Thursday, July 11, 2013


                                           ( A Kashmiri  Kangri... Photo Avtar Mota )
             ( Kangri Charcoal sold at Batmaloo, Srinagar .. Photo Avtar Mota )
                        ( Kangri Charcoal being dried in Sun  ..Photo Avtar Mota )


“This is called Kaeri variety of charcoal. This stuff comes from Kathua region of Jammu. You do not get that coal made from Chinar leaves or tiny branches now. Sir,  we have also used tiny timber waste collected from rivers and the band sawdust too as fuel for our Kangris. Now people use electric blowers and gas Bukhari. But this Jammu variety of coal is excellent for the Kangris. It gives good heat and stays longer in the Kangri .Now  everything comes from the plains. All vegetables, Nadroo ( lotus stems ), fish, mutton, medicines, rice, wheat, mustard oil and even apples ( Chinese ). I feel that the day is not far off when we shall also get tap water from Punjab.” said a  Charcoal seller to me in Kashmir. He refused to face the camera.

Kangri or Kangar is a  clay pot filled with embers used by Kashmiris beneath their traditional cloak or Pheran. This clay pot is covered artistically with wicker so that it can be held by hand. Come November and we find markets in Kashmir flooded with Kangris. Special Kangris would come from Anantnag, Tsrar, Kupwara and Pattan. For festivities and rituals, Kangris were colourfully designed. Every Kangri had a ring for keeping a  wooden or iron ladle for making the embers visible by removing the ash. Sometimes, a simple shoehorn was hung on the ring for this purpose. This ladle resembling thing was known as Tchaalan.

 Kangri is used to fight chill and keep the body warm. So many Kashmiris believe that Kangri was brought to Kashmir by Sultan  Zain ul Abdin (Budshah) from Central Asia and it was nowhere in Kashmir till early 15th  century. There is no denial of the fact that this great king brought many things to Kashmir. He introduced: 1) carpet making. 2) papier mache. 3) wood carving. 4) silk weaving. 5) paper making. 6) stone cutting and polishing etc. 7) window cutting. 8) gold beating and many more arts and crafts of Central Asia in Kashmir. He invited competent teachers and craftsmen from Central Asia and made Kashmir a buzzing place for handicrafts presently known the world over. Kashmiris are indebted to this great king for the introduction of many innovative projects one being growing sugarcane in Kashmir especially on Karewas( plateaus ).

Kangri existed before Budshah in Kashmir. I always refer to Kalhana 's work for any clarification on issues concerning Kashmir. Kalhana again came to my rescue. I quote Rajtaringini:-

 "Man's endeavour resembles the embers in the Kangri which some times burn when apparently extinguished and sometimes go out, although kindled, by puffs of air, at the will of fate ."

 ( Eighth Taranga verse  221 Rajtaringini translation by R S Pandit )

According to Prof.Shashi Shekhar Toshakhani, etymology of the  word Kangri is as under:

"Kaashtha + Angaarika means Ka of Kaashtha and Angri from Angaarika makes word Kangri .Both are Sanskrit words"

Kangri is a part of Kashmiri psyche. It also continues to be so with people who are currently living far away from their motherland. I have seen Kangri and Isbandh used in Bangaluru, Gangtok and Delhi by Kashmiris. Kashmiris  burn the fragmented seeds called Isbandh  ( Rue seeds ) in a kangri to welcome friends, guests and relatives to marriages or other auspicious functions. Some elders say that burning Isbandh in a Kangri wards off evil during festivities. Ladies bring out some seeds or Isbandh from a decorated pouch, touch them to the forehead of the guest and put these seeds into the burning charcoal of the Kangri to welcome the guests and wish similar happy functions in their families. The common dialogue heard at this time goes as under:

‘ Poshtaa Chhuyee  ’  meaning  ‘Best Wishes for the function ‘

‘ Vaarkaar yetchhunn tseti.Tseti laeginayee Kaaruss Taar’  meaning  ‘Let god make it happen in your family as well. Let your affairs also get resolved.’

The charcoal inside the Kangri keeps burning slowly beneath a layer of ash and passes on sufficient heat to the body. Kashmiris hold the Kangri inside the Pheran, carry it along to keep the body warm and many are trained to take it inside their quilt while sleeping. Buying Kangri fuel during the winter season or stocking it before the onset of winter season used to be a special task for every householder in Kashmir.  Every family stored a minimum of five or six gunny sacks of Kangri charcoal. Charcoal made from tiny branches known locally as 'Kaath Tsenei' was a preferred variety. One or two gunny sacks of charcoal made from dry Chinar leaves locally called ‘Punn Tseni’  was also stored for winters by many families in Kashmir.
 With the arrival of hot water bottles,  electric blowers, electric blankets and gas Bukharis ( room heating stoves ), the role of Kangri in upper and middle-class families has undergone some change. But it continues to remain the principal device with the common man to fight severe winter season in the valley. 

       ( Kangri with hot embers)
             ( Decorative Kangri)
      ( A  good Kangri )
 ( Chinar tree  leaves bring burnt to make Kangri charcoal.. Photo.Avtar Mota)

I found Kashmiris carrying Kangri to Punjab, UP, Rajasthan, Delhi and some other parts of the country and putting it to use during winters.  Before 1947,  Kashmiri migrants to  Lahore, Amritsar and other cities of Punjab were using Kangri during winters.   In the book ' IQBAL AS I KNEW HIM'  written by Doris Ahmed, there is a beautiful incident relating to Allama Iqbal's family using  Kangri during winters. At page 17 of this book,  Doris Ahmed mentions as under:-

"Allama was very close to his youngest sister Karim Bibi. She was a frequent visitor to Javed Manzil. During winters, a Kangri with charcoal had to be prepared for Karim Bibi. She would also keep it under her Lihaaf (quilt) to warm her bed before sleeping. During the daytime, she would keep the Kangri under her shawl. "

I end this small write up with a mini poem of noted Kurdish poet Sherko Bekas.

 (Burning )

 ‘ Down the steps of fear
Darkness crept into my soul like a thief.
Upon arriving in the core of my heart
 he wanted to reach out for it.
I kindled your love,
 and in it,
I burnt the darkness and the fear.’

( Sherko Bekas )

 ( Avtar Mota )


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