In the middle latitudes of the globe, the year gets neatly divided into four seasons, each of 3-month duration: spring (March-May), summer (June-August), autumn (September-November) and winter (December-February). In India, the southwest and northeast monsoons dominate the march of the seasons and disturb this regular cycle. Indian meteorologists prefer to divide the year in a different manner: summer (March-May), monsoon (June-September), post-monsoon (October-November) and winter (December-February).

In the traditional Indian calendar, however, there are six seasons, each of 2-month duration: Basant (Chaitra-Baisakh), Greeshma (Jyaistha-Asadha), Varsha (Sravana-Bhadra), Sharad (Aswina-Kartika), Hemant (Agrahayana-Pausa) and Shishir (Magha-Phalguna). As a rough approximation these are equivalent to: spring (March-May), summer (May-July), monsoon (July-September), post-monsoon (September-November), autumn (November-January) and winter (January-March).

Life in India keeps on adjusting itself to the changing seasons. Farming practices, religious festivals, school timetables, cultural traditions, food, dance, music, are all tuned to this Ritu-Chakra. A unique feature of Indian classical music is the relationship of the ragas with specific times of the day and different seasons of the year which are conducive in bringing out their true essence. For each Ritu, there is a distinctive Raga or a family of Ragas: Basant (Basant, Bahar, Hindol), Greeshma (Deepak), Varsha (Megh, Malhar), Sharad (Malkauns), Hemant (Hemant, Shree), Shishir (Bhairav).

The soul of the monsoon’s music is the raga Malhar which captures the range of its moods and emotions, from the solemnity of the grey skies to the playfulness of the raindrops, from joy to sadness. The members of the Malhar family are Shuddha Malhar, Megh, Megh Malhar, Miyan ki Malhar, Gaud Malhar and Ramdasi Malhar.

The monsoon is the season for rejoicing. The clouds gather over the horizon, the sky becomes a grey overcast, showers quench the thirst of the parched earth, crops get sown, fields bloom and there is music in the air. It is the time for romance, the time to sing and swing, dance and celebrate. But for some lonesome lovers it is a time of agony as they long for each other’s company, and cannot bear the pain of separation. Many of the monsoon songs are addressed to the dark clouds, seeking their solace at this time of loneliness. Some songs beseech the clouds to change course and rain over the land of the beloved.

Many popular Hindi film songs have been based on raga Malhar or its variants. There was a Hindi film named “Malhar”, released in 1951, with its entire music weaved around this raga by Roshan. But perhaps the most popular film song in this genre is the modern classic, “Bole re papeehara”, from the film “Guddi” of 1971, written by Gulzar and set to the authentic notes of Miyan ki Malhar by music director Vasant Desai:

Bole re papeehara, papeehara/nit ghan barase, nit man pyaasa/nit man pyaasa, nit man tarase/bole re papeehara…

palakon par ek boond sajaaye/baithee hoon saawan le jaaye/jaaye pee ke des mein barase/nit man pyaasa, nit man tarase/bole re papeehara…

saawan jo sandesa laaye/meri aankh se moti paaye/jaan mile babul ke ghar se/nit man pyaasa, nit man tarase/bole re papeehara…

The singer was Vani Jayram, who received several awards including the prestigious Tansen award for this song. The song was picturised on Jaya Bhaduri, who had made her debut in the title role of Guddi. The film, directed by Hrishikesh Mukherjee, was about a schoolgirl obsessed with an actor, Dharmendra, who himself played the role.