Gift of good life
An oft-recited Vedic verse goes, “May the rains come on time; may the earth bend with the weight of foodgrains; may this land be free of scourge; may the learned be fearless; may the poor become wealthy and may all live a hundred autumns; may the childless have children and those with children have grandchildren. Lord, give all people a life of well-being.” It refers to rain as the fertilising power for land, as well as the promoter of human welfare and the longevity and health of generations.
“Monsoon rains are a unique feature of the Indian subcontinent,” says Gautama Vajracharya of the University of Wisconsin, Madison. Monsoons are considered the prana or life-force of India. According to Vajracharya, an art historian, this connection with the monsoons is expressed in the three religions—Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism—through sculpture, literature, art, music and dance. Countless heritage monuments of these religions feature full-bodied men and sensually-endowed women, well-fed animals and richly-plumed birds. The sculptures or frescoes of Barhut, Amaravati, Sanchi, Ajanta and Ellora as well as innumerable temples of every historical age show apsaras, celestial beings and godlings as being amply endowed and ornamented with luxuriant hair.
Even the figures of the Buddha and all Jain Tirthankaras—who were mendicants with shaven heads—are never shown as emaciated or hairless. Similarly, animals—real and mythical—portrayed in sculptures or paintings are “healthy”. Many sculptures show the abundance of fruits and flowers together with the animals. Rarely do we come across an emaciated animal or human figures in Indian monuments. According to Vajracharya, this is because these sculptures indirectly celebrate the bounties of the monsoons.
In the Barhut, Amaravati and Sanchi monuments, stylised figures of frogs, (some verses of the Rigveda and the Atharvaveda are about frogs), makara, the mythical crocodile, peacocks, swans and cattle as well as men and women who look prosperous illustrate this unflinching devotion to the monsoons. There are many references to the ashwatha, the peepal and the vat, the banyan tree in ancient literature and sculptures as both are considered the symbols of rain.
A huge body of dance and music is devoted to the romance and theme of rain. One of earliest celebrated poems devoted to romance and rain was Geeta Govind, written by Jayadeva in the second half of the 12th century. This poem has inspired not only Odissi, Kathak, Bharata natyam dance styles but also folk dances all over India. The romance of Radha and Krishna under a blue cloud- laden sky or under clouds illuminated by lightning is enacted by thousands of dancers in every part of India. Some of the most cherished miniature paintings in the Ragmala series and Rasleela series have rain as the motif.
Without the monsoon, there may be no swaying green fields bearing rich grains of crops. In modern India, the observatories begin to forecast the coming of monsoons as soon as the summer is over, and conjectures on whether the rains will be adequate for crops or not begin to hog media headlines.