Dating Monsoon

When Heaven showers the blessings, the earth starts the courtship with Monsoon. As always, Monsoon comes unfailingly every year in the first week of June and its predictable nature is an Indian charm too. It is so fascinating that the onset of monsoon is defined by a host of some exotic natural parameters which works with its punctuality, which is unbelievable. It is easy to chase the Monsoon as it is pulsative as well its onset across the sub continent is staggered. If the onset in the southern most part of India is on June 1, it would be on June 6 in Mumbai or Calcutta and the 12th further north. And as we travel ahead of these clouds and watch the first rains across the country, we experience a new thrill every time as the arched Earth heartily welcomes it.

Monsoon season is an unlikely time for most tourists to be in India and there are a few who do like to stay and enjoy the sensuous mood of nature- dark and mysterious, yet predictable. Indian monsoon has two phases. The first one is the South-West Monsoon which onsets in June and has two branches. One enters in the western shore of the peninsula and travels North-East, while the other gets in through the northern end of Bay of Bengal and splits at the Khasi Hills, one branch travelling to the west and the other escaping to Myanmar. The first phase dissolves in the pressure trough extending from Rajasthan to Calcutta. By September the monsoon starts retreating and flows in a South-West direction. This starts the second phase- the North-East Monsoon.

Indian monsoon is familiar to Non-Indians from historic times itself. The word monsoon has its origin from the Arabic word ‘Mausim’ means season. The term is used to refer a seasonal wind which blows with consistency and regularity during a part of the year. In ancient times it was used by Greek historians of Alexander the Great’s period and recorded it in 355-323 BC and Faxian(or Fa Hsein), a Buddhist scholar & traveller from China wrote in “Record of Buddist Kingdoms” about his encounter of winter monsoon during a voyage along the east coast of India in 400 AD. “The Periplus of the Erythraean Sea” written by an unknown Greek sailor around 60 AD also describes Monsoon. Ancient Arab merchants knew about this phenomenon and profited in their spice trade voyages to Kerala, and in 1498 Vasco Da Gama utilized this knowledge to discover a sea route between Europe and India.

Indian monsoon marks its mention in ancient texts. The verses in the Rigveda carry reference to the rain time. Over the years, monsoon inspired painting, music, literature and other art forms in India. Some times its tender mood reflects sadness but some times it is romantic. One of the most beautiful descriptions about monsoon can be found in ‘Meghadoot’, a Sanskrit classic by Kalidasa,the lyrical poet of 6th century AD. In ‘Meghadoot’ Kalidasa describes the arrival of rain over Ujjain in Madhya Pradesh on the first day of Ashada, 15th of June.

Several references in ancient Sanskrit texts reveal that from prehistoric period onwards many attempts were made to forecast weather based on meteorological conditions. The Brihat-samhitha (An encyclopedia of astronomy and meteorology prevalent in ancient times) by Varaahamihira around the 6th century indicates that long range forecast of monthly rainfalls were attempted on the basis of clouds. The clouds that are formed in first month of Chaithra (April) will yield water in the latter half of Ashwin (September). And those that are formed in later half of Chaithra will rain in the first half of Karthika (October) (Couplets 9-12, Chapter XXI, Brihat Samhitha).

Government of India launched a study about the behavior of monsoon because of the severe drought and famine of 1877. Henry Blanford, the then meteorological reporter noted the heavy snow fall in the Himalayas and the rainfall in India and Burma. In June 1886 the first report of operational forecast was issued, making India as the first country in the world to issue long range forecast of weather.

Kerala is fortunate to be the first state to receive the monsoon in India, and the onset date of monsoon here is quite early, while the other parts of the country fries under summer heat. Indian life is extremely dependent on the monsoon. The agricultural production is super-sensitive to monsoon rains.

In 1910 a long forecast model based on a phenomenon called ‘Southern Oscillation’ was developed by Sir Gilbert Walker, who headed the Indian Meteorological Services from 1904 to 1921. The 16 parameter monsoon model based on 16 land-ocean atmospheric forces that predicts the quantity of the rain fall that will be obtained during the June 1- to September 30 period in the whole country.

Monsoon in other continents are not as well pronounced as Indian Monsoon. Seasonal changes in the direction of wind occur over North Australia, East and West Africa and South America. North West winds that blow from Atlantic Ocean into Europe during June and July is referred as European Monsoon. The summer monsoon in China is known as Mei Yu. It occurs from early June to mid July which causes floods in the Yangtez river valley. The summer monsoon in Japan is known as Baiu.

 Indian English Writer Kamaladas said that Monsoon is nothing less than the reaffirmation of life. Arundhathi Roy described Monsoon in her book ‘The God of Small Things’.  But the most touching portrait in literature about Monsoon was done by Alexander Frater, a travel writer with the Observer, London in his book ‘Chasing The Monsoon’. The travelogue reveals the story of Frater’s journey through India in pursuit of the astonishing Indian summer monsoon. Frater draws a picture as Indian summer monsoon will begin to envelop the country in two great wet arms, one coming from the east, the other from the west. They are united over central India around 10th July, a date that can be calculated within seven or eight days. He tracks the monsoon’s path across India and describes about Indian life, weather, places and people. Frater’s journey takes him to Bangkok and the cowboy town on the Thai-Malaysian border to Rangoon and Akyab in Burma.

Millets are considered the most suited crop for Monsoon rainfall. Paddy depends on rainfall and therefore is prone to water logging and floods. To avoid this, the date of commencement of monsoon will help to adjust the time of sowing. Farmers who are familiar with the vagaries of monsoon are keen to keep a second row of crops ready in case of early or late occurrence of rainfall. A good monsoon raises agriculture’s contribution to GDP growth, while a drought year depresses it. Clearly, governments need to invest consistently to harvest the monsoon, both on the surface and underground, with community participation. The best thing for Kerala in the Monsoon season is its Sukha Chikitsa, an Ayuvedic rejuvenation therapy of massage and diet.

 However, the dark monsoon is not a time for brooding; it’s the time for fresh growth.

Rajani. A

Tourism India, India ‘s Travel & Tourism magazine.

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