Introduction to Blog

I launched the website and the Blog after having spoken to government officials, political analysts and security experts specializing in South Asian affairs from three continents. The feedback was uniformly consistent. The bottom line is that when Kashmiris are suffering and the world has its own set of priorities, we need to find ways to help each other. We must be realistic, go beyond polemics and demagoguery, and propose innovative ideas that will bring peace, justice and prosperity in all of Jammu and Kashmir.

The author had two reasons to create this blog. First, it was to address the question that was being asked repeatedly, especially, by journalists and other observers in the U.S., U.K., and Canada, inquiring whether the Kashmiri society was concerned about social, cultural and environmental challenges in the valley given that only political upheaval and violence were reported or highlighted by media.

Second, the author has covered the entire spectrum of societal issues and challenges facing Kashmiri people over an 8-year period with the exception of politics given that politics gets all the exposure at the expense of REAL CHALLENGES that will likely result in irreversible degradation in the quality of life and the standard of living for future generations of Kashmiris to come.

The author stopped adding additional material to the Blog once it was felt that most, if not all, concerns, challenges and issues facing the Kashmiri society are cataloged in the Blog. There are over 1900 entries in the Blog and most commentaries include short biographical sketches of authors to bring readers close to the essence of Kashmir. Unfortunately, the 8-year assessment also indicates that neither Kashmiri civil society, nor intellectuals or political leadership have any inclination or enthusiasm in pursuing issues that do not coincide with their vested political agendas. What it means for the future of Kashmiri children and their children is unfathomable. But the evidence is all laid out.

This Blog is a reality check on Kashmir. It is a historical record of how Kashmir lost its way.

Vijay Sazawal, Ph.D.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

The Kangri Unplugged

Majeed describes an unique appliance that neither needs an electrical socket nor batteries

(Dr. Abdul Majeed Kak, 63, was born and in Nowhatta, Srinagar. He received his primary education from the Government Middle School in Nowhatta and his secondary school education from Bagi Dilawar Khan Higher Secondary School in Fateh Kadal. He completed his college education at the Islamia College of Science and Commerce in Srinagar. In 1977 he was the first candidate from the University of Kashmir to be selected by the University Grants Commission (UGC) of the Government of India for a doctoral research scholarship at the university leading to a Ph.D. in Botany in 1980. He is currently the Research Coordinator in the Department of Botany at the Islamia College of Science and Commerce in Srinagar. Dr. Kak has over 35 years of teaching experience and research experience of over 25 years. He has received numerous research awards resulting in publication of 70 research papers and has authored two books on Botany. He is presently engaged in promoting and strengthening local and regional museums, a project supported by a grant from the Ministry of Culture, New Delhi.)

Kangri in Historical Perspective

Winter in Kashmir is severe; nobody can survive without proper heating arrangements. Night temperatures fall much lower than day temperatures, sometimes it goes below zero. People living in deep forests or on top of it,

had to face wind chill, as these areas remain frozen for more than 4-6 months, people are remain cut off from towns and cities because of road blockade due to heavy snowing. So they make proper heating arrangement for their survival. They dump abundance of firewood during summers and burn it to charcoal that is used in individual fire pots. Every member of family has his individual firepot to warm him or herself; this individual firepot is locally called Kangri. Gujjars and Bakerwals residing in dense forests or in upper reaches cannot afford individual firepot, they have a common kiln in their hut or Kotha, where firewood is burning continuously, all family members sit around it to get warmth.

Although coarse weaving of basket and framework of kangri was known to Kashmiris from early times, people used to make good number of wicker items required, in the form of various types of baskets and other daily used items. But first technical institution was established in 1914-16 in Srinagar under the Principalship of Mr. Andrews, an English man, who actually introduced present day English willow (Salix triandra) locally called Kauni. These were cultivated then near the marshes of Bagi dilawar khan, where the first Training Institute was established. This made the basis for many boys that time, who were trained and later they adapted the profession as weavers. After completion of training, they started making all types of weaving work like baskets, boxes, fire pots and other types of wicker items; essentially needed at that time, this way plants were spread and grown in vast areas of Anchar lake lagoons, up to Ganderbal; and Hazratbal areas etc. Even today the maximum basketry weaving is done in these areas. In Jammu also this work is carried out in Badurwah district in Qilla Mohalla and the plant material used is same English willow (Salix triandra).

In Kashmir wicker professionals are called Shaksaz. Who are expert in making all types of wicker items and are the best, intelligent and expert artisans. These are different from Kanuel, who is master in designing and weaving of most elegant, elaborate or ordinary Kangri (firepot) only. He also possesses art of repairing old, worn-out firepots that get deformed and loosened by continuous use. Both artisans live in same area in different districts, are named as Kaneul mohalla or Shaksaz mohalla. We have expert artisans; weaving all items of wicker used in our daily life, presently localized at Hazratbal, Srinagar, very close to Dargah Hazratbal Shrine is famous Shaksaz mohalla, (another locality is in the middle of Anchar Lake with the same name, besides many are scattered here and there individually), where every wicker item is available both for locals as well for visitors. Wicker work in Kashmir is a small scale industry, so wicker items after finishing or polishing, are exported to other states of India or abroad. Twigs and tender branches of many terrestrial perennial bushy weeds are employed in making different types of wicker work growing in different districts and at different altitude, but local Kani are the twigs of Salix triandra a bushy, dwarf plant with 3-4 branches grown in lagoons or marshes of lakes, streams or even in fields with deep drains dug to retain water. Twigs are plucked during the month of June to October; these are peeled, dried and baked, then dyed in various fast colours (mostly in brown colour), then sliced into required thin strips, these are weaved in various basketry work. In case of other basketry and Kangri weaving tender twigs are only peeled by placing them in between two hard cylindrical wooden sticks, then left as such for a day or so, again soaked in water, then dyed in deep colours before weaving.

Ancient Kangri was mere unbaked earthen pot; in which burning charcoal was put to warm body while sitting in home or hut. Wicker weaving was not known at that time. Later man needed firepot to carry along with when to go outside because of pinching cold. He pondered then encased unbaked clay pot outside by rough wicker work with handles. Later it evolved into Manan. That was baked clay pot circular or oval; deep bowl shaped, with a narrow one sided circular mouth and a handle at the top. This was made by potters. It was difficult to handle when smouldering fire was put in it and was very difficult to handle or to keep it close to the naked body.
Later further improvement took place when rough and coarse wicker work was weaved around the Kundal, (an earthen baked bowl). It was comfortable and tolerable to keep it underneath close to the body. Later further improvement took place and present day fire pot was invented which is sophisticated, comfortable easy to handle and carryout along with or to keep close to the body. It is beautiful, cute, well decorated of various designs and shapes.

Single and only one name spoken for the firepot throughout the State is Kangri and I think that the actual name would have been Kani ghar, Kani means tender, dried, baked or unbaked and smooth and cleaned branches of various plants growing in various districts like (Indigofer gerardiana, Paratiopsis jacquomontina, Salix triandra and Cotonester species) and ghar means either a home (a home of branches) and ghar also means to build or to make (made of branches), name has been distorted because of continuous usage.

In some literature it is mentioned that kangri has been introduced from Italy, but that is not fact. Other writers mention that during Mughal invasion of Kashmir, Emperor Akbar emphasized the craft and weaving of kangri took place. Others believe, that the great King Zain-ul-Abidin insisted on use of Kangri and Pheren. But in Rajatanrangni one of the oldest written chronicles of Kashmir by Kalhana (book V, verse 106) there is a mention of Kangri and Kundal indicating that the knowledge of Kangri to Kashmiri was from the very beginning.

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