The South Asian Monson (SAM) is one of the most intense climatic elements yet its initiation and variations are not well established. Dating the deposits of SAM wind-driven currents in IODP cores from the Maldives yields an age of 12. 9 Ma indicating an abrupt SAM onset, over a short period of 300 kyrs. This coincided with the Indian Ocean Oxygen Minimum Zone expansion as revealed by geochemical tracers and the onset of upwelling reflected by the sediment's content of particulate organic matter. A weaker proto-monsoon' existed between 12.9 and 25 Ma, as mirrored by the sedimentary signature of dust influx. Abrupt SAM initiation favors a strong influence of climate in addition to the tectonic control, and we propose that the post Miocene Climate Optimum cooling, together with increased continentalization and establishment of the bipolar ocean circulation, i.e. the beginning of the modern world, shifted the monsoon over a threshold towards the modern system.