Just a little rain

monsoon magic

Just a little rain
Are you a rain girl? Daughter of the Rain God?” I was walking in the rain when a stranger murmured  questions. Dark clouds were rumbling, the pitter-patter of the fat raindrops was drowning my heartbeats and impish drops were sliding off my bare arm. I turned around. In the eyes of the stranger lay deep bewilderment.

Perhaps he had never seen an urban girl walk barefoot in the rain. No umbrella. No hasty steps. Just she and the rain. I could tell the stranger that in my past life I was perhaps a parched desert. Waiting achingly for rain. Or a trickle of a river. Yearning to grow bigger and meld with the ocean. Perhaps a farmer. With seeds in hand, his eyes stuck to the sky with rain-hope. But I knew the stranger wouldn’t fathom my past life assumptions. “I am made of raindrops”. I uttered. And mingled with the rain. Again.

I love the rain. But I do not know where raindrops go after they disintegrate into nothingness. Do they get lonely just before they fall? I know not. I know very little about the physics of rain. Or the complexities of a cloud. That’s why I have never been a rainmaker. Never a rain dancer. But for centuries, humans have been rainmakers. Performing rain rituals. Rain dancing. Wearing costumes. Marrying frogs off. Praying. Doing yagnas. Appeasing gods. All for more rain. Rituals to modify the weather for more rain and snow. So many rain rituals across the world.

In India, rain rituals date back to unrecorded history. Frog wedding is an ancient Vedic rain ritual mentioned in Yajur Veda. It is believed that the croaking of frogs heralds rain. And arranging the wedding of frogs in an invitation to the rain gods. One can scientifically debate the frog-rain connection, but it is no sheer coincidence that there is almost always a downpour a few hours after the frogs start croaking. Another ancient rain tradition is feeding the cows because the devout believe that gods reside in holy cows. Well-fed cows appease the gods who, in turn, send rain for all the famished beings on earth. 

However, the oldest rain-making ritual known to Hindus and dating back to Bhagavad Gita and Rig Veda is yagnas in which the negativity of the atmosphere is removed with fire, herbs and ghee. It is believed that during Parjanya Yagna, fire cleanses the atmosphere and it is through pure air that rain falls on earth. Bhagavad Gita (3:14) talks of rain, thus: “The whole universe is pervaded by fire in the form of heat and light. Through the fire offerings we nurture the forces of nature. All life depends upon food and the entire food chain is in turn dependent on rain. The vitality of rain depends on the vitality of clouds, and the vitality of clouds depends on the nourishing elements in the atmosphere. The energy generated by yagna is like a tonic to the clouds. In turn, these clouds bring healthy rain, a healthy rain brings a healthy harvest, and a healthy harvest brings good health to those who consume it.”

Rain, lovely rain

San Joao is a Goan rain festival that not many know of. During the feast of San Joao (St John), usually held in the third week of June, men wear crowns made of tender palm leaves or flowers, and offer the crown and feni (an alcoholic cashew drink) at the base of a Cross. Then, to the beat of drum and pide (lower part of the coconut palm), they go from house to house in the village. Thereafter, they jump in wells and water tanks replete with offerings of fruit, coconut and feni. The rain merrymakers drink feni and sing hallelujahs to the Lord. This time to thank the Lord for the bountiful rain. 

That is not the only monsoon ritual in Goa, though. For the feast of St. Peter (also known as Sangodd), Goa’s local fishing community tie their boats to form rafts, which serve as makeshift stages. Miniature models of chapels or churches are erected on these and tiatrs (local musical theatre), folk dances and music are performed as the audience watch from the riverbanks. In another Marathi tradition, people carry heavy stones on their heads and head to Mt Mary’s Church in Mumbai to appease the rain gods and pray for an abundant shower.

Though India has elaborate rain rituals, rainmaking traditions are practised across the world, specially in tribal settlements. Dodola, Caloian and Perperuna (Paparuda) are part of Slavic and Romanian rainmaking rituals, some of which survived into the 20th century. In northern Mexican Tarahumara, there’s rutuburi, a typical ritual dance for three agricultural festivals — rain, green corn and harvest. After triple invocations by a shaman (religious leader), the women cross the dance space six times, then circle counterclockwise, holding hands and leaping from left to right as they pray for more rain and better harvest.

In her book The Rhythm of the Redman, Julia M Butree details the rain dance of the Zuni as well as other Native American tribes. The elaborate and intricate rain dance methods and costumes are passed down by oral tradition. The rain dance was performed in the driest months of the year and, unlike other tribal rituals, both men and women participated. The costume was very specific — blue was often the dominant colour symbolising wind and rain. Men would have their hair waving at the ceremony while women had wraps at the sides of their head. A turquoise strip stretching from ear to ear served as a face mask with three feathers hanging down to their throat. The women had goat hair around the top of their mask and eagle feathers hung over their face. Men painted their bodies, wore turquoise moccasins, while women were covered completely — all that remained bare was their feet. Surprisingly, the tribal rain dance was never in circles; men and women stood in separate lines and made zigzagging patterns with their steps.        

So deft were Osage and Quapaw Indian tribes of Missouri and Arkansas as rainmakers that they could track and follow known weather patterns and performed rain dance for earliest settlers of mid-Western United States in exchange for trade items.

“Four times a year, the world is judged. At Passover, a decision is made about produce. At Shavuot, a decision is made about fruit. At Rosh Ha-Shanah, all creatures are judged. God, who fashioned them, considers all their actions. At Sukkot, a decision is made about rain.” (Rosh Ha-Shanah 16a). Sukkot is a Jewish rain ritual, traditionally spread over a week in which water is brought in large golden vessels, and along with wine, poured over the altar. Silver horns are blown and flutes played. However, Sukkot is no longer observed with such fanfare. Starting on Shemini Atzeret, the last day of this week-long celebration, the words “Who brings the wind and causes the rain to fall”, are added to the second blessing of the Amidah, the silent prayer, and a poem is recited asking God for rain.

The rainmakers

Rainmaking, however, is no longer a largesse of the God or a desperate prayer to the Rain God. Science has stepped in as an unfailing rainmaker. Scientists can now seed clouds for rain. Cloudseeding is a form of weather modification in which substances are pumped into the air that serve as cloud condensation or ice nuclei. Cloudseeding can occur due to ice nucleates in nature which are bacterial in origin. For artificial cloudseeding with the intent to cause more rainfall or snow, the most common chemicals used are silver iodide, potassium iodide, dry ice (solid carbon dioxide) as well as liquid propane. You might drop a jaw at this, but table salt is now a deft cloudseeder. You know why? Because it is hygroscopic in character. Cloudseeding is no longer considered a fringe science, but its effectiveness is being debated across the world. Perhaps the physics of cloud is too intricate and intentional weather modification is still not a perfect dream. 

If I were Tansen, I’d sing Raag Megh Malhar. All day. All night. Not for the music. Nor for the octave. But for the raindrops. To drench me. To get trapped in the curls of my hair. To hurry down my bare arms. I’d sing Raag Megh Malhar. For fat raindrops. So that I could tippy-toe barefoot in the puddle that was once a pretty raindrop from heaven. I love the rain. I know not why. Perhaps I was a parched desert. Perhaps a shallow river. Waiting to mingle with the rain. I know no rain rituals. All I want is one eternal raindrop. Will God, the rainmaker, make that raindrop for me?

Tansen made rain with Raag Megh Malhar

Who hasn’t heard of the oft-repeated tale of classical singer Tansen lighting lamps as he sang Raag Deepak and the thunderous rain that poured when he sang Raag Megh Malhar? Legend has it that classical singer Tansen, who was one of the Nine Jewels of Mughal Emperor Akbar, could create magic with his singing. A jealous courtier challenged Tansen to light lamps and create rain with music. Tansen knew this was possible, but singing Raag Deepak would create so much heat that it would char his body. On the fateful day, when Tansen sang Raag Deepak, all lamps in Fatehpur Sikri magically lit up. But the music sapped every breath out of Tansen, and he fell ill. His daughter picked up the notes and sang Raag Megh Malhar. As if on cue, the clouds rumbled and there was a huge downpour. Tansen had made rain. That day in the court of Emperor Akbar, Tansen was the rainmaker!   

Ancient ‘rain-control site’ in South Africa

A gigantic ‘rain-control site’ has been discovered at South African Ratho Kroonkop (RKK), an area lying in the semi-arid area of South Africa. RKK sits atop a 1,000-foot-tall hill and contains two naturally formed rock tanks which are depressions in the rock. During excavations, scientists found over 30,000 animal specimens, including the remains of rhinoceros, zebra, and even giraffe. Experts believe that centuries ago, this was the site where shamans lit a fire at the top of RKK to burn the animal remains as part of rainmaking rituals. This is the site where they beseeched the gods to open up the skies for rain.

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