Weather warnings in verses

At a time when we rely on data analytics for weather forecasts, scholars tell CE how poems in ancient texts helped predict rains.
Image used for representational purposes. (Photo | Ashwin Prasath)
Image used for representational purposes. (Photo | Ashwin Prasath)

CHENNAI:  When the onset of the northeast monsoon was delayed this year, the Indian Meteorological Department pointed out that the weather models forecasted a 10-day delay. Now that the city has received substantial rainfall, techniques like predictive analysis using pattern identification and big data science models are used to predict rain. This development of technology is in the 21st century. But, how did the early natives foresee the monsoon setting in?

Looking for answers, I came across a LinkedIn post by Sathyanarayanan Ramachandran, associate professor of marketing at Krea University. It gives an insight into how the people, especially farmers, could swiftly look for indicators that hinted at an expected rainfall. In his post, he added a 17th-century poem, Mukkudal Pallu. The poem is about the peasants on the banks of river Thamirabarani in Mukkudal who notice signals of the arrival of rains — Aatru vellam naalai vara thotruthe kuri malayala minnal eela minnal suula minnuthe (The river will be in spate with the arrival of fresh rainwater tomorrow. There is lightning on the southern and western horizons — Kerala (malayala) and Sri Lanka (eela)).

One with the nature

“Just like lightning is one of the indicators, the agriculturalists also scrutinize other factors such as dragonflies flying below the sea level, frogs croaking, land crabs shielding themselves under the mud, and common nightingales singing in the poem,” says Niranjan Bharathi R, poet, lyricist, and great-great-grandson of Mahakavi Subramania Bharathiyar. He mentions that farmers had practical knowledge and experience to pick out these signals which were accurate most of the time. The people were well-versed in that; with the direction of the wind, they could envision the shower. 

Concurring, historian Meenakshi Devaraj, states, “There are different names for different directions of wind. When the wind blows from the south it is called thendral, from the north, it is vaadai, kondal from the east, and so on.” Mankind, back then, keenly observed the surroundings and lived among nature. Only because of close monitoring of the environment could they anticipate the weather and seasonal changes. 

“It was an all-natural lifestyle. Because they were in close understanding of nature, they did not need to develop devices to predict,” adds Nirmala P, head of the department of Tamil, Ethiraj College for Women. She also believes that this practice of forecasting weather just by looking at mere signals from the sky is still prevalent. Farmers, whose livelihood is dependent on rain, make use of this exercise. “Everything that was natural once is swapped with an artificial way of life and the repercussions of the same are visible,” she rues.

Literature beyond mankind

The Sangam literature too has a poem on climate change. Peithu ara vembiya kalporu parappin venil aththaththu aangan vaan ulandhu aruvi aandra uyarsimai marungkil. It means that there will come a period where even the evergreen forest will turn into deserts, when the mountain cracks open there will be no water flowing from inside, which will result in people migrating.

The life and the occurrences that are happening now were once predicted and written about. While we live in a day and age where we seek the help of artificial rains, roughly 2,000 years ago, when rain was scarce, the kings performed oblation to invoke deities. “In epics, Vedic scholars were brought to perform yagya. Wood was lit, the smoke from it formed clouds and the rain poured,” shares Niranjan. To this, Meenakshi adds that Thiruppavai mentions how people worshipped lord Krishna for rains. Aazhi ul pukku, mugandhu kodu aarthu eri, oozhi mudhalvan uruvam pol mey karuththu (Lord Krishna, get into the deep ocean, pick water and go up to the sky, bringing water with thunder noise as rain clouds).

Apart from the indications from the sky and movements on the land to envisage the weather conditions, people also sought help from astrology. “With the movement of the planets, they were able to foretell rain,” says Niranjan. A poem in Sangam literature, Pattinapalai, talks about the richness of the river Kaveri. Vasaiyil pugazh vayangu venmeen thisai thirinthu therku ekinum... thali unavin pul themba puyal maari (Even if the faultless, famous, bright Venus drifts to the south... without rain drops to drink and even if the rain clouds change). The poem specifies that even if the planet Venus changes its direction and the skylarks find water to drink from nowhere, the Kaveri River does not fail. “Here, the poem mentions that when Venus revolves in the south direction, there is less expectancy of rain,” he adds. 

Indians had an abundance of knowledge, far beyond the sky. But all these were uprooted by various invasions. While the invaders forced their way of practices on us, traditional practices were questioned. Unable to match with the proof that modern technology has, these indicators are seen and noticed barely. “I remember listening to frog croaking when I was in school. These days I don’t find frogs in our surroundings,” notes Meenakshi.  

However, there are chances for the revival of traditional practices to predict rains as they did not require modern technology or knowledge. It involved only observing the workings of nature. If looked closely, we could also be the ones to foresee and bring back traditions. 

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