The Monsoon has arrived in all parts of the country, not wholly or completely or in full measure but very substantially (with due apologies to Jawaharlal Nehru). It is a time when India, urban and rural alike, celebrates the end of dusty, dry, parched days and nights, and the onset of prana or the life force of monsoon rains. But the newspapers and television beam us depressing and horrific news of rapes, murders, atrocities, suicides, accidents, terror and hopelessness. How is one supposed to smile and feel optimistic in such times?
In Hindu mythology, the onset of monsoon rains is supposed to be the period of anxiety (chaturmasa) as Lord Vishnu goes to sleep during this time. If you look around you, from the molestation incident in Guwahati, to the warden from hell in Shantiniketan, to the beastly khaps of Baghpat, the Gods are indeed sleeping. We humans have been abandoned.
The Chaturmasa is the period for performing noble deeds, which include dana (charity), vrata (fast), japa (prayer) and homa (purifying worship). These can easily be adapted to modern times: Increase the wages of your domestic help by 5 per cent; donate old clothes, toys, books and medicines; talk to children, siblings and parents about the social evils that pervade our society, and open as many closed minds as you can.
The Hindu vrata (fasting) during this period coincides with the Muslim period of Ramazan which begins on July 20 this year. It is a period of deep meditation and introspection, marked with intense spirituality and devotion, of controlling urges and enhancing endurance.
If the monsoon in India signifies religiosity to the spiritually inclined, it promises romance to those who are poetically inclined. It is the mainstay of literature, music, drama, dance, films and almost every form of art. Bollywood and folk music, classical Hindustani and Carnatic music have recurrent theme of monsoon ragas : Miyan ki Malhar, Megh Malhar, Desh Malhar and Gaur Malhar. Bollywood film directors, music composers, actors and actresses have played with the monsoon theme ever since films have been made in India.
Immortal songs like ‘Zindagi bhar nahi bhoolegi voh barsaat ki raat, ek anjaan haseena se mulakaat ki raat’ and ‘Garjat barsat saawan aayo rey’ or ‘Boley re papihara’ evoke monsoon memories for the sixties and seventies generation among us. For the next generation, there are songs like the Shahrukh-Madhuri number ‘Oh saawan raja kahaan sey aaye tum..chak dhumm chakk dhumm’ or Aamir’s Lagaan number ‘Ghanan ghanan ghan ghir aaye badaraa’. In many of these songs, alliteration gives the impression of the clouds in a hurry, crowding the empty spaces in the sky, waiting to empty their treasure of raindrops on earth.
Heartache of lovers separated during the searing summer months is consummated only by the passion of lovers united during monsoons. The paintings of the brightly attired Rajasthani woman waiting at a jharokha (window) for her husband or lover to return, the miniature paintings of Radha and Krishna cavorting in a bower of leafy dark green trees bent with rain drops, and peacocks dancing on rooftops are integral part of Indian art. Temples across India host musical evenings devoted to the monsoon ragas.
Why only humans, even birds call out to the monsoons. And not just the peacock, the chaatak (Jacobin Cuckoo), so the myth goes, is seen only during the monsoon months as it drinks only rainwater. White cranes across the skies are also a part of the monsoon imagery.
The two places that should be on every Indian’s bucket list to visit during the monsoons are the Western Ghats and the Thar Desert. Go to Coorg, Mangalore, Udupi, Mahabaleshar, Lonavala or wherever you can find a small getaway in the lap of nature. See the skies open up into the arms of lush green forests. Get yourself some neer dosai and coconut jaggery mix for lunch, sip kaapi and eat onion bhajiyas after a siesta, and let the monsoon magic work on you.
Alternatively, head to Rajasthan. See how the parched earth welcomes the short and scanty monsoon showers with such gratitude and respect. Watch how a natural resource is treated with such reverence, where women fast for its arrival and celebrate when it comes with the festival of Teej. Eat kair sangri and gunda ki sabzi, buy some bangles as you watch the dry deserts devour the monsoon rains.
And there are countries in the world where there are no monsoons. Just imagine!
Smita Prakash is Editor, News at Asian News International. You can follow her on twitter @smitaprakash