The Arabs called it ‘mausim’, or season. The English turned it to ‘monsoon’. Savie Karnel tells the story of a 50 million-year-old phenomenon that brings poetry and joy, and sometimes misery, to India.
Story- Centuries ago, even before the time of Vasco-da-Gama, the Arabs took the sea route to India. They sailed with the south western winds blowing over the Arabian Sea and Indian Ocean and arrived on our shores. They called the time of their travel ‘mausim,’ which means season.
The word ‘mausim’ then got attached to the winds and the rains that followed it. Somewhere in the late 15th century, the English corrupted ‘mausim’ to monsoon. That’s how the word ‘monsoon’ came to be formed.
Though the name is relatively new, the season has been around for over 50 million years; ever since the collision of the Indian sub-continent and Asia to form the Himalayas and the Tibetan plateau. If the monsoon wasn’t there, India would never be the way it is, but would merely be an extension of the central desert. It would probably look like Afghanistan. We owe our greenery, forests, farms, eating habits, clothing and lifestyle to the monsoon.
The ancients understood it very well. Perhaps, that why they worshipped the rain and prayed for the downpour. When the Aryans migrated to India from Central Asia, they accepted the importance of these rains, and worshipped it like the way the natives did. The Aryan God Varun, was earlier just the God of waters of the nether land, but was later made the God of the rains as well. The natives associated the croaking sound of the frogs with the rain, so did the Aryans.
It can be seen in the frog hymn in the Rig Veda, where the croaking of the frog is compared to the Vedic chants. It says, “When one of them repeats the speech of the other, as the student that of his teacher, all that of them is in unison like the eloquent (Vedic) chant that you recite during the rain.”
If not for the monsoon, we would not have Kalidasa’s masterpieces. In Meghdoot, an exiled Yaksha pleads to a rain cloud to carry his message to his wife in the Himalayas. The route of the cloud, that he explicitly explains, also shows us the immense meteorological and geological knowledge Kalidasa had. Of course, the description of the emotions of the people over whom the cloud passes is incomparable.
In Ritusamhara, he glorifies the rain cast sky saying, “Overcast on all sides with dense rain clouds, the sky displays the deep glow of blue-lotus petals, dark in places like heaped-collyrium, smooth-blended, glowing elsewhere like the breasts of a woman with child.”
Some enthusiasts believe that Hindustani music is inconceivable without the rain. How could music be without the Raag Malhaar? It is believed that when Tansen sang this raag, the skies erupted with joy and burst into showers. The tabla resounds with the very sound of the thundering clouds.
With the ‘varsha’ being such an integral part of our culture, our movies would not have been left behind. Right from the black and white movies where Nargis walks in the rain to Pyar hua ikraar hua, to Aishwarya Rai frolicking to Barso re megha barso, there is nothing more sensuous than a lady kissed by rain.
Ashutosh Gowariker’s Lagaan brings out the pathos of the farmers waiting for the rain, and shows the parched earth. On the other hand, the cinematography of Mani Ratnam’s box office failure Raavan celebrates the splendor of earth during the monsoon in the ghats. Perhaps, the most beautiful depiction of love in the monsoon in Karnataka is in Yogesh Bhat’s Mungaaru Male.
So, the next time it rains, do not curse the skies. Instead, step out and get drenched in the rain, for you are among the lucky few whom the monsoon visits.
- Savie Karnel