Rain in simplest terms is water in the shape of drops, sheets or hails falling from the sky. More than 70 per cent of our earth’s surface is water-covered. Perhaps that’s why in many ancient cultures we find the idea that life originated from water.

In Rig-Veda (composed by sages in the Punjab /1700-1500 BCE) we come across creation hymn (Mantra): “Then even nothingness was not, nor existence / There was no air then nor the heavens beyond it / What covered it? / Where was it? / In whose keeping? / Was there then cosmic water, in depth unfathomed? -- At first there was only darkness wrapped in darkness / All this was only unilluminated water… (Rig-Veda 10-129- Translation: A.L.Basham)”.

We find a similar thought in the Middle Eastern religious literature. “In the beginning God created heavens and the earth / Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters…”, says the Bible.

Ionian philosopher Thales (about 624 BC -547 BC) propounded the hypothesis that life originated from a single material substance and it was water.

The idea made sense, at least in those times, when science was in its mere infancy. Life without water was as impossible then as it’s today. Sources of water are sea, rains, rivers and aquifers. Sea water can neither be used as drinking water nor be funneled for irrigation purposes because it is saline. Having salt and other inorganic and organic materials it’s hardly suitable for human life. With advancement in technology, it has now become possible to turn saline water into freshwater which means it can be made drinkable and useable in agriculture through the process of desalination.

Sea regardless of the composition of its water is a crucial source of water we have on our earth. Water in seas evaporates and goes up and turns into clouds. Cloud heavy with moisture rain. Water from clouds falling on high mountains turns into snow and ice. When temperature rises, the ice melts creating streams and rivers that usually rush into seas. Such is the natural cycle that keeps the earth and us literally hydrated. Rain plays an important role in this cycle especially in the regions with high temperatures such as ours which has an annual season of heavy summer rains called monsoon. Interestingly, the winds that bring annual monsoon rains to us come from Africa. If monsoon fails, we face calamitous situation. Agriculture suffers and livestock have to endure malnutrition and disease due to lack of grass and fodder. Such a situation or prospect of such a situation created piles of myths, rituals and folk beliefs.

In ancient times Indra and Varuna were gods of sky, rain and thunder. If monsoon is delayed, certain rituals were/ are performed in the subcontinent to propitiate the concerned gods. Priests, for example, would assemble and perform Varuna Yajna by immersing themselves in the tubs of water and chanting name of god Varuna as a passionate prayer for rain.

In Punjab we have its watered-down folk version. One can still witness in rural areas, at least, the practice of throwing buckets or jugs of water without any warning on men in an effort to appeal to the heavens to be kind and release the rains.

When monsoon rains come, they completely transform the visual landscape: earth comes suddenly alive and things turns lush green with their innumerable hues. Baba Farid, the grand saint and poet, equates the month with lightning and rumblings of clouds (Sawan bijlian)”.

Poet Shah Hussain hints at the transformation: “(Month of) Sawan with its colours has arrived; one can gaze at vistas of grass and water”. Birds gasping for breath after a long spell of unbearable heat, feel invigorated and fresh with the onset of the rainy month. Air is filled with so many bird songs and happy whistling of insects. It’s kind of a rebirth. This is perhaps what has haunted the poets and sages. “Raindrops raise their melody, listen you sister, Sawan is upon us”, is how Baba Guru Nanak welcomes the arrival of rain. Relief after searing heat lightens the mood and makes romantic and erotic impulses surge. “Throughout the month of Sawan the rain songs tinkle / Suffering inflicted by mischief-makers vanish/ Boys play and girls sing / And my handsome man of pleasure comes to my place/ My wishes have come true”, says Bulleh Shah in his poem on seasons.

The most spectacular display of change can be experienced in an apparently lifeless desert which within hours of receiving rain becomes full of colour with fresh leaves sprouting from the bushes and birds fluttering along the dunes.

Poet Khawaja Ghulam Farid graphically paints the scene of the desert called Rohi: “Monsoon rain falls on Rohi /Turn your camel back, my love / lightening illuminates the sky with its colours / raindrops land softly / Dark and grey clouds carry raging torrents/ Rolls of thunder sing of love /…Dunes and plains are wet and ponds overflow / …Easterly wind is pleasant and cold drops sound like songs / Koel, cuckoo and lark raise their make passionate noise for union”. Strangely, the predicament of our under-developed society is that it hasn’t learnt the art of managing things with poise and good feeling. We feel flustered when there is no rain because we don’t prepare ourselves to face a drought but we also feel flustered when there is rain because we don’t prepare ourselves to deal with the excess water.

Monsoon/Sawan too has a contradictory nature which is best explained by a popular anecdote. Emperor Akbar, the Great, asked Birbal, a well-known wit at his court, which was the best season. “The month of Sawan”, came the reply. “And which is the worst?”, asked the Emperor. “The month of Sawan”. “Why it’s so?” “Your Majesty, it is the best if it’s windy. And it is the worst if it’s windless”. Windy or windless, don’t forget to enjoy your ‘Puraa (a kind of flat sweet cake made of meal which marks the celebration of monsoon) this Sawan. And please avoid banging your head against the wall if you come to know that even this monsoon no one is geared up for rainwater harvesting. — soofi01@hotmail.com

Published in Dawn, July 18th, 2022

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