Few days before I happened to visit Kulgam town in view of some work. While purchasing a newspaper I also sighted the children’s magazine “Bachon Ki Duniya” among the stalls of the books and newspapers. I buy it every month and the special thing about its January 2022 issue was its opening write-up from Noor Shah sahib the distinguished writer and a legendary Urdu fiction writer of the Valley. The theme of his write-up was Kashmiri Chinar and Kashmiri Kangri. In his composed article Noor Shah sahib has weaved an interesting and well researched story about Kashmiri Chinar and Kangri. After going through the write-up of this great son of soil, I not only entertained to much extent but also felt the need to compose a similar piece in English.
As we all know that with the onset of winter in Kashmir each year we are bound to be fully prepared to face the winter challenges and to seek the respite from the biting cold of Chillia Kalan. Freezing of main water pipes and home faucets, disruption of power supplies and the blocking of roads due to moderate and sometimes heavy snowfall pose a great threat and trouble to Vallities. In these tough and testing times an article of very much importance which comes to our rescue and gives us a great respite from the shivering chill is the Kangri or firepot.
The Kangri is a cheap and portable heat source used by Kashmiri people to stave off the cold in winter. Made of two parts, the Kangri consists of an earthen pot filled with embers and its wicker encasement including two arms to handle the hot pot with care. The heat generated by the embers can reach to enough level to keep the bodies warm and the heat generated can last for up to 9 hours along with the fire from charcoal. To harness as much of this heat as possible the Kangri is traditionally carried under ones phiren, the Kashmiri cloak, or blanket. It is a popular source of heating as it is inexpensive and portable. There are everyday Kangris, such as the one featured, and special Kangris, such as the bridal Maharani (queen) Kangri. These special examples, not represented in the collection, come with different colours and ornamentation and are used in festivals and rituals.
The Kangri has a significant place in the culture and heritage of Kashmir. While some believe that the Kangri was adapted from a similar utensil, the scaldino, in use in Italy during the period of the Mughal Empire, 1526-1757. There is archival evidence of Kangri use even earlier than 1526.
The revered Sufi Saint, Sheikh Noor-ud-Din Wali who lived from 1377-1440, made note of the deep relationship between Kashmiris and the Kangri. Among his most prized possessions was his own Charari Kangri, included in the possessions. The use of Kangris is embedded into everyday Kashmiri life and they are central to important rituals that celebrate Kashmiri culture.
Kangri occupies a treasured place in the Kashmir community. Specific to the Kashmir region, Kangri has bestowed a unique and special identity to the people dwelling in the region.
The Kangri is a beautiful example of the way in which objects can influence and construct social identity and meaning. It is held dearly by the community and continues to be a powerful symbol of what it means to be Kashmiri. Poets, writers and saints of both local and non-local origin have composed odes and poems to this unique and priceless gift which Vallities have been using since ages during winter period to kill the biting cold.
There are many specific areas and places famous and popular for Kangri manufacturing. Kangri of Bandipora, Kangri of Anantnag and Kangri of Charari Shareef are the unique examples. In south Kashmir certain habitations e.g. Okay, Gundipora and Seer Hamadan are famous for Kangri making. A well proportion of population of these villages is associated with this skill and their livelihood is directly linked with it. Strength and rate of this precious gift depends mainly on the quality of material used and the efforts put to synthesize it.
However it’s reckless use can be highly disastrous. On slippery surfaces of ice and snow during freezing conditions whenever we venture out along with Kangri inside our attires it not only leaves us bone fractured but also burns our skin surfaces. During winters in valley frequency of such incidents increases with each passing day. Our lone bone and joint hospital of Barzulla area of Srinagar witnesses heavy rush of such patients during the chill season. I remember the year 2012 when my brother in-law who was posted in Police Station Doru Anantnag, accidentally got fracture in his lower limb due to slippery road conditions when a police party he was part of had gone to investigate a case in a far-flung area to where they had moved on foot. In that year maximum number of such incidents were reported in view of highly freezing conditions which lasted for more than two months. Sometime during bed time also whenever we put the Kangri in our blankets or quilts and forget to take it out, it is likely to be more dangerous. So many such incidents have happened in the past and even few are happening today as well when both people, beddings and houses have been gutted only due to careless use of Kangri. In my childhood I also have become the victim of such incidents.
So Kangri is our best companion during the winter times which helps us in warming our shivering bodies during testing times when all other sources and equipments fail to mitigate our problems and sufferings. But need of the hour is to take extra care and vigil while using this unique and priceless gift endemic to Kashmir.