Penned by: Aiswarya Murali.
“Forth burst the winds,
Down come the lightning flashes;”
A plain area, with trees and buildings which no one would bother to take a second look; it rains for five whole minutes, and lo behold! It looks exhilarating –a paradise on Earth! Those tiny droplets of water that bequeaths such magic to Earth-is it God given or is it Scientific?
I remember learning about the water cycle in my fourth grade, about how water evaporates, becomes water vapour, then condenses in the clouds and finally comes down as rainfall. I accepted this theory without questions as all students would do. But now walking in the rain made me to ponder about this beautiful creation. So many questions popped up in my mind all of a sudden. It was as if I had walked in the midst of a brainstorming session.
“It is supposed to rain due to the NE and SW monsoon but why do we get rain during other seasons as well?”
“On a perfectly sunny day, why does it start raining all of a sudden?”
“Why does it rain more in one part and less in another part?”
“Why does it rain more in one year and less in the next in the same place?”
And so the barrage of questions continued even after I was under the safety of my room. This set me thinking. I tried asking some people and I got a mixed bag of responses ranging from “Ellam avan seiyyal” meaning “Everything is the act of God”, to “science is a complicated science, there are scientifically proved explanations for such phenomena.” I even got this response from a contemporarian who is inclined towards science and spiritualism equally, “Every phenomena on Earth follows a set of norms but everything has its own exceptions.”
Not convinced, I delved deeper into the realms of the reality behind the process of “Raining”. “Has no one ever thought about this before?”I wonder. “Of course not! There are numerous poems ranging from ‘Pitter patter comes the rain’ to ‘Rain rain go away’”.
And so began my journey of researching the researched articles about Rain.
Kautilya’s Arthasastra is a book on Statecraft, with considerable information on administrative procedures of the governments of his days (c. 4th century BCE).He describes under the chapter on agriculture how to measure rainfall in the important provinces of his kingdom. Since rainfall figures were collected by empowered officials and used by the decision makers, Kautilya’s methods are expected to be quite rational, Quite intriguingly , he mentions that rainfall for the season depends on the visibility of Venus.
At first reading this appears to be an astrological prescription , based on belief rather than empirical observations. However, on closer scrutiny this statement is seen to reflect the near three year oscillation in monsoon rainfall. Kautilya expects good rainfall if Venus were to be sighted in the Eastern sky during the monsoon season. The season being of four months according to this text .This precursor for making a forecast should refer to the first month of the season. Now, Venus as a morning object is visible for about eight months and becomes invisible for about 50 days, before rising in the evening in the western sky. The synodic period of Venus is nearly 584 days. Hence, once seen in the early part of the monsoon season, Venus will not be seen in the subsequent season, which is only one year away. Also when seen next after its cycle of 584 days,the season will not be rainy. But interestingly after one more round, that is , after nearly three years, Venus would be visible in the beginning of the monsoon season. Thus proving Kautilya’s prediction to be correct.
Even before Kautilya, Utpala(9th – 10th century CE) in his commentary on the Brhat-samhita of Varaha-mihira quotes extensively from the works of Parasara, who describes an ancient observational tradition originating around 1400 BCE. An important property ascribed to Venus by Parasara is arka-varsa-nigraham or control of sun induced rains. Thus it is quite likely that the three year rule associated with Venus visibility was known in India since ancient times.
So at least one question resolved, I thought as I filed away that information. Now for the next question.
Within the year rainfall also exhibits fortnightly, monthly and seasonal fluctuations. These are generally described in the texts in terms of the naksatras. The position of the sun with respect to the fixed stars as observed from the Earth, changes over long periods of time due to precession. Hence matching of time-marking statements and folkloric proverbs with modern day civil calendar dates has to be done after correcting the dates given in the almanacs. An objection to this may be to raise the issue of whether in ancient times the solstices were observed on correct dates. That the ancients observed this within an error band, better than at present , is evidenced by stone and copper-plate inscriptions with dates for the winter solstice available in the volumes of The Indian Antiquary. For example, the Sravana belagola Kannada inscription of Hoysala Viraballala records the winter solstice in the Saka year 1104 to be on pusya bahula tadige sukravara. This corresponds to Friday,25th December 1181 ce. Similarly, according to the Terawan copper-plate inscription of Kalyana, the winter solstice was observed in the Saka year 1182 on pusya vaadi saptami sanidina, corresponding to Saturday,25 december 1260 ce .As recently as in the 18th century ,the melkote inscription of Krishnaraja Wodeyar of Mysore, records uttarayana-makara sankranti on 29 december 1724 ce. Blind following of the texts have led to marking of the date of winter solstice as 14 january in the pancangas. Hence the traditional dates of the expecting rainfall depending on the Sun’s naksatra as given in the pancangas are to be advanced by about three weeks for practical use in agricultural operations.
“Okay”,so I thought,”there are proper documented evidences for the inter and intra annual variations in rainfall”. But then I remembered the story of Tansen, one of the nine gems in the court of Akbar being forced to sing raag Deepak to prove his expertise in the arena of music. The raag supposedly causes flames to shoot out and thus make the lamps alight themselves. And so Tansen’s daughters sang raag malhar to cool the area. Raag malhar being the exact opposite of Raag Deepak brings rain.This was the story that came to my mind when I thought about rain. Is it a reel or real history?
In carnatic music Amruthavarshini is the raga that is supposed to bring rain. Even in the Puranas, it is written that in Tretayug, when ravana set fire to hanuman’s tail, he in turn set fire to the entire Lanka. Ravana played Amruthavarshini raga on his veena and saved the city by bringing forth rain.
This is a documented story of Shri Muthusamy Dikshitar. Once he was passing through a village Ettayapuram in Thirunelveli District. There was an acute drought. Since he was well known for his musical prowess , the people in the village requsted him to sing and bring forth rain. He sang a kriti “Anandamritha Varshini” in raga Amruthavarshini. When he sang the line “varshaya varshaya varshaya”, it started raining heavily flooding the village and he had to sing the same song with a slight modification. Instead of “varshaya varshaya varshaya”, he sang “sthambaya sthambaya” to stop the rains.”
Other written accounts include those of Meera Bai,devotee of Lord Krishna,Baiju Bawra,Baba Ramdas,Tantarang,Tanras Khan,Bilas Khan. The saddest part is that both the ragas have lost their “swaroop” among the ages because there was no one who could remember its complicated rhythms and beats .So how can a raga cause rains? During earthquakes, buildings collapse when the seismic vibrations of the Earth match with those of the buildings. In the same way the vibrations of the raga when sung correctly will match with the vibrations of the rain bearing clouds like nimbus and bring them closer to the land, thus making it possible to rain.
Like yin and yang, dance and music are complementary to each other but in a sense similar. Both music as well dance can produce rains. Even to this day traditional tribal dances are being performed to bring rain in many parts of South-western America. They use jewellery like turquoise and match rhythms learnt from ancestors to create the perfect vibrations which will bring forth rain. The Pueblos for example have a particularly intricate rain dance. The Cherokee tribe, an ethnic Native American tribe from the South-eastern US also have their own rain dance.
A very interesting story in the form of a person named Charles Hatfield who stumped everyone by creating rain by concocting a mixture of chemicals. The modern day explanation to this “miracle” would be that for a rain drop or a cloud droplet to form, a particle of smoke or dust is required. Was this why perhaps the reason why ancient vedic seers prescribed a yagna as a prescription for rain? The chemicals derived by burning the organic compounds like fat ,wood ,etc may release a compund similar to the one released by Hatfield and thus the “miracle” of bringing forth rain is achieved.
Whatever be the scientific reasons behind the process of “rain making”, the beauty that the rain beholds to everything it touches is amazing and awe inspiring. In fact it could be more aptly called poetic. The magic that Rain holds can never be expressed scientifically nor can it be painted pictorially. I conclude with the lines thus mentioned.
“SING forth and laud Parjanya, son of Heaven, who
sends the gift of rain. May he provide our pasturage.
Parjanya is the God who forms in kine, in mares, in
plants of earth, And womankind, the germ of
life. Offer and pour into his mouth oblation rich in
savoury juice: May he for ever give us food.”