While taking a stroll on the banks of Jhelum River and soaking in the beauty of the stunning place during the harsh winters you can feel the severity of the cold.
The valley of Kashmir is cold; a bone-chilling temperature with the wind chill, when woolen and thermal wears are not enough. Have you ever imagined how do we beat such extreme conditions? Well, we have our own moving heater – the Kangri, our Cultural Way of Fighting the Cold.
The one thing that will surprise a first-time visitor to Kashmir during the winter season is to find people carrying fire in their hands or in their laps. Yes, we carry red-hot charcoal filled in an earthen pot inside our dress. Amazed? It might sound dangerous but don’t worry every Kashmiri knows how to handle the apparatus with care.
“What Laila was on Majnun’s bosom, so is the kanger to a Kashmiri’.
This is an infamous Kashmiri proverb that easily sums up the relationship between a Kashmiri and the kanger. The term Kangri is used by Kashmiri localities.
A thing you cannot unsee in Kashmir during winter is Kashmiri’s walking with their hands hidden under their voluminous Kashmiri cloak, the phiran. The fact that a kangri which is beneath their traditional dress is helping them keep the chill at bay has fascinated travelers too.
The Kangri is an ancient cheap and portable heat source that’s keeping Kashmiris survive the biting 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,”
How does a Kangri work?
The kangri is a clay pot filled with glowing coals and encased in pretty handmade wicker baskets. All you have to do is to fill the koundal (earthen pot encased with wicker) with tsini (charcoal) and embers and take this inexpensive source of warmth everywhere as a personal warmer.
Everybody cannot make a kangri. It needs skill, labour and local craftsmanship. Twigs are collected from deciduous shrubs, scraped and peeled and go through a process of soaking, drying, dying and are finally woven around the bowl-shaped earthenware decorated with colorful thread , mirror-work and sequins to make it look beautiful. A Kangri can cost anywhere between rupees 50 to 3,500 a piece, depending on the work and design.
Besides being used for heating purposes Kangri has become a popular handicraft as well.
Kangri has deep roots in Kashmiri culture and its folklore. Just as a person is first greeted with a glass of water & sweets in other states, a Kashmiri host will greet you with the warmth of a kanger.
In the valley no celebration is complete without the gift of kangri. Be it a marriage, or the beginning of any ceremony, the warm heart of Kashmir, the kangri is there to spread its warmth.
But as the idiom goes by – “A coin has two sides”.
Kangri cancer is atypical to the valley of Kashmir, attributed to the use of Kangri by people of all age groups to warm their bodies. The prolonged use of Kangri may result to Kangri Cancer, a heat-induced skin carcinoma, which is found in the abdomen and inner thighs.
With the increasing winter cold, modern heating equipments sales soar in markets and have started replacing our traditional kangri. The production of Kangris has declined over the years due to increase in availability of alternate heating equipments.