“The rain-drops tinkle their jingle/Sawan announces its arrival”. This is how Baba Guru Nanak, the seer and the poet, welcomes the rainy month (from mid July to mid August).
It’s the month which not just changes all the things around but also breeds everything apparently dead that has a shade of green; the victim of unbearably hot and dusty spell.
The dry spell at its start is a delight with the prospects of wheat harvest and near its end is a relentless torment in its shimmering heat mist.
You helplessly see pools evaporating, plants withering, animals slithering, birds tumbling and human beings going crazy as if the Gods’ fury has set the world ablaze. Raising your singed eye-lids in the sultry and airless streets every now and then you look at the sky and curse it when you find no cloud floating above.
You feel as if you are on the Becket’s stage ‘waiting for Godot’. But the nature after all is not as helpless or elusive as Godot.
One morning early risers feel as if they have got up earlier than usual because it’s still dark outside.
No, their watches can’t be wrong! Yet all is a shade of the grey. A peep through the windows tells it all. Black clouds hover all over the sky blocking the wicked sun.
A joyful rumbling in the sky is an unmistakable sign of the herald of monsoon. The rain clouds incredibly transform the landscape; physical and psychological. The showers affect everything living; they even revive what seems to be not revivable. What is impacted most in a matter of moments is the mood; you regain your sanity; mental and emotional.
Prompted by your instinct you stand effortlessly connected with the nature and what it offers in all its diversity, rejuvenated by visibly invisible interconnected cosmic forces.
The sudden drastic transformation of all that is physical accompanied by a change in human mood with the mysterious arousal of impulse, especially of erotic nature, is what has haunted and still haunts our poets.
In Punjabi literature we have a specific genre called’ Baramah’ (the poet’s calendar) designed to express how each month of the year effects the nature and humans.
Masud Sad Salman is reported to be the first poet to write ‘Baramah’ in modern Punjabi in 11th thought-provoking book ‘Society, Religion and Patriarchy’ writes; ‘Masud, a court-poet of the governor of Lahore, appointed by Sultan Mahmud of Ghazni, wrote extensively in Punjabi.
His poetry assumed the form of a Diwan and three ancient genres of poetry, baramah (the poet’s calendar), satvara (the week) and akhri (the alphabet)’. Baba Farid in one of his couplets describes Sawan as ‘lightning and thunder’
suggesting the elemental force in its wake that destroys and recreates. ‘Sawan has descended in all its colourfulness/earth is all a sprawling grass floor’ is how Shah Hussain in his ‘Kafi’ sings of the month.
Traditionally Sawan used to be greeted with so many rituals; religious and secular that have almost died out with the passage of time because of changing socio-cultural conditions accompanied by newly-acquired single thread religious identity in an otherwise diverse society.
To men it gave the hope of better crops with the earth wet, and pools, ponds and water reservoirs replenished. For women it was a much awaited moment of relief.
It was the time when they could forget their household chores for the time being and enjoy the freedom with abandon to have a go at the ‘Sawan swings’ outside the houses in the groves or gardens.
‘Swings under the tall trees were all set/all the friends went for a ride/the day turned into evening/in my playfulness I forgot that I had a home to return to’ are the lines of a folk-song that tells us how a woman in a traditional culture experienced Sawan.
‘Benign rains fall/the grass raises its head in the Sandal Bar region/how big are the eyes of that damsel with long hair and sultry ear-rings’ is how a folk-poet perceives a young woman in Sawan.
The downside of the season is expressed in the incessant sighs and laments of separated lovers who urged by their erotic impulse to be with their partners in this season of re-birth fail to do so due to a host of reasons; social, cultural and economic.
‘Sawan is here with its rain-song/may you have pity and turn your mount back, my love’ says Khawaja Ghulam Farid in his lyrics.
Sawan is the best of the months, Sawan is the worst of the months: the best when it’s windy, the worst when it’s muggy.
The month has almost lost its evolved cultural ethos because of environmental changes, the rapid urbanization and telecommunication revolution that tend to rub the old ambiguous romantic signs on the palimpsest called the world, thus making it less mysterious and less intriguing.
Sawan is now a matter of statistics for the Met department. Nobody has the time to lament the supine way we Punjabis have let it turn into another month.
But it still has a healing touch for everything that moves or is rooted in the earth. Sawan is in fact the mating of the sky and the earth causing the birth and rebirth of all that is celestially mundane and mundanely celestial. — firstname.lastname@example.org
Published in Dawn, August 1st, 2014