There are all kinds of rain-spells Indians are known to cast. From worshipping frogs, to marrying off donkeys, we have done it all
Shaweta Anand Delhi
The groom leaps towards the centre of the ground and stands there, smiling a toothless smile. The timid bride hops to a spot close to him and waits patiently for him to garland her first. She looks stunning in her red outfit while the groom looks handsome in his own way. Hundreds gather around them in a Maharashtra village to celebrate as this frog couple takes wedding vows.
This was an attempt to appease the raingods when the monsoon was delayed. Simultaneously, perhaps, another frog-wedding took place between in Assam this year: Baruna weds Bijuli. RSVP: Near and Dear.This year and last, myths and rituals to appease miscellaneous raingods have stalked the parched landscape. In Bangalore, a group of people gathered in a temple and married off two donkeys - Ganga and Varuna. Here, however, the bride was made to wear a green saree instead of a red one. There were invitation cards, a traditional band providing a musical background, sumptuous food, fresh flowers to shower on the newly-wed couple.
Animal wedding rituals aside, in Bihar's Banke Bazaar town and places like UP's Gorakhpur, a 'nudity spell' is cast sometimes to obliterate the rueful impact of a drought. Young women march naked while chanting ancient hymns after dusk, dragging ploughs in their fields to 'embarrass' the raingods into giving them abundant rainfall. Men are not allowed to watch as that may ruin the spell.
In another ritual, a young girl wearing a dress of knitted vines and branches dances through the village, stopping at every house till the host pours water over her, drenching her completely. The ritual probably symbolises the act of 'giving' water, hoping that the raingods would follow suit. Locals also sing and dance to the popular folksong sung for raingod Indra, Haali-huli barshun Inder devata, with full devotion to please the raingod Indra.
In Hindu mythology, there is mention of a fight between Indra and Vitra, a dragon - the god of drought. As legend has it, Vitra gulped water and sat on a mountain top, causing drought on earth. This angered Indra, who fought him with thunder and lightning, releasing abundant rain for cheering people down below. With 250 hymns dedicated to Indra in the Rigveda, it is no surprise that he is worshipped in many parts of north India to bring in the monsoons.
In the Hindi heartland, as in Kanpur, pandits do yagnas and pujas to please the raingods. In Banaras, people worship another raingod, Dalbhyeswara, and keep him well-dressed so that they would be blessed with good rains. In Muzaffarpur, Indra is worshipped and stories about him are read out. The poor are given alms in his name or a buffalo is set free, hoping something would click with the raingod.
In Mirzapur, river Karsa is believed to be infested by a demon called Jata Rohini. To appease him, he is offered fish caught by the priest. Locals believe it is only then that it would rain abundantly in Mirzapur. People also keep the linga of Mahadeva (Shiva) dipped in water to keep him cool so that he doesn't ruin the monsoon.
There are folk narratives about a severe drought in Sirsa, Haryana, a long time ago. The headman went to a faqir (dervish), prayed to him for rain, promising his daughter's hand in marriage to him. The rains did come but the headman broke his promise and the land got cursed with drought. However, repeated prayers melted the faqir's heart and he allowed sweet water to flow, but only if it was given free of cost to everyone. Local belief holds this to be true even today: if anyone levies a tax on rainwater here, the water goes salty, and the moment the tax is removed, it gets sweet again!
In Punjab, village girls pour water over an old woman, as she hands out cow dung dissolved in water. This is believed to bring the rains. Sometimes, the girls carry a pot full of filth and put it in front of a woman with a foul temper. If she gets into a rage and becomes abusive, it's time for a downpour! The underlying belief is that such a woman is a witch and if she is insulted, rains will pay a visit.
Droughts also make lucrative business and realpolitik. In Madhya Pradesh, som yagnas or fire rituals were performed by the state government to get rain during last year's drought. Chhattisgarh's agriculture minister too performed the varun yagna to please the skies during a dry spell. In Andhra Pradesh, all Hindus, Christians and Muslims were asked to perform special prayers for rains in temples last year. In Orissa too, expensive yagnas were performed to propitiate the gods. Fake priests too join the act. Even while it's all thirsty and parched, fat, well-fed Brahmins get inside huge tumblers of water, all decked up, and perform fraudulent rituals (see pix above).
Another kind of rain-spell is performed by the Bhils of central India. During drought, they go out together with bows and arrows and sacrifice a buffalo belonging to another village to goddess Kali, singing and dancing. If the buffalo-owner interferes, they abuse and threaten him into submission. That's how they negotiate for rain.
In Gujarat's Ahmedabad, the nagar seth (town's rich trader) walks through the city, pouring out milk to please Indra. There are folksong renditions dedicated to pleasing Indra. What is done in Chattarpur, Madhya Pradesh, is even more intriguing. Two paintings are made on the wall with cow dung, but upside down, to embarrass Indra and Megha into giving rain.
As if worshipping is not enough, two boys fight a 'good fight' with slings and stones to 'entertain the raingods' in Maharashtra's Ahmadnagar. If the fight is not good enough and is stopped abruptly, then the rains are said to bring in a plague of rats.
In some south Indian villages, beer gets mixed with the longing for water. Flowers of the sal tree are plucked, put in a basket and taken around to every house. The women pay respect to the priest by touching his feet. The priest showers them and the house with flowers. And then, first, the women pour water over him, and then give him a glass of beer to drink! Chilled or warm - that we don't know.