Nike, the Greek goddess of victory. The image[1] above has been mirrored for easier comparison. It shows a stone carving of the goddess Nike at the ruins of the ancient Greek city of Ephesus, modern day Turkey. Nike is often depicted flying over the battlefield, one arm raised as a sign of victory, the other carrying one of her symbols. In this case, a palm leaf. She is winged, and especially in the Hellenistic period, artists displayed their skills by sculpting her dress dynamically waving in the air. Another fine example of Hellenistic art is the famous Winged Victory of Samothrace, one of the top pieces in the Louvre (image left).

The Victory shown on top next to our plant is a convincing parallel for our plant. The roots represent Nike’s dress, draped over her bent knee and trailing behind her. The number of roots even appears to match the number of folds in the dress – at least in the part that remains of the carving. The upper part of the plant shows four stalks. The leftmost one is Nike’s raised arm. The two middle ones are her wings. Finally, the right stalk carries the parallel for the palm leaf.


milletLABELThis label poses a minor problem: it contains an ambiguous glyph, the third one from the left. I will show, however, that it is most likely the K-glyph (gallow) that turned out a bit small. Underneath the problematic glyph, I have added a K-glyph from the same page in true size. They look similar enough. This allows us to read the label as nakarai or nakalai.

Plant ID

To identify the plant, we need to keep in mind some of the rules mentioned earlier:

  • If it’s white, it’s not a leaf.
  • Roots that carry a large mnemonic load can almost certainly be ignored.

This leaves us with the blade-shaped plant part that appears to come straight out of the ground on a stalk. The most obvious explanation is that we are dealing with a cereal crop. And one of India’s prime cereal crops was (is) millet. In the image below, we compare the detail of our plant with an image[2] of finger millet (Eleusine coracana). As we can see, it could fit right in.


Very close matches for our label reading of nakalai can be found in the Gujarati and Marathi words for finger millet: nagali.

To sum it all up:

The foreign name for this plant is NAKALAI. To remember this name, think of the plant drawn like NIKE.