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Isheeta Sharma

The night, the moon, dark waters with
somewhere in them a wondrous fountain,
the coolth of sandal paste and gems:
all of these, my love, are ways
for people to enjoy the summer.

Ritusamharam: A Gathering of Seasons
Kalidasa (Trans. A.N.D. Haksar)

With the arrival of the full Moon on June 5 the first month of Grishma rtu comes to an end and the second month - Ashadha - begins on June 6. In Ashadha the heat reaches its peak. 

The hot, blazing Sun is relentless and its ferocity inescapable. We yearn for the little but delightful moments of relief – a tall, cooling glass of tart Nimbu Paani or the indescribable sweetness of a ripe Mango. And the long, languid, shaded afternoons of Grishma when the shroud of heat lulls us all towards a dreamy idleness. 

The intensity of Grishma has inspired many poets and writers. In the classical poetry of the subcontinent, this heat has been described as one that leaves the animals parched, frightens the birds, dries up the rivers and can make the forest look like “a fearful sight with water diminished everywhere in the heat of a glaring sun”. But in this season of fierce heat there is also the beautiful relief of the Moon. Poets have described Moonlit summer nights on cool terraces. Lovers embrace each other in the fragrance of the night-blooming Jasmine. And women who smear Sandalwood paste on their breasts to keep their bodies cool. 

Grishma rtu has also inspired musicians. In the Ragamala of classical Indian music a Raga (melodic framework) is ascribed to every Season.

Raga Deepak is the classical composition of Grishma. Speaking of intense heat and fire, this raga is rarely ever performed. An anecdotal story about Raga Deepak associates it with Tansen, the famous singer of Akbar’s court. 

Tansen’s music was so soothing and his voice so melodious that he was always adored by Akbar. Akbar’s admiration for Tansen was, however, not easily digested by all, especially Tansen’s fellow courtiers. Resenting Tansen’s popularity they hatched a clever plan to ruin his reputation. The courtiers got together and urged Akbar to make Tansen sing Raga Deepak, for who else could sing such a powerful raga other than Akbar’s favourite? It was believed that when sung correctly, Raga Deepak was so potent that it could not just light the lamps in the court but also burn the singer himself. Tansen knew the dangers of singing Raga Deepak but he also could not refuse the King. So, he accepted Akbar’s request but asked for some time to prepare for his performance. 

Tansen knew exactly what the courtiers had in mind so he created a contingency. While he himself prepared to sing Raga Deepak he had his two daughters practice as well.

Deepak Raga: Folio from a Ragamala Series (Garland of Musical Modes). Ink and opaque watercolor on paper. 1630-40

The day of the performance arrived. Tansen began singing. The crowd waited with bated breath. The air began to get warmer and warmer, until everyone in the court was sweating profusely. Leaves dried up and fell off the branches, water in the fountains started to evaporate… and then the lamps came to life, blazing fire. 

And immediately his daughters started singing Raga Megh, the raga that sings of the life-giving waters of the Monsoon and invites the clouds to bring forth rains. The clouds arrived and began to rain and so Tansen’s life was saved. 

Whether it is true or not, is perhaps not the point of the legend. This story is perhaps a testament to both, the power of music and the characteristic intensities of each season of the subcontinent. But as a legend, this story in turn inspired painters. And so came the typical composition known as Raga Deepak. It depicts a man and a woman, sitting in a room where small earthen lamps are lit, while they listen to a musician perform. A line of poetry, associated with Raga Deepak, is sometimes included: 

“Darkness covered the lady’s chamber till Deepak entered, lord of the dazzling rays, she covered her face bashful and timid, he abandons his heart and is conquered.”

The flame of the deepak is akin to a miniature Sun. It illuminates the darkness and enchants our hearts. But when left unguarded it can also burn and destroy.

While the Sun dazzles with his intensity in Grishma rtu, the Moon also offers its cooling relief in all its phases. The next Ekadashi fast - Yogini Ekadashi - arrives on June 17. The ideal time to break the Yogini Ekadashi fast will be on June 18 from 5:30 a.m. to 8:13 a.m. Observing a fast on this day is a way to cleanse your mind and body of negative thoughts and the stress that we often feel in our daily lives and especially in this chaotic time.

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