Two centuries ago, Muthuswami Dikshitar sang a composition that is said to have brought downpours to a place in what is today south-central Tamil Nadu. Legend has it that the skies opened up in such a way that a vast region around Ettayapuram (in present-day Thoothukudi district) where the classical vocalist sang in early 19th century received copious rains by when he took up in detail the self-penned line Salilam varshaya varshaya varshaya.
‘Please send rain more and more abundantly’ is the meaning of that passage of lyrics in the fabled Carnatic kriti Anandamritakarshini Amritavarshini. Soon after, the Amritavarshini-raga number freaks out into a set of chittaswaram—or set solfa passages intended to sustain the cheer even more vividly.
Amritavarshini, in Carnatic ethos, has been a rain raga. From the literal meaning down to its spirit. It’s another matter that the raga is not very commonly heard in kacheri circuits even as the southern state continues to be among one of India’s rain-shadow lands.
Upcountry, the Hindustani system has a big raga family under Malhar. With a history dating to early medieval ages, this raga went on to gain members to its household what with the difference of a swara or two—and thereby discerning changes in the mood. Right from evoking the earliest signs of distant clouds approaching on a cavalcade of rising dust to the feelings of the first drops falling to the showers thickening to their surging, steadying, and waning. Even the sight, sound and smell of the post-rain scenario find expression in ragas of the Malhar family.
Contemporary Hindustani music has lots of its practitioners living in Mumbai. What used to be called Bombay, this western coastal metropolis faced yet another fearsome spell of long rains earlier this week. To many of its residents and onlookers, the dreadful scenes across the big city were reminiscent of a 2005 deluge that had virtually sunk almost the whole of its area.
Maharashtra and the adjoining areas adjoining, for long, been the citadel of Hindustani classical. From Mumbai to Pune and to Hubli-Dharwad to Indore just across its borders, the region virtually revels in a classical-music heritage that only very few regions of the country can claim. And several north-Indian classical musicians (including vocalists, instrumentalists and percussionists) have made the state’s capital their home.
When rains arrive in pleasing measures, they tend to present a monsoon raga or two and concerts. When it rained the other day or week, too, the music-lovers stumble upon such Hindustani ragas on the platforms. It’s a tribute that comes to the gift from the nature. Similar eulogies sometimes emerge when there is also a shortage of rain. When the earth has gone bewilderingly dry and when one yearns for a spell of showers—monsoon or otherwise.
It’s all fine as a musical exploration. Only that recurring instances of rains seeping in scare into the minds of people, too, should be prompting the exponents to think of a raga that is intended to end the downpours. At least in the modern times when humanity is increasingly riddled by a lot of natural calamities, the Malhar family needs a new member-raga, whose basic quest would be to end rains. For the weather to be back to ‘normal’.
The West had long ago felt its needs. This English-language nursery rhyme (which Indians too learn in schools as kids) has its 17th-century couplets slightly varying over other parts of Europe. Yet the theme remains the same from what had been sung from times dating back to ancient Greece.