Mumbaiwale: Magic, human bones and dry spells for wet days
Because you all loved the last Mumbaiwale column, about dreams and how we interpreted them a century ago. And because we all expected the skies to let up by now. I thought it might be nice to revisit RE Enthoven’s 1924 book The Folklore of Bombay and share bits from his chapter on rain-related rituals. There are tips on what to do to get more rain, of course. But also what to do to tell the clouds you’ve had enough, and you’d like sunshine, for a change. I haven’t tried any of these, I’ll admit. But given that we’ve had months of damp, I’m sure I’m not the only one tempted. Here goes.
The Kunbis ask a person born in the month of Jayesht (May-June) to fetch some rain-water in a yam leaf, and this is fastened to the eaves of thatched houses by string.
Villagers also sometimes ask a boy to take off his clothes and catch rain-water in yam leaves. The leaves containing the water are then tied to the eaves of the house. Some people also ask naked boys to throw burning coals into the rain-water.
Similarly, to ensure favourable rain, a festival is observed on an auspicious day. All agricultural work is stopped and sweet balls called ‘megh’ are eaten.
In Gujarat, for the most part, the people seem to be unacquainted with the belief that certain stones possess the virtue of influencing the rain. There is also a common belief that marble, if heated, has influence over rain.
There is a tradition that the well-known saint Narsinha Mehta once sang a tune on the occasion of the celebration of the first pregnancy of his daughter, and the performance was immediately followed by a shower of rain. Rain which is brought down in this manner can be put a stop to by singing to a different tune.
To stop an incessant fall of rain, people often observe the Aladra vow. The headman issues a proclamation that on a particular day no one should cook, churn whey, fetch water, wash clothes, or attend to any household duties. All should pass the day in prayer. Food must be prepared on the previous day. If the rains do not cease in spite of this vow, the headman leads a procession to the confines of the village and makes an offering to the waters.
This one is my favourite. You won’t forget it in a hurry either. In some places a spinning-wheel, sometimes specially constructed of human bones, is turned by a naked person in the reverse direction to the usual one, to stop the rain.
Some communities protect their betel leaf plantations from too much rain by sprinkling blood from their little finger along the boundary line of the fields.
In some places people call on magicians to keep the rainclouds away. Farmers sometimes brand the rain by casting burning sparks upon it.
To stop a shower, a hood made of leaves is kept in the rain upside down, the boughts of a special tree are placed at a four-way crossroad and stones are heaped over them. Naked boys are told to beat the eaves of thatched homes.
Rain during the Ashlesha and Magha constellations is destructive to crops, and is a sign of the wrath of Indra, who should be appeased with sacrificial offerings.