Editor’s note: In India, the monsoon nurtures and devastates; it brings life, and sometimes death; it frightens — and bewitches; it is both anticipated and dreaded; longed for and wished away. It is also inextricably linked with the culture of India. The rains have inspired poets, writers, musicians, artists to create some of their most compelling works. The folk music tradition has been particularly inspired by the monsoon — be it in the North, South, East or West, there’s bound to be a folk song (or several) that speaks of the rain and what it represents. In this series, based on conversations with folk musicians and experts, we examine #MonsoonMusic.

In part 7 — Maharashtra. See more from the series here.

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Maharashtra is, like many other states in India, predominantly dependent on agriculture. It comes as no surprise then that many aspects of its culture are centred on agriculture — the farmer is, after all, the pulse of the state.

In this context, music goes beyond being just a form of entertainment or leisure for farmers; songs about sowing and tilling, Bhilari songs, and shetkari songs are sung by them as a call for bountiful rains.

Songs are written and composed such that they address the prevailing weather conditions. For instance, if there is a drought or a significantly low amount of rainfall (as the state has observed over the last decade), the songs will relect the following mood:

Pad ra panya, pad ra panya, kar pani pani,

shet mazha lay chalala chataka vani”.

Here, the farmer compares his farm to the chatak bird, a kind of cuckoo that only drinks rainwater that descends from the skies. He addresses the monsoon, telling it that he is eagerly waiting for the rain.

Some songs composed after the month of May speak of the farmers ploughing and working the soil. The farmer sings about how after having made the earth soft and porous, his only desire is that the rain will allow him to sow crops in the fields.

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Jatyavarchya ovya (songs about the grinding mill) also mention the monsoon. Maharashtra is roughly divided into five parts: the Konkan, the western region, the central region, Vidharbha, and Marathwada. The agricultural culture of each region is linked to traditions and worship, and many festivals also pertain to farmers. The hope for abundant rain, good crop, and lots of water inspire music. This is especially true of the harvest season, when, for example, women go into cotton fields after the crop has bloomed to pick it (nindan).

Songs are also written when there is rainfall during a particular nakshatra. During the mruga nakshatra, if the insect associated with this nakshatra enters the house, people apply kum-kum on it, pray and sing songs. In the villages, this insect is considered a good omen — a sign of monsoon — which makes farmers happy. It also denotes the time when farmers start preparing for the sowing season.

The language of the music changes across regions, but the folk music and the idea of the commmunity remains the same. Many people are needed to run a farm – blacksmiths, carpenters, the men who drive the bullock carts for ploughing — and they are all part of one community. Monsoon folk music thus focuses on different professions.

But what do the women sing? Songs written and sung by women speak of tasks like cleaning the garden, the sheds and the verandah for when the tired bulls and cows will come home from the farm. 'Perni karun yeil gharana' talks about how the cattle will need plenty of water and a clean place to rest. Small children sing ‘badbad gite’ (quite literally, songs which can be blabbered) like ‘Ye re ye re pavsa, ye ga ye ga saari’.

Lavni, a flexible genre of music that speaks of a variety of subjects, also has songs on the rain, such as 'Raya mala pavsaat neu naka' (Oh dear one, do not take me into the rains).

All of these are traditional songs, but many contemporary singers have also performed songs about farmers and the monsoon. Classical artists then went on to organise baithaks of these songs because of their significance to the farmer community.

In the context of the rain, a potent relationship between prakriti (Shakti) and purusha (Shiva) was developed. While prakriti is the stree — the land — the purusha is the one whose abode is this land, who stays on the land and works on it. One of the important festivals celebrated during the rains is Nagapanchami. Women celebrate the relationship between the prakriti and purusha and worship the varool (the hill/mound of land) in this season.

The rain has also been a theme in songs about reform. For instance, when Ambedkar started the movement for the abolition of caste discrimination, Vamandada Kardak wrote a song called 'Toofanatle Dive' (the lights in the storm). He drew from the idea that rain is always preceded by a storm to speak about how Dalits would brave the storm and work towards their goal to bring about reform.

In spite of living in cities and towns where the culture has changed considerably, people continue to sing folk songs meant for the monsoon, because the tradition continues to live on and be passed on across generations.

— As told to Aishwarya Sahasrabudhe