The drip-drop sound of the rains, a flash of white egrets flying against the royal-blue clouds, the fragrance of the wet earth after the first shower mingling with the heady bouquet of mogra flowers—the very elements of nature, the wind, the sky, earth and water get into a frenzied mood of celebration during monsoon.
Rains have played a special role in Indian thoughts, art and aesthetic since time immemorial. The multi-dimensional monsoon culture of Indian subcontinent is probably the oldest and still growing multi-disciplinary “art movement” in the world. Starting from the Parjanya Sukta in the Rig Veda (composed between 1700 BC and 1100 BC) to present-day Bollywood numbers and rain-drenched dances, the monsoon is a common theme for songs and poems written probably in every Indian language. Poets and painters, dancers and singers have tried to capture the timeless appeal of the rains. No other season has captivated the Indian artist’s imagination as much as the rainy season which has been depicted in all its hues and colours, fragrance and textures, in its all-engulfing ferocity and serenity.
The monsoon is a defining factor for the economy in Indian subcontinent. The bounteous harvest depending primarily on abundant rains, the timely arrival of monsoon brings a sigh of relief equally to the humble farmer in the fields as well as the prime minister in the capital. The rain brings hope and a relief from the scorching heat of summer.
The spirit of monsoon has been celebrated in Indian classical and folk music, dance, paintings, and literature. Indian classical music has different monsoon ragas depicting various moods. It is said that the legendary singer Mian Tansen could cause rainfall by singing one of these ragas. A range of moods and imageries of monsoon are depicted in the Ragamala paintings of medieval times. Monsoon has importance association in Indian iconography through Lord Krishna who is also known as Ghanashyam (dark like the monsoon clouds). Krishna has often been depicted in the Ragamala paintings representing Raga Megh, one of the basic monsoon ragas.
Rain is the season of love in its varied nuances, in union and in separation, in its physical and spiritual manifestation. In classical literature, falling rain over a perched earth and the subsequent sprouting of seeds is often seen as a metaphor of union between man and woman to perpetuate the cycle of life, and at a metaphysical level, the union between the individual soul with divinity. Traditionally, rain is the season of togetherness. In ancient India, the soldiers and the merchants returned home during rainy seasons. It brought great joy and fulfilment for the lovers, but what about those who didn’t return? The pain of separation from one’s beloved has been immortalised by Kalidasa’s Meghadootam where the protagonist sends messages to his beloved through clouds. Rainy thunderous nights have also been seen as an ideal time for dalliance between two lovers under the cover of darkness, away from the prying eyes of society. Based on these various aspects of love and separation in monsoon, we have a treasure trove of semi-classical songs in Kajri, Jhoola and Thumri laced with subtle eroticism.
To sum up, here’s a line from a song of Rabindranath Tagore which beautifully captures the mood: “It is the hour to lose one’s heart, the moment of forgetting one’s wandering tracks—the heart longs to belong to someone!”
The writer is a Kathak dancer based in Delhi