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Monsoon magic

Rain is also the theme of many a poem and song. Some famous paintings too portray the different moods of rain in its varied forms. Many poets and writers were inspired by the symphony of the rains. This translated into the rendition of beautiful and romantic works. The most beautiful description of monsoon clouds appear in the Sanskrit classic, Meghadoot by Kalidasa around fourth century. The monsoon is used as a metaphor to convey love after separation. The cloud is the messenger.

Chasing the Monsoon by Alexander Frater is about the monsoon rains.

Music of Nature

The raga-centred Indian classical music enables the fullest expression of emotion. Many ragas, such as Megh Malhar in Hindustani and Amritavarshini in Carnatic, are fabled to move even the God. Clouds in the Megha raga series of the famous Ragamala paintings represent either the rains or the turbulent minds of anxious lovers.

The rainy season is the best period for body rejuvenation therapies. The southern Indian state of Kerala is a haven for many tourists from abroad who avail of these traditional therapies. The grandma's formula of karkadaka kanji (gruel mixed with fenugreek) and payar kanji (gruel mixed with green gram) can be served and their benefits explained.

The beauty of rain has always attracted tourists wanting to capture the slanting rain along the rays of the sun. The back-packers who come to Kerala chasing the monsoon can, if they wish watch the rain in its real and natural splendours at the tree houses at Vythiri in Vayanad district, or many other resorts. The experience of monsoon can be very satisfying for the tourist who is in search of nature in its glory.

Monsoons associated with other continental masses of the earth are not well pronounced as the Indian monsoon, though seasonal changes in the direction of the wind are known to occur over North Australia, Western and Eastern Africa and Southern USA. The Northwest winds that tend to blow from the Atlantic Ocean into Europe during June and July are sometimes referred to as European monsoon. The summer monsoon in Southern China is known as the Mei-Yu while in Japan it is called Baiu. It occurs from early June to mid July.

The monsoon is also not the time to sit cooped up at home. It's time to head out to holiday destinations and allow the rains to work their magic. Monsoon brings out the best colours of India, be it at the desert festivals of Rajasthan or the backwaters of Kerala.

Monsoon life

The hip and happening crowd nowadays gets the chance to cavort in the rain at five-star hotels and discotheques that organise rain dances even when the mercury is touching 40 degrees. Such is the hold of the monsoon on our lives.

It also makes the difference between life and death for the farmers. Farm production is heavily dependent on the timely arrival and distribution of rains.

It is not just a downpour. It is the lifeline of a people. With their fortunes heavily dependent on good rains, any delay in its arrival could be disastrous. It could cause indescribable misery to the most powerful and most common. The southwest monsoon accounts for the Asian region's 80 per cent of annual rainfall. A good monsoon is crucial to the region's economic growth. Especially for India, monsoon on time is very important. The country's agriculture sector accounts for a quarter of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and employs about 70 per cent of its population of over one billion.

Monsoon rain generates food, provides labour, and creates cash flow in the market. Bad rain can result in dipping stock market and falling corporate investment. A great deal of India's electricity requirement is generated by hydroelectric power provided by the monsoon rain.

But the progress of the monsoon is keenly followed not just for economic reasons. After a dry spell, lasting for months on end, the parched earth seems to almost cry out for the first drop of rain.

The word, monsoon, is derived from the Arabic word, mausim, which means 'season'. It is used to describe seasonal reversals of wind direction, caused by temperature differences between the land and the sea.

From times immemorial it had set maritime trade in motion; established navigation; made history and changed its course. Cultivation in India has remained dependent on the monsoons down the ages.

Winds of change

Indeed the monsoon is the alternating seasonal wind system used by seamen several centuries ago. For a thousand years the Arabs had relied on this phenomenon called trade winds to sail across the Arabian Sea. It was the wind, not the resultant rain that was called mausim.

Theories about the causes of monsoons vary. Conventionally, scientists have attributed monsoons to thermal changes between the Asian land mass and the ocean. Contemporary theory cites other factors--the barrier of the Himalayas and the sun's northward tilt. The hot air that rises over South Asia during April and May creates low-pressure areas into which the cooler, moisture-laden winds from the Indian Ocean flow. These circumstances set off a rush of damp air from the southern seas over South Asia.

Factors such as El Nino, Coriolis force and the Somali jet stream also have their say in the way the monsoon winds blow.

The monsoon is not specific to the Indian subcontinent. It is known to occur over north Australia, western and eastern Africa and the southern US But they are not as well pronounced as the Indian monsoon.

The southwest monsoon overruns almost the whole of India in a month's time owing to its two branches. After breaking on the southern part of the peninsula in early June, the branch, known as the Arabian Sea arm, blows on to the Western Ghats.

So much rain is dumped there that not much is left for the remaining part of the country. Only the seaward side of the Ghats receive heavy rain after that. This arm finally reaches Mumbai around June 10.

The other branch is known as the Bay of Bengal arm and spreads over most of Assam by the first week of June. The Himalayan ranges act as a barrier and deflect the winds westward along the Indo-Gangetic plain, towards Delhi. Thereafter, the two arms merge as a single current bringing rain to the remaining parts of north India in July.

Signs of Nature

The advent of the monsoon is a phenomenon unto itself. You learn to read the signs in nature. Weeks in advance come small birds calling on the farmer, "be ready... with the spade and the seed." For a day and a half, a pleasant westerly wind blows, the harbinger of the rains, cooling the shore. On the day before the onset of the monsoon, the land is filled with waves of dragonflies and the sunset leaves a fiery-red afterglow.

Dark mountains rise from the sea. You wonder whether they are waves or clouds. The clouds clash with the waves; the horizon disappears behind the inky mass of congregated vapours. Lightning goes zapping into the sea. Peals of thunder roar, ascending and descending, crossing the sky and the sea in towering ships of clouds. The winds go mad. Then, as if the sky were flying downward, comes a luminous, cerulean blue riding, riding, riding... in a chariot of clouds towards the shore. The billowy bosom of the frothy waves heaves up to meet...

Near the coast, the sun and even the red earth seem to give off heat. The stifling air seems to bear down upon one. Listlessness descends upon everything around, man included. One wakes up drenched in sweat. And then, one day, the agonising wait comes to an end. Gusts of wind blow away everything in its path. The swaying palms make loud rustling noises. The idyllic sea becomes a tumultuous mass of water. Thunderclaps and streaks of lightning send everyone scurrying for cover. It becomes dark as night, and then, it pours and pours...

The rains bring life-sustaining sweet water to the subcontinent.


What is a Monsoon?

For centuries, people have tried to understand what causes the Southeast Asian or Indian Ocean monsoon to arrive each June and die down each September. Before the modern era of weather satellites and sophisticated computers, climate scientists had only a basic understanding of how these atmospheric forces collide to make a monsoon.

The Asian monsoon is an important climate system that affects the life of billions of people around the world. Undoubtedly, a better understanding of this mechanism is important.

Monsoon is a term from early Arabs called the "Mausin," or "the season of winds." This was in reference to the seasonally shifting winds in the Indian Ocean and surrounding regions, including the Arabian Sea. These winds blow from the southwest during one half of the year and from the northeast during the other.

There are seasonal changes which are particularly noticed as northeast winds prevailing in the winter in the Southeast Asia and southwest winds in the summer. Monsoons will occur in other parts of the world like Australia and in the Southwest portions of the United States.

Now as monsoons have become better understood, the definition now indicates climatic systems anywhere in which the moisture increases dramatically in the warm season. The Asian monsoon, which affects the Indian subcontinent and southeast part of the Asia, is probably the most noted of the monsoons.

A monsoon seasonal change is characterised by a variety of physical mechanisms which produce strong seasonal winds, a wet summer and a dry winter.

Mechanism of weather

All monsoons share three basic physical mechanisms: Differential heating between the land and oceans; Coriolis forces due to the rotation of the Earth; and the role of water which stores and releases energy as it changes from liquid to vapor and back (latent heat). The combined effect of these three mechanisms produces the monsoon's characteristic reversals of high winds and precipitation. Scientists say that the two key ingredients needed to make a monsoon are a hot land mass and a cooler ocean.

In India, for instance, the land absorbs heat faster from the sun than the surrounding Indian Ocean does. This causes air masses over the land to heat up, expand, and rise. As the air rises, cooler, moister, and heavier air from over the ocean will replace it. Over India, this damp, cool layer can be up to three miles thick. As the cool air arrives, the winds also shift.

During the dry season, the winds blow offshore, from land to sea. Then, as the monsoon begins, the winds blow onshore, from sea to land. In the case of the Indian Ocean Monsoon the first and third mechanisms produce more intense effects than any other place in the world.

Southeast Asian winters are considered to be hot and dry. That is were their name comes from; dry winter monsoons which will occur from September to March. The winds from the northeast during the winter months are dry because they have lost their moisture on the Asian land mass. The cold air from the middle of the continent cannot reach the portion of Southeast Asia. The reason for this is the Himalayas act as a huge wall blocking this cold weather and causing high temperatures.

The dry winters come from the fact that what little moisture that comes towards this area is also blocked by the Himalayas. There is one exception to this area. That would be the tip of the peninsula of India. As the winds blow towards the peninsula they seem to pick up some moisture from the Bay of Bengal. This little tip then receives a majority of its rainfall during these months.
Courtesy : Gulf Today

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