Prof K S Manilal: India’s hitherto unrecognised botanist bestowed with Padma Shri
Prof Manilal was honoured with Netherland’s highest civilian order, the Order of Orange-Nassau, in 2012, for his outstanding contributions to Botany and Taxonomy
“Sometimes I do feel recognition has come from outside but not our own people,” renowned botanist and taxonomist Prof KS Manilal had told a reporter six years ago. Finally, his motherland has recognised his academic contributions. This year, on the eve of the Republic Day, India’s hitherto unrecognised botanist has been bestowed with Padma Shri.
Prof Manilal is a well-known botanist and taxonomist outside India. He is best known for his research, translation and annotation of ‘Hortus Malabaricus’, the 17th century Latin botanical treatise on medicinal properties of over 700 indigenous plants in Kerala.
Prof Manilal translated the 12-volume book into Malayalam and English. Until his translations came to light, the content of this Latin treatise had remained inaccessible to the world. Manilal also authored 198 published research papers and 15 books on taxonomy and botany.
Professor Kattungal Subramaniam Manilal was born in Kochi, as one of three children born to Advocate Kattungal A Subramaniam and K. K. Devaki on September 17, 1938.
According to a brief biographical note, Manilal's interest in Hortus Malabaricus developed in his childhood as he was inspired by his father, whose avid reading habits and enthusiasm for sociology exposed Manilal to a collection of books, and more specifically newspaper cuttings on Hortus Malabaricus during the late 1940s and 1950s.
In 2018, Prof Manilal told The Hindu that it was a bunch of Latin words from ‘Hortus Malabaricus’ that changed the course of his life’s work: “The plant’s part if applied on the left toe improves the clarity of vision in the right eye.” Due to his curiosity to know more about the content of the Latin treatise, he embarked on the new project, devoting almost 40 years of his academic career. “Of course, they knew the plant’s medicinal properties. But what struck me was the link between the left toe and the right eye,” he says.
Manilal was not just translating the magnum opus of Hendrik van Rheede but as a botanist, he explored the geography mentioned in the book, rediscovering and verifying the 740-odd species mentioned in it. “The location where some plants were found was mentioned. So that helped. In other instances, the plants had migrated. In the sense, they were not found at the location mentioned in the volume but in nearby areas. I could find all except one, a plant called ‘chentani,’” he says.
Prof. Manilal, along with with his students, has discovered around 14 species of flowering plants, and recorded the existence of nearly 1,000 flowering plant species, which were thought to be extinct. Currently he is an Emeritus Professor of Botany at the Calicut University, Kerala.
Prof Manilal has been now awarded Padma Shri under Science and Engineering category. As the botanist who made significant contributions to his discipline, Prof Manilal was not recognised by his motherland until now. Remember, the land of Hendrik van Rheede recognised the academic contributions of Prof. Manilal eight years ago! Queen Beatrix conferred on him Netherland’s highest civilian order, the Order of Orange-Nassau, in 2012!
1. A life’s mission; The Hindu (August 29, 2014),
3. Research Matters