Kanger: Beat the Chill
By Showkat Ahmad Rather
The crafts in Kashmir in their forms have all along remained elegant pieces of beautiful works embedded in their most conventional cool environment incarnated in each piece produced by a Kashmiri craftsmen on its simplicity and form. It is commonly accepted that during the advent of the famous saint, Shah-i-Hamdan, he had brought to Kashmir various artisans along with him from Iran. He was said to have been keen in introducing the craft in the State for the economic betterment of the poverty stricken people and had made extra efforts in trying to enthuse Kashmiris to adopt and own the imported craft practice as a measure of sustenance for their livelihood. Notably, one of the rulers of Kashmir, Zain-ul-Abidin, popularly known as Bod shah (‘Great King’), had introduced various measures in promoting handicrafts in Kashmir. In his times the artisans practicing different handicrafts were highly encouraged. Thus, various craft centers came to be established in different parts of the valley in an organized way and with the passage of time the common man adopted them for earning livelihood. The craft practice also exposed the technique and workmanship of the local craftsmen in the valley which were hitherto unknown and as is evident, the craftsmen of Kashmir gradually gained acceptance in the matter of their special techniques, skill and design.
Kanger (or Kangri) is regarded as one of the important crafts in the Valley of Kashmir. Kanger is a traditional earthen fire pot woven in willow wicker that has been spreading its warmth for centuries. Kanger has been an indispensible part of the social life of Kashmiris. According to Dr. W.F. Elmstic, Kangri is reported to have been introduced during Mughal rule in the valley first by Italians in India when one of the Italian priests visited this part of the land and on his return he introduced various aspects of Kashmiri culture and customs in Italy. It is during this period that Kashmiris in various parts of the valley acquired the skill of & Kangri & weaving and adopted the craft as their main source of livelihood giving rise to its prosperit. However, others hold the view that actually the introduction of Kangri to the local inhabitants was made by associates of Emperor Akbar during his invasion of Kashrnir in the early period of Sultan Yousuf Shah Chak’s reign, a famous ruler of Kashmir. Akbar is said to have faced strong resistance by the local army and that he was amazingly stopped by the bravery of Kashmir people. At his second invasion on Kashmir which was again repulsed, it is reported that he consulted courtiers and advisors asking them to devise an exclusive plan by which
the resistance demonstrated by Kashmiris could be suppressed.
Whatever the opinions, the craft has been in practice since centuries in the region. With the introduction of Kangri artisans could not remain contented with this item alone and took to manufacturing other items like, Kranjul, Photur (rough baskets), Dakri and Tokri (baskets for lifting domestic articles) and thus displayed extra- ordinary skill and workmanship in diversifying their productivity. In other parts of the valley, especially in Ganderbal and Srinagar areas, a fine type of basketry weaving came to be adopted. The craftsmen of Srinagar and Ganderbal areas are manufacturing various types of furniture articles like, chairs, tables, tea pots besides cycle baskets for carrying lightweight goods.
It has been generally observed that the willow work craft is being practiced within the Union Territory and that too mostly in Kashmir valley at various centers/villages on macro as well as micro level basis. At some places the output of the craft products and concentration of craftsman is high. However, the low output of craft items was returned at those centers where a smaller number of artisans is engaged in the craft practice. The villages which were reported as having assumed the status of craft centers include the following:-
Manzgam, Seer Kanligund, Oki, Gundpora, Batpora, Prang, Devsar, Niyarna Gund Bala Khalil, Chawalgam, Bamrath, Kandipora. Hadigam, Mahipora, Suech.
Harran, Kachhan, Chhandun, Shalabug, Takilura, Gogji Gund, Hatbara, Hazratbal.
Sadrakote Pain, Sadrakote Bala, Ajas, Garoora, Arigam, Chitta Bandey, Rampore, Gundpore, Sumblar, Pattoosa.
Drehgam, Gurwett, Chak Raithan, Kralnar, Khargam, Vari Kher, Doban, Wathradh, Dachhan, Jwalapora, Aarig~m Takia Farooq Shah, Chak Sheera, Raithan, Souranhall Batpora, Khergund, Hapru Batpura, Chak Hapatnar, Shoupora, Manzpora, Bonagam, Rokhai Arizal, Bataweeda Bonnian, Pethsheran, Ratsona, Beerwah, Sukhnar, Kangirpora, Bagur.
Pujoora, Kilora Malik Gund, Chhambgund
Kalhana in his Rajatarangini has described Kanger as Hassan Tika. Contrary to this, J. Hutan Knowl says that Kangrer has neither come from Italy nor could it be identified as the Hassan Tika described by Kalhana. Instead, he is of the opinion that Kanger is the composition of two works namely, Kani(willow) and Gur (weaver). Mr. Knowl supports his theory by saying that in Kashmir almost all the handicraft articles produced by an artisan bear his name, i.e.,Rafogar, Shawlbauf, Rangur’ etc. Another version describes Kanger as Kang, an earthen pot used in the remote and far-flung areas of Leh (Ladakh). The Kang is said to resemble the shape of Kanger and has actually originated from a Tibetan word which means warmth or heating stove. It is also believed that the original shape of Kanger was Kang and it is none but the Kashmiri artisan who has innovated it further to embossom it in the fine pieces of willow wicker wound around it.
The Kanger 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. Manufacturing the Kanger involves labor and local artisanal craftsmanship. Twigs are collected from deciduous shrubs, scraped and peeled and put through a process of soaking, drying, dyeing and are finally woven around the bowl-shaped earthenware. The earthenware is decorated with colorful threads, mirror-work and sequins and is about six inches (150 mm) in diameter. Kanger can be ignited by just 250 grams of charcoal; it is cheaper than oil, gas and wood-fired heaters and costs from Rs 70 ($1.12) to Rs 1,500 ($24). The heat generated by the charcoal can reach around 66˚C and will burn for up to 9 hours. Kanger has been serving as an important hand-made gadget and an essential possession during winter season, enabling people of Kashmir to keep away the biting cold. This peculiar heating device is adorned as a devoted possession of an individual in a household and remains clung to his body as it is being slipped under the Kashmiri Pheran (a long closed gown). The Kanger can be taken under the Pheran; while one moves around the neighborhood or elsewhere. The young and old in a household remain mentally attached to their own piece of ‘Kanger’ and part it hesitatingly. The Kanger remains an enduring emblem of local craft that is eco- friendly and cost effective. The use of Kanger is no longer confined to Kashmir Valley alone.
Its use has also spread to other parts of the Union Territory like, Jammu, Doda, Udhampur, Rajauri and Poonch and in a limited way in Punjab, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh and Delhi. Kangris are made in different parts of Kashmir and the design of the firepot varies from region to region. The Kanger from the south Kashmir features a wide earth bowl while in North Kashmir it is conical and elongated. However the Kanger from Charar-e-Sharif in Central Budgam District is considered one of the best types. Apart from the basic function of providing heat, the Kanger also has ritualistic significance. A special decorated variety is gifted to a bride on her wedding day. On certain occasions it is also given as an offering to the relatives of the deceased.
The Kanger 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. Below are some the types of Kangris
1. Sada Kanger: It is used by all keeping oneself warm during winter
2. Zaildar Kanger, Dub Dar Kanger, Door Dar Kanger: These are fancy type Kangris and are presented to newly wedded brides by the parents and in-laws on different occasions.
3. Shikari Kanger This is special type of Kangri because it has a big size and is used by boat men