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Chapter 8 - Weather forecasting

History of indigenous rain making
ITK for weather prediction
Social and cultural beliefs

Weather is certainly the most important factor determining the success or the failure of agricultural enterprises. It manifests itself through its effects on soil, plant growth as well as on every phase of animal growth and development. A greater proportion of the total annual crop loss results from aberrant weather. Also crop and animal disease are greatly influenced by weather. In all, weather accounts for approximately three fourth of the annual loss in farm production both directly and indirectly.

However, the crop losses can be reduced substantially by affecting adjustments through timely and accurate weather forecasts. Such weather forcast support and also provides guidelines for long range or seasonal planning and selection of crops best suited to the anticipated climatic conditions.

Weather forecasts for agriculture can be grouped into short range forecast (up to 48 hours), medium range forecast (3-10 days) and long range forecast (one week to entire season). Each plays an important role in farm operations and planning of agricultural activities. Most important efforts since time immemorial have been on rain making and weather for casting. Some of the indigenous practices are recorded here.

History of indigenous rain making

From the food gathering stage to the last quarter of the twentieth century, man's need for water has been increasing. However, the unpredictable nature of rainfall has not changed. Adequate availability of water through rainfall has, therefore, always been the major worry of man, leaving him susceptible to any activity that could bring rain. Just as present day heads of government are concerned and incorporate plans for the adequate supply of water for their people, similarly primitive tribal chiefs were also responsible for bringing rain to their people. Like the politicians of today, the tribal chiefs, delegated the responsibility of rain making to someone else, obviously as a hedge against failure. If there was no rain, it was the luckless assistant who was punished rather than the chief.

The early rainmakers, fore-runners of the present day meteorologists, were perhaps among the most intelligent of the primitive men who had to guess the scientific reasons for the phenomenon of rain and the fact that these gentlemen often succeeded in duping their chiefs to preserve their own lives is in it self a tribute to their intelligence. Again, it was these very people who set the stage 'for scientific enquiry into the causes of weather and rainfall.

Magic and rain making

During the intermediate stage i.e. between magic and science, religion and pseudoscience gained importance in rain making. Initial attempts for making rain started with magic. At different times, in different countries, rain makers have performed strange ceremonies like invoking the spirits of the dead, mock ploughing, even hurling curses at the Gods.

The pioneer rain makers were magicians who used imitation, appeal, supplication and even intimidation as approaches to make rain. They sprinkled water on soil, hoping the heavens would do the same. They beat drums, used to imitating thunder, used firebrands to simulate lightening and blew mouthfuls of water into the air like rain. Women poured water on soil, hoping the heavens world do the same. Water was blown into the air through special pipes, and blood was spindled on the soil to bring rain. Bathing in rivers, even ploughing rivers was resorted to in attempts to bring rain. Frogs were hung from trees to induce the heavens to make it rain over them.

When imitation failed, magicians often turned to supplication. Children were hurried neck deep in the soil to cry for rain, shedding tears to imitate rain. Where supplication too failed, intimidation was resorted to. Magicians would run in various directions flailing at the sky with a stick or sword, commanding for it to rain. Even today, in many parts of the world rain making is practised though there are many variations to this weather magic.

Religion in rain making

It is difficult to mention the exact time when the rain makers turned from magic to the Gods. Imitative magic gave way to supplication, a sympathy inducing approach directed, not towards clouds and the heavens, but towards Gods representing these phenomena. During the earlier stages, tribal chiefs or appointed rain makers were regarded as the source of rain. This respect subsequently shifted to the dead. Thus supplications were first directed at the tomb of a departed ancestor. Men prayed for rain to the dead and then to the Gods. Praying for rain is firmly routed in Indian culture even today.

It was believed that prayer itself could bring rain. But as an insurance, non living gifts were presented to the rain God during the prayers.

In the temperate Himalayas, people sing the traditional song Singaitoo up to mid night during the prolonged hot dry summer. They then organise a feast (Havan) from the collections made, in honour of Khawaja God. People claim that in this way the rain Gods are appeased and within 2-3 days of the feast rainfall is assured. A similar type of feast (varisty Puja.) is organised by villagers collectively during summers in the event of a long dry spell in Punjab. All cry for rain and the children sing a song. The essence of the song is:

"When God listen to children's voices there is rainfall"

In the next stage of its evolution rain making was centered around the bestowing of gifts trough sacrificial offerings. Initially these were in the form of live human sacrifices, and subsequently involved animals. Intimidation was also a important tool in religious practice. In China, huge paper dragons, were part of religious festivals and when the rains failed, these dragons were angrily torn apart. In several European countries statues of saints were uprooted and made to stand on their heads when prayers before them failed to bring rain. As late as 1893, Italians, affected by long periods of drought, banished statues of saints from their country. On occasion the statues were chained and their wings were clipped off, when the rains failed. Among other religious attempts to change the weather, one prevalent in Europe was to erect bells and crosses to protect the vineyards. The bells were thought to prevent hails, lightening and windstorm. When the Gods failed to bring rain trough prayer or intimidation neighbors were approached. In Bengal when the end of the drought was not in sight, people threw filth on the homes of their neighbors who in turn abused them; this was considered auspicious for rainfall.

In the Shahpur district of Pakistan, people would throw a pot of filth on the threshold of a notorious old shrew of the area during a drought. This, not surprisingly, resulted in a fluent stream of foul language which accelerated the onset of rain.

Pseudo-science and rain making

When-magic and religion become a natural truth then it can be considered a pseudo-science or sometimes even science may be applicable to the natural truth. One of the observations of a natural truth was the occurrence of rainfall after the great battle was over.

The religious explanation behind this coincidence was that the Gods were offended by the carnage and had sent the rain to purge the land of blood. The materialistic answer for this coincidence was different. Rain was simply the condensation of the blood, sweat and tears of the warriors. There were other theories also. One was that noise might have caused the rain - the great inferno of blazing guns and screams produced the rain. All these theories, however, were later on demolished. Battles are fought generally in good weather in wet regions and when the battles are over, it was generally the time for the onset of rain. People observed that rain induces lightening and thunder rather than vice versa. An American argument in favour of smoke noise theory was the rainfall in the 4th of July and it was argued that fireworks did it. In fact this was, and is, the peak of the rainy season in the USA.

In 1880, a patent was issued in the USA for using balloons loaded with explosive for rain making because the explosion theory/belief held sway for a considerable time. Powdered lime was used to stop rain in certain areas and other chemicals were used to induce rain. In 1899, meteorologist Aitken discovered condensation nuclei particles to explain the phenomenon of condensation. So then these nuclei were added to induce rain.

The nuclei used was dust, if this did not work sulphuric acid was used which produced bubbles that flew into the air. The explanation putforth for this experimentation was that chemical action produced hydrogen which being lighter rose high in the atmosphere and in doing so created currents that carried moisture for condensation. In later years, however, the actual facts discredited this explanation or claim. To date there is no successful method of rain making, hence means of adjustment to the cycle of rain were and are indeed important.

ITK for weather prediction

Out of various the factors which control agricultural production, weather is the only factor over which man has no control and hence it has an overwhelming dominance over the success or failure of agricultural enterprise. It is an accepted fact that food production is inextricably linked with climate and weather. It is also reported that weather induced variability of food production is more than 10 per cent. This variability can be as high as 50 per cent of the normal production in respect of smaller areas situated in arid and semi-arid regions. In order to reduce risks of loss in food production due to the vagaries of weather, weather per se, should be taken into account as one of the major inputs in agricultural planning. That is why forecast of weather parameters play a vital role in agricultural production. It also aids in minimize crop losses to a considerable extent. Thus development and refinement of the art of weather prediction has been essential since time immemorial.

In present times we have many improved technologies for making weather forecasts as well as for their dissemination. Previously when there was no such technology available farmers based their prediction on many natural, cultural and social phenomena. Some of these are discussed below:

Visible spectrum around the sun and the moon

People predicted weather after observing the visible spectrum around the sun or moon. If the spectrum around the sun had a greater diameter than that around the moon, they predicted rainfall after a day or two.

Some people based their weather prediction on the nature of the solar halo, specifically: "if the spectrum around the sun has a larger diameter then rainfall is assured.

All the photometers are a luminous phenomenon produced by the reflection, refraction, diffraction or interference of light from the sun or moon. The visible spectrum of light around the sun or moon is called halo, or carona according to its distance from the sun or moon. If the distance is more then it is called the halo phenomenon, which is caused by a layer of thin veil of cirrus clouds i.e. non rain bearing clouds. But if the distance is less, it is called corona phenomena produced by somewhat dense clouds which may cause rainfall. The accuracy of this indigenous observation can be as high as 50 per cent

Cloud and wind direction

If there is an accumulation of clouds in the South-East direction in a layered form accompanied by winds blowing from the southern direction then it is claimed that there will be rainfall within a day or two.

Weather prediction through birds and other animals

Farmers also predict weather by observing closely the different activities of various birds, animals etc. The following are some indigenous beliefs:

- It is believed that on a hot summer day the cry of the bird called "Nialu" () for water brings rainfall

- During the rainy season farmers observe the "Matilari" bird (House swift) and they predict heavy rainfall if the bird flies high in the sky

- If the Maina () bird bathes in the water it indicates that there will be rainfall within one or two days

- During long hot days in summer if the cry of theapiha bird is heard then people believe that God will quench her thirst and there will be rainfall after one or two days.

- A group of sparrows frolicking in the sand indicates that there will be rainfall that day or the next day and if they are observed to be playing in water then it is believed that the weather will be dry for some days to come.

- If the "Jonks" (Leechs) are immobile/stationary at the water surface (Pond) then dry weather is predicted but if they move rapidly in the upward and downward direction in water then rainfall is predicted.

- If the "Tatihari" bird (Lapwing) lays her eggs on the higher portion of the field then heavy rainfall is predicted during the coming rainy season but if the eggs are laid in the lower portion of the field then a drought is predicted. These birds never construct a nest but lay their eggs on bare soil.

Further it is also believed that if a single egg is laid, then there will be rainfall only for one month out of four months of the rainy season. If two eggs are laid then rainfall will occur for two months and similarly four eggs indicate there will be rainfall during all the four months of the rainy season.

- If there is a swelling on the lower portion of the camel's legs then rainfall is predicted by the farmers. The swellings are probably caused due to higher relative humidity.

- If the "Tillbohara" (Dragon fly), which appears generally in the rainy season, are observed to swarm in a large group over a water surface (Pond) then dry weather is predicted but if they swarm over open dry lands or fields then early rainfall is predicted by the farmers.

- If the colour of the clouds is similar to the colour of the wings of the Titar bird (Partridge) i.e. grey or black-grey and strong eastern winds are also blowing then assured rainfall is predicted by the farmers. The clouds of a colour similar to that of the said bird are rain bearing clouds i.e. of cumulonimbus type.

- If centipedes emerge from their holes carrying their eggs in swarms in order to shift them to safer places (within the house) then farmers predict early rainfall The centipedes do this so as to avoid egg damage which can be caused by rain water.

- When spider nets are plentiful on grasses, sticks of tomato crop and on trench bean crop then it is estimated that the rainy season is over.

Social and cultural beliefs

Many cultural, social and religious beliefs and activities superstitious pertaining to the prediction of future weather prevail since generations. From time immemorial farmers have predicted the weather on the basis of these beliefs/activities. The following are some examples from the western Himalayana region.

- If the first 10-15 of the month "Jeth" (May-June) are very hot then good rainfall/monsoon is predicted during the ensuing rainy season. This results probably from the low pressure zone in north-west India that is generated due to the high temperatures.

- The Soolini Mela (Festival) is organised in Solan, during the month of June every year. People of this area firmly believe that rainfall will occur on the very day of the festival or one day before or day after the festival

- It is also believed, that when grey coloured clouds descend below the hill tops then they definitely cause rainfall.

- If the "Khejri" tree bears good fruit in a particular year then farmers predict good rainfall during the next rainy season and vice versa less rain is predicted in the event of a poor fruit crop.

- If the Chakkala-Belan, (rolling pin and board), used in the Kitchen, show moisture on them then within few days rainfall is expected.

- In villages elderly farmers usually carry a small bag for "Tambaku" (Tobacco) for Hukka (Smoking device). When this bag shows more moisture in the Tambakku then farmers predict rainfall within one or two days.

Some Folk-lore Regarding Weather Forecasting

The folk-lore of the popular poet Gag and his wife Bhahdari, who lived during the 17th century, regarding weather forecasting are still very popular in northern India. Some are given as under:

"When strong eastern winds blow continuously then it is estimated that the rainy season has come"

- When days are very hot and there is dew at night, then according to Gag, there are very limited chances of rainfall.

- When cloudy days are accompanied by clear nights and the eastern winds blow somewhat strongly, then according to Gag no rainfall is predicted. Thus there is accompanied by a shortage of water in ponds, rivers etc. Consequently clothes are washed using water from wells.

- When a rainbow is formed in the direction of Bengal then there will be rainfall, if not by the evening then definitely by next morning.

- During the rainy season, if a cloud appears on Friday and Saturday then rainfall is predicted either for Sunday or Monday.

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