Wednesday, May 30, 2012

In The Eye of The Storm

(Photo: J177839 U.S. Copyright Office)
By Supriya Savkoor

Back when I was expecting my first baby, we had invited relatives over for dinner. It was the middle of the week, a Wednesday, which had started off sunny and fair. By afternoon, the skies had darkened, and before we sat down to eat, there was a tremendous downpour outside.

“You’re having a baby this week,” my aunt smiled, wagging a finger at me.

I froze. How could she say that? I was a good month away from my due date!

“Well, that’s what they used to say in India anyway,” she muttered, taking in my stunned expression. “A superstition. But this superstition always comes true. You'll see.”

The week went by, and I forgot about her prediction. It continued to pour heavily over the next few days, and by Saturday night, I went to bed feeling uneasy. I tossed and turned along with the lightning and thunder, and as soon as it was light outside, I could wait no more.

“Contractions,” my doctor diagnosed when I called her. “Meet me at the hospital right away.”

I barely made it there. My water broke as soon as I arrived, and I spent the next 12 hours listening to the storm rage outside as our newborn made her way into the world. Thankfully, she was healthy, and my exhilaration over this tiny living thing we'd created, was tempered by the mundane chatter among the nurses that day.

“Busy tonight, eh?” one remarked, right after she'd pumped everyone about their weekend plans.

“Because of the rain,” replied another. “Lotta babies tonight.”

“'Cause of the elevated mercury levels in the atmosphere,” my doctor mumbled.

So not just an old wives’ tale then, but an age-old "legend" that happened to be rooted in science. It immediately reminded me of a passing comment my 90-some-year-old, wizened great-grandmother told a 10-year-old me when I'd asked her in which year she was born. 

“I don’t know, but they always told me it was the year of that great flood.”

If you think about it, it’s really no wonder that ancient civilizations such as the ancient Indians in South Asia or the Incans in South America, whom Alli covered yesterday, made such astute observations about the forces of nature. They lived and died by the seasons, made their fortunes (and lost them) based on the success of their crops and harvests, and even wrapped their most important stories in legends about nature’s most powerful forces.

Indra, riding his trademark white elephant,
Airavata. Painting from 18201825,
painter unknown {{PD-1923}}
The Indian rain god I grew up reading about was Indra, the king of all the devas (gods). Indra is also the Hindu god of storms, thunder, rain, and lightning, as well as the god of war. He's the counterpart, you could say, to the Greek god Zeus, the Roman god Jupiter, and the Scandinavian god Thor. Indra is said to have defeated all the other gods to acquire his status as their ruler, including defeating the mighty gods of sun (Surya), oceans (Varuna), fire (Agni), and wind (Vayu). Indra rules the gods from his heavenly abode of Svarga, among the clouds whirling around the mythical Mount Meru. The gods of the elements, including minor storm gods (Indra’s minions), live there, along with all of mankind’s great sages, kings, and warriors who’ve passed on. There, they spend their time watching the apsaras (female cloud spirits) and their husbands, the gandharvas (male nature spirits), dance and sing. No pain, fear, or sadness exists in Svarga, though Indra himself spends much of his time battling the forces of evil, including the asuras (demons), all around the universe, which Indra himself was to said have split up into heaven and earth.

Thus, the belief that morality and the weather went hand in hand prevailed in ancient times. Too much rain or the lack of it altogether was seen as the will of god, the punishment or reward for man’s behavior. So too, with the Vedic law of stars, what we know now as astrology, which came to be associated with morality as well.

Total side note, but according to the Oxford Dictionary, until about 1,000 B.C., Indra was thought to be, in addition to his many other lofty roles, the god of fertility.

Perhaps every time it rains and the maternity wards fill up, it's Indra’s way of showing us how all the forces of nature connect in the great scheme of things. And of humanity's responsibility to serve the greater good and start fresh with each new life. 

Or, well, maybe it's just the extra touch of mercury in the air?


  1. Supriya, I love your story. Did your grandmother ever tell you "I told you so"? :-)

    ... and I wonder if people in other countries have noticed this phenomenon?

    Very interesting!

  2. Fascinating, Supriya. I've never heard this superstition before.

  3. What a great twist on "it was a dark and stormy night..."