Ever imagined carrying a pot filled with red-hot charcoals inside your dressing? Sounds risky, but this is what Kashmiris do to fight off freezing winters. Kangri – a Kashmiri equivalent of Spain’s brazier – has been in use in the disputed Himalayan state since centuries.
Kangri, formerly called Kanger, is a pot filled with red-hot charcoals which Kashmiris carry inside their traditional long, flowing robes, called phiren, to keep them warm in chilly winters. If not in phiren, then Kangri is carried inside blankets.
About 6 inches in diameter, Kangri heats up, at times, to 150 °F (66 °C).
Kashmiris say it’s an effective and economical heating arrangement.
“It’s much cheaper than oil-, gas-, and wood-fired heaters. All you need is 250 grams of charcoal to ignite Kangri,” says 64-year-old Wazir Muhammad Mughal, a Mirpur-based migrant from Srinagar, the summer capital of Indian-administered Kashmir.
Mughal, a broadcaster by profession, says that Kangri can also be kept in the bed under the quilt or blanket. “But for those who have never used Kangri, carrying it inside phiren can be risky,” he says.
According to Mughal, the use of Kangri has declined since the beginning of the struggle against the Indian rule by Kashmiri people. “This is because Kangri restricts your movement and allows you to use only one hand,” he adds. Other than that, phiren-wearing is discouraged at public and private offices, resulting in the decline in Kangri use.
But Fahed Iqbal Durrani, a young man from the Indian side of Kashmir, says that this portable heater is still popular among the Kashmiris.
“At present, at least 50 per cent of the people in Kashmir Valley use Kangri. It is also used in Kishtawar and Baderhwah, in Jammu region, and Leh and Kargil, in Ladakh region,” he says.
Durrani claims that Kangri is also in use in parts of Azad Kashmir and Gilgit-Baltistan region, including Neelam, Leepa and Rawalakot valleys, Poonch and Skardu.
Historian Waseem Khalid says Kangri is synonymous with winter. “For us winter means Kangri. When temperatures dip to sub zero, we fill our Kangris with burning charcoal and use it inside our phirens,” says Khalid, who lives in Srinagar’s Mehtab Bagh neighbourhood. “The thing I like about Kangri is its portability. You can take it anywhere”.
Sale of Kangri
With the onset of winter, Kangri’s demand shoots up. “It’s not expensive – average Kangris cost 80 Indian rupees apiece. And they’re sold like hot cakes in winter,” says Shabir Ahmad, the owner of a Kangri shop in the Batamaloo area of Srinagar.
However, Ahmad adds, “Profusely ornamented Kangris, mostly made of an earthen pot and twigs, are expensive – and only well-off people can buy them.”
Kangri has become a popular handicraft. Besides heating purposes, Kangri is also used as a decoration piece in drawing rooms. “Its colours, innovative designs and artwork attract tourists,” says Ahmad.
Although Kangris are made across Kashmir Valley, artisans in some areas specialise in Kangri-making. The Kangris of Chrar Sharif and Bandipore are popular across the state.
Potters make the earthen pots and then sell them to artisans who, then, embellish them with twig baskets. The baskets are aesthetically decorated with colourful threads, mirror-work and sequins. It’s believed that Kashmiris learnt the use of Kangri from Italians, who were in the retinue of Mughal emperors. In Italy and Spain, Scaldinos (a device akin to Kangri) and braziers were made in a great variety of shapes. However, there is no documentary proof to substantiate this claim.
Published in The Express Tribune, January 24th, 2012.