Rain Gambling or "barsat ka satta" has they call it in Hindi was introduced to Calcutta public life by the Marwaris sometime in the nineteenth century, either by the 1820s (as Marwaris claimed) or by the 1870s (as the colonial government claimed). Rain gambling was confined to Cotton Street in the heart of Burabazar in northern Calcutta.
During the rain gambling season, corresponding with the monsoon rains, dozens of people all negotiating with the Marwari-financed brokers who handled bets on how much rain would fall during a certain period of time and when. The rain water was collected in the so-called "Calcutta rain gauge ( means "drain"). The term "Calcutta " suggests the pan—North Indian character of the practice, and may allude to its site of origin.
Anti-gambling legislation in British India initially took effect only in the three major cities of the colonial presidencies (Bombay, Calcutta, and Madras) after 1856. Subsequent pieces of legislation expanded the geographical jurisdiction of the law to outlaw gambling within ten miles of any railway station house in the (country stations and districts). But the major problem the British faced in such legislation was crafting a legal definition of gambling.
Marwari practices of "rain gambling" came to the attention of the Bombay Legislative Council several years after the passage of the general Anti-Gambling Act of 1886, when a group of Bombay Marwari rain gamblers took their case to the High Court. The court ruled that gambling on the rainfall did not fall under the scope of the 1886 Act. Rain gambling, the defense had argued, operated on the principles of betting (which was legal),not gambling (which was illegal). The precedent used in the case was the 1889 Bombay High Court case of, which held that rain gambling was a form of betting and not a form of gambling.
In short, the distinction held that gambling required persons to take an active role, whereas betting did not. If it were to be classified as actual illegal "gambling," the so-called rain gambling required a contest and active participation, which could not be proved in persons merely watching the rain fall. Rain gambling was defined as a monsoon event, when bets were placed on the amount of rain that would fall within a three-hour period, a period of time known in Hindi as In order to calculate the precise amount of rain that had fallen, a tank was
fitted with a spout from which the rainwater would overflow once a certain amount had fallen. Rain gambling, the defense argued, was really just a form of betting on a contingent event, without any kind of contest acted out between two persons. The defense argued that it was simply not possible for anyone to take an active role in the event, since rain gambling involved placing a bet, and then just watching and waiting to see if, when, and how much it would rain.
Even though laws had already been passed in England that outlawed wagers, bets, and gaming houses, similar laws had not been passed in India. This was partly because traditional Hindu law had permitted
As existing anti-gambling law could not include rain gambling in its scope. A new act was then proposed that would specifically target rain gambling in Bombay.One of the official reasons for banning rain gambling in Bombay was that the practice had reputedly spread to other communities. The fear that rain gambling networks would now lure non-Marwaris, even poor Europeans, became a sufficient reason to attempt to put it out completely.
The passage of anti-rain gambling legislation in Calcutta did not go unnoticed by Marwari merchants. On the evening of March 25, 1897, a large group of Marwari merchants gathered in what newspapers described as a "monster protest meeting" at the Dalhousie Institute, a well-known Calcutta social club. The purpose of this unusual meeting was to protest the rain gambling bill under consideration by the Bengal Council.
While the 1897 rain gambling act did effectively put an end to large-scale rain gambling operations, other forms of gambling arose in the place of rain gambling, possibly operated by the same brokers and dealers who had managed the gambling on rain. By banning rain gambling and attacking opium-figure gambling as well, the government may have counted on the "native instinct" to gamble to encourage former rain-gamblers to take up gambling on the government opium exchange, thereby increasing the government's revenue.
Despite the immense popularity of gambling and speculation as Marwari pastimes, these activities are seldom acknowledged in Marwari narratives of self-description, such as business, caste, and family histories. People peak generally about the prevalence of speculation but are reluctant to speak about specifics, particularly regarding their own families. Biographical materials on various Marwari families also do not acknowledge,
at least openly, that fortunes were built from gambling and speculation. In fact, family history accounts often attempt to boast that the family's wealth did arise from speculation.