamasic; so, like onions and garlic, it is forbidden in a pure sattvic diet, one of the closer traditional analogues to vegan.

The radish is associated with Gaṇeśa (गणेश), the elephant-headed god. Here is a news story about an auspicious radish shaped like Gaṇeśa. Mūlaka (मूलक) 'radish' is one of His attributes. In contemporary theology, this is explained as being one of His favorite foods; for example, in this devotional book. The history of this iconography is more complicated. In particular, the relationship between mūlaka and another of Gaṇeśa's attributes, bhagnadanta (भग्नदन्त) 'broken tusk'. The essential question is whether these two are really the same, and if so, which came first. Here are some of the main points, which are not entirely consistent, from Gaṇeśa by Alice Getty (1936), Ganesh: Studies of an Asian God edited by Robert L. Brown (1991) and Gaṇeśa: Unravelling an Enigma by Yuvraj Krishan (1999):

  • Though the particular combination of attributes held varies, the radish and the tusk never occur in the same statue / image.
  • Gaṇeśa is almost always portrayed as ekadanta (एकदन्त) 'one toothed'.
  • The stories of how one tusk came to be lost always have it broken off, not pulled out, so there is no accounting for any roots being attached.
  • Sometimes the object clearly does have something sprouting out of the end like roots or leaves and must therefore be a radish.
  • The Yājñavalkyasmṛti (याज्ञवल्क्यस्मृति) from about 300 BCE lists some suitable offerings to Vināyaka (विनायक 'remover of obstacles'), originally a tantric demon that came to be considered another aspect of Ganesh:
    पुष्पं चित्रं सुगन्धं च सुरां च त्रिविधाम् अपि मूलकं पूरिकापूपांस तथैवोण्डेरकस्रजः
    puṣpaṃ citraṃ su-gandhaṃ ca surāṃ ca trividhām api mūlakaṃ pūrikā1pūpāṃs tathaivoṇḍeraka-srajaḥ
    multicolored flower and perfume and three kinds of wine and moreover radish and cake and rolls on a string
  • A verse of the Bṛhat-Saṃhitā (बृहत्संहिता), written by Varāha-Mihira (वराहमिहिर) around the end of the fifth century CE reads:
    प्रमथाधिपो गजमुखः प्रलंबजठरः कुठारधारी स्यात् .
    एकविषाणो बिभ्रन्मूलककन्दं सुनीलदलकन्दम्
    pramathādhipo gajamukhaḥ pralambajaṭharaḥ kuṭhāradhārī syāt
    ekaviṣāṇo bibhranmūlakakandaṃ sunīladalakandam

    The lord of the Pramathas is elephant-faced and pendent-bellied and perhaps bears an axe;
    he is one-tusked and carries a radish-bulb with dark blue leaves and roots.
    But since this verse is only in one version, it may be spurious. If not, it indicates that He holds a radish with something distinguishable at the end.
  • Getty says that the radish is not well known in India, but a favorite in Nepal, Tibet and Japan, suggesting a reinterpretation of the tusk there.
  • Getty's plate 16(d) is a statue from Dhānukā in Bengal with what is clearly a radish.
  • Getty's plate 35 shows a painted image from Endere (from Ancient Khotan vol. 2 pg. 167) with a white radish with green leaves.
  • The esoteric Vināyaka form of Gaṇeśa adopted in Japan carries a radish and is associated with hybrid legend involving a king (named Mararuratsu?) who only ate meat and radishes.
  • Brown says that the radish was actually quite popular in early Indian Gaṇeśa iconography and illustrates (his Fig. 11; another photo here) a seventh century Gaṇeśa from Benisāgar with three leaves pointing downward. He suggests therefore that the evolution might have been in the other direction.
  • Wilkinson (in Brown) translates several Kangyur texts related to Gaṇapati that describe Him holding a radish.
  • Sanford (in Brown) translates part of the Gaṇeśa entry in the Byaku hokkushō (白寶口鈔) of Ryōzen (亮禪) relating to the cannibal king of Marakeira who only ate beef and radishes.
  • Krishan quotes two Buddhist maṇḍalas from the Niṣpannayogāvalī that have Gaṇeśa holding a radish.

(If you know where any more of the images or source texts cited above are online, leave a comment and I'll try to add it in.)

Daikon is a commonplace foodstuff in Japan, which led to its place in the Zen aesthetic, both as a food and an object. Daikon was a popular subject for Zen ink paintings. An extremely eccentric version is 果蔬涅槃図 Yahai Nehan-zu 'Vegetable Nirvana (image)' by Itō Jakuchū (伊藤若冲) from around 1790. It portrays the paranirvana with vegetables as actors; in particular, a large daikon as the Buddha. An essay “Multiple Commemorations: The Vegetable Nehan of Ito Jakuchu” by Yoshiaki Shimizu in this book discussed this painting.

Jakuchū was the head of a fourth generation family greengrocery before becoming an artist full time. But the work still fits within the by then well established concept of 草木成仏 sōmoku jōbutsu 'plant buddha-nature'. This idea is further discussed here in relation to Nō plays and here and here in relation to the work of the poet Saigyō.

The question began in China and was furthered in Japan. There was an attempt to give it a scriptural basis in two ways. First, by a creative interpretation of the fifth chapter (ओषधीपरिवर्तः Oṣadhīparivartaḥ  藥草喻 yao4 cao3 yu4 On Plants) of the Lotus Sutra (सद्धर्मपुण्डरीकसूत्र Saddharmapuṇḍarīka-sūtra 妙法蓮華經 Miao4fa3 Lian2hua1 Jing1). This chapter is an extended Mahāyānist metaphor on the spread of Buddhist knowledge like rain vivifying plants. The new interpretation is that it literally proposes the spread to plants. Second, a new claim was made for the origin of the phrase:

yi1 fu2 cheng2 dao4guan1 jia4 fa3 jie4
cao3 mu4 guo2 tu3xi1 jie1 cheng2 fu2
When one Buddha attains the Way and contemplates the realm of the Law
The grasses and trees and land will all become Buddha. (tr. Shively)
The claim is that it comes from 中陰經 Zhong1 yin1 jing1 / Chūingyō, the Chinese translation of Antarābhava sūtra. Apparently it does not, though the second half at least was very popular in Nō plays. (I know that makes it doubly bogus to give a modern Mandarin transliteration. But I just don't know enough to do a proper job of a Heian Japanese one and the alternative would be none. Interestingly enough, Google only finds the  phrase in this form on .tw sites concerned with ecology. .jp sites have the Japanese simplified character 観.)

Of particular importance was an imperial sponsored intersectarian debate known as the Ōwa no Shūron (応和の宗論) in 963 between Ryōgen (良源) of the Tendai (天台) sect and Chūzan (仲算) of the Hossō (法相) sect. Ryōgen carried the day, but Chūzan was remembered for the sophistication (or sophistry) of his arguments (as is required in any good religious debate). For example, in discussion of this phrase from the second chapter of the Lotus Sutra:

ruo4 you3 wen2 fa3 zhe3, wu2 yi1 bu4 cheng2 fo2.
if there is anyone who hears the dharma, no one will fail to achieve Buddahood.
Chūzan argued that 無一 wu2 yi1 did not mean 'no one' as it appears but rather 'one with no [potential to achieve Buddhahood]'.

Sōmoku jōbutsu does not really touch on any kind of Pathetic Fallacy, because plants participate in the endless cycle qua plants, such as in their yearly growth and withering. Nor is their suffering the suffering of sentient beings (as might be of concern to readers of a vegetarian blog), but rather the metaphysical suffering of being trapped in this cycle, from which they may or may not be freed by the Buddha.

Here is a postmodern appropriation entitled 若冲(野菜涅槃図)Jakuchū (Yahai Nehan-zu) by Yasumasa Morimura (森村泰昌), whose work consists of inserting his own face onto famous works of art, such as Manet or Van Gogh. This is from his 日本美術史 Nihon Bijiyutsushi 'Japanese Art History' series. A Duchampian Buddhist daikon.

Finally, I believe it is just one of those language coincidences that a Mouli grater could be used as a Mooli grater to process daikon to make a delicious Indian bread.


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Unknown said...

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