It is probable that mango cultivation originated in India, where De Candolle (1884) estimated that mango cultivation appeared to have begun at least 4000 years ago. In the early period of domestication, mango trees probably yielded small fruit with thin flesh. Such fruit can be found today in north-eastern India and in the Andaman Islands (Anonymous, 1992). Folk selections of superior seedlings over many hundreds of years would have resulted in larger fruit with thicker flesh. Mukherjee (1950a, b) described many of these primitive selections from Orissa in north-eastern India; they demonstrated great variation in fruit shape and size.
The mango is a very important cultural and religious symbol of India. Buddhist pilgrims Fa-Hien and Sung-Yun mentioned in their travel notes that the Gautama Buddha was presented with a mango grove by Amradarika (c.500 bc) as a place for meditation (Popenoe, 1932). According to Burns and Prayag (1921), a mango tree is depicted in friezes on the stupa of Bharut, which was constructed c.100 bc. Other travellers to India, including the Chinese Hwen T'sung (ad 632-645), the Arabs Ibn Hankal (ad 902-968) and Ibn Batuta (ad 1325-1349) and the Portuguese Lurdovei de Varthema (ad 15031508), all described the mango. The Indian subcontinent was the birthplace of some of the earliest highly developed civilizations, and over the centuries, India exerted strong cultural, religious and commercial influence over South and South-east Asia. In successive waves, Hinduism, Buddhism and Islam were introduced into South-east Asia from India. To this day, many commonly used words in Indonesia are derived from both Sanskrit and Tamil. One of the most widely used words for mango in Malaysia and Java (Indonesia) is 'mangga', which is derived from the Tamil 'manga'. Traders and monks from India possibly introduced superior selections of mango into South-east Asia; however, vegetative propagation was unknown in India until after the arrival of the Portuguese in Goa in the 15th century. Moreover, the most important mango selections of Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, Malaysia, Indonesia and the Philippines historically have all been of the polyembryonic type, and have traditionally been seed propagated. Until the establishment of Portuguese enclaves on the coast of India beginning in the late 15th century, mango cultivars did not exist in India, as there was no known method for vegetatively propagating superior selections (see Iyer and Schnell,
Chapter 4, this volume). However, under the Moghul emperor Akbar (15561605), the best selections of seedling mangoes were propagated by approach grafting and were planted in large orchards. The 'Lakh Bagh', a mango orchard of 100,000 trees, was planted near Darbhanga in Bihar. Perhaps nothing more eloquently attests to the importance of this fruit and the esteem in which it was held than this vast mango orchard. The Ain-i-Akbari, an encyclopedic work that was written during the reign of Akbar, contains a lengthy account of the mango, and includes information about the quality of the fruit and varietal characteristics. There was evidently a strong body of information about mango cultivation that had accumulated up to that time. Most of the mango cultivars of India had their origin in those years, and have been maintained under cultivation for over 400 years by vegetative propagation. 'Alphonso', 'Dashehari', 'Langra', 'Rani Pasand', 'Safdar Pasand' and other mango cultivars were selected during that time. Relics of orchards from the time of Akbar are found in different parts of India, and it has been suggested that they could still provide valuable material for selection of superior mango cultivars.
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