For three days now, the prospect of rain has been taunting us. There have been all the signs of rain – dark clouds, thunder, wind, etc. – but no rain. In addition, it is almost unbearably hot here (though it is hotter by temperature elsewhere, it is hot enough here to be nearly unbearable; perhaps elsewhere it is unbearable). Daily, in the afternoon, the sky becomes tinted gray, the wind picks up, thunder rolls, and people start to pray: Today, oh God, please make it rain; we need it, we can hardly bear the heat any longer.
It is like torture.
I had a flash of insight today as to the reason that there is so much literature dedicated to the performing of rituals concerning rain. I understand now, from the insider’s perspective, why people pray for rain and why entire societies developed rituals, customs, and festivals around praying for rain, appealing to the Rain God for his mercy, and the first rain of the season. I felt the pain, the torture associated with longing for rain in the face of its absence even when it should be here according to the signs. Today I identified with all the people looking up into the sky with such hopeful eyes that it would make any man with even a small sense of empathy cry out to the gods, “Please, please let it rain so these people may be liberated from this heat!”
There is a common perception that rain customs and rituals started because of the obvious effect it has on the growth of crops for the season. But that is too plain and arm’s-length-academic to be true. If it were only for their crops, villagers would not be as desperate as they sound in their prayers. Moreover, it is only the first rain of the monsoon season that holds real weight in their tradition; the rest of the season passes by normally. Why? I believe something a little more holistic is probably the answer. While prayers to the Rain God are valid enough for the sake of crops, consider this as well: If I, a student who stays indoors much of the time, walking to Sringeri and back only once a day (approximately 7 kilometers/1.5 hours total), with relatively good resistance to heat, can feel like the heat is killing me and that I am being tortured by the gods because of the lack of rain, then how must a farmer, who is out in the fields doing physical labor for 10 hours a day in the hot sun with no respite, feel? He looks up into the sky, sees the clouds gathering, feels the wind picking up, hears the thunder, and tears come to his eyes. He thinks to himself: Will I be saved today? Will the Lord be merciful? Is today the day of my deliverance from this suffering? He thinks: My life depends on this.