Valley speak

The warm heart of Kashmir: The history and beauty of the kanger

With practise, you can hold a kanger and sleep through the night – though burned socks and damaged floors could follow.

It has been likened to an atom bomb and has resulted in countless burnt socks, pockmarked floorings, and damaged bedding. Proverbs and folklore have been spun around it. It is the reason Kashmir can survive the biting winter.

The traditional kanger fire-pot is Kashmir’s preferred way to keep warm – modern gadgets are thought to be more expensive and unreliable. The kanger is a portable heater: it’s filled with burning charcoal and tucked inside woolen pherans, the voluminous and long cloaks so distinctive of the Valley.

People accustomed to using kangers can hold on to them through the night without spilling the coal – others spill their kangers even during the day. In the cold months, guests are presented with kangers even before they are served tea. It’s used to roast potatoes and nuts, or warm oranges.

But it’s more than just a handy heater. The kanger has seeped so deep into the Valley’s culture, Kashmiris find in it an expression of kindness, love, and anger.

Haji Abdul Gani has been making kangers for several decades. Photo: Rayan Naqash
Haji Abdul Gani has been making kangers for several decades. Photo: Rayan Naqash

The weave of time

“The kanger is about many things that are part of our life now,” said Junaid Handoo, a businessman in Srinagar’s Lal Chowk area and a kanger enthusiast. “There is an attachment to it.”

It’s become part of folklore, celebrated in proverb and and poetry. The use of the kanger, according to popular perception, makes one lazy during winters. Perhaps that is what led to the Kashmiri adage: “Rath mein kanger ti vuch mei dav. Hold my kanger and watch me run.

It’s also used at weddings. Decorated with mirrors, rings and jaali (mesh) patterns, the bridal kanger is called “sheesh-daar”, literally “with mirrors”, and is used to burn aromatic seeds called isband during the ceremony.

Poet and writer Zareef Ahmad Zareef said that the kanger holds a special place in history, and that Kashmir owes its very survival to it. “No matter how modern a home is, there will still be a kanger in it,” he said. “The kanger is the ornament of a pheran.”

Made across the Valley, kangers from some clusters are known for their distinctive qualities. While the basic model remains the same, the workmanship differs. The kangers of the Charar-e-Sharif town are known for their intricate weave and warmth, while the kangers of Bandipora are known for their remarkable strength.

Even though the kanger has been used in the Valley for generations, not many know of its origisn. One of the earliest references to the usage of fire-pots, is in the 12th century historical treatise, the Rajtarangini, in which it is called a kasthangarika.

Zareef said that artisans began weaving wicker around fire-pots after Central Asian culture began to influence the indigenous Kashmiri culture.

Legend suggests that the kanger was made popular among the Valley’s inhabitants by Sheikh Noor-ud-Din Wali, the revered saint of the Rishi order also known as Nund Rishi. His shrine is located in the Charar-e-Sharif overlooking the town known for its kangers.

Haji Abdul Gani, a shakhsaaz or wicker weaver in his late 80s, said that it was Nund Rishi’s “blessings that make Charar’s kanger one of the finest”. Gani has spent much of his life making kanger and even today, he considers making kangers a spiritual act that gives him peace of mind.

Vinayak Razdan, editor of the Kashmir culture blog SearchKashmir.org, said there was a political aspect in the way the origin of the kanger is traced:

“The Kanger is a luxury that is available to all Kashmiris. It has made life better. Placing its introduction in a certain region is like advertising the benefits of that region. So we see Englishmen attributing it to Italians and hence the great west. We see some Kashmiris placing it with Central Asia, hence the benefits of Islamic era of Kashmir. We see Indians and Kashmiri Pandits emphasising on its Sanskrit origin, hence the ingenuity of natives. We may never know the truth but I think the truth is that kanger a mix of all three.”    

A bridal kanger, decorated with round mirrors, rings, and jaali. Photo: Rayan Naqash
A bridal kanger, decorated with round mirrors, rings, and jaali. Photo: Rayan Naqash

Heat and ash

The kanger is a popular decorative item and popular among handicraft enthusiasts. Junaid Handoo, the businessman from Srinagar’s Lal Chowk area, has commissioned the largest kanger in Kashmir – spanning a little less than a metre in height. It took over six months to make.

Handoo said his plans to commission another failed due to the political unrest in the state.

Kanger are made by weaving twigs of a deciduous shrub around an earthen pot, the kondul. “The more intricate the weave, the more time it takes,” said shakhsaaz Umar Dar. “Some kangers take up to two days to make. On an average I make up to two-four kangers in a day.”

The wicker encasement protects the bearer of the kanger from burns, as the earthen pot inside heats up to high degrees. Depending upon the size of the kanger, up to a pound of charcoal combusts slowly inside it. The layer of ash that forms right on top gradually reduces the heat. To combat this a wooden or metal spatula is hooked to the kanger so that the ash may be swept aside, and the intensity of the heat increased.

Shabir Bhat, a shakhsaaz from Charar-e-Sharif, said that the kanger is indispensable because even though modern alternatives are available, electricity in Kashmir is unreliable.

“Electricity is available 24 hours in the city [Srinagar] for other heating appliances, but not in the villages,” Bhat said, adding that the appliances were expensive. “Even then you can’t carry electric heat under your pheran and go outside.”

Junaid Handoo displays an oversized kanger in his fabric shop in Lal Chowk area. Photo: Rayan Naqash
Junaid Handoo displays an oversized kanger in his fabric shop in Lal Chowk area. Photo: Rayan Naqash

Explosive possibilities

Sometimes, the kanger can be turned into a weapon. Poet Zareef Ahmad Zareef recounted an incident from December, 1963, when the Valley was gripped in unrest because a relic belonging to Islam’s prophet had gone missing.

“Bakshi Rasheed, then the General Secretary of National Conference, came to Lal Chowk in a jeep,” he said. “He had yelled at the people asking what the fuss was about. Suddenly someone hurled a kanger at him.”

Abdul Gani, the shakhsaaz from Charar-e-Sharif, agreed that the kanger has the potential to be rather dangerous. It is, he said with a laugh, an “atom bomb in your hands, inside the pheran”.

Srinagar businessman Junaid Handoo commissioned what he believes is the largest kanger ever made. Photo: Junaid Handoo/M. J. Fabrics
Srinagar businessman Junaid Handoo commissioned what he believes is the largest kanger ever made. Photo: Junaid Handoo/M. J. Fabrics
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From catching Goan dances in Lisbon to sampling langar in Munich

A guide to the surprising Indian connect in Lisbon and Munich.

For several decades, a trip to Europe simply meant a visit to London, Paris and the Alps of Switzerland. Indians today, though, are looking beyond the tried and tested destinations and making an attempt to explore the rest of Europe as well. A more integrated global economy, moreover, has resulted in a more widespread Indian diaspora. Indeed, if you know where to look, you’ll find traces of Indian culture even in some unlikely cities. Lisbon and Munich are good cities to include in your European sojourn as they both offer compelling reasons to visit, thanks to a vibrant cultural life. Here’s a guide to everything Indian at Lisbon and Munich, when you wish to take a break from all the sight-seeing and bar crawling you’re likely to indulge in.

Lisbon

Lisbon is known as one of the most vibrant cities in Western Europe. On its streets, the ancient and the modern co-exist in effortless harmony. This shows in the fact that the patron saint day festivities every June make way for a summer that celebrates the arts with rock, jazz and fado concerts, theatre performances and art exhibitions taking place around the city. Every two years, Lisbon also hosts the largest Rock festival in the world, Rock in Rio Lisboa, that sees a staggering footfall.

The cultural life of the city has seen a revival of sorts under the current Prime Minister, Antonio Costa. Costa is of Indian origin, and like many other Indian-origin citizens prominent in Portugal’s political, business and entertainment scenes, he exemplifies Lisbon’s deep Indian connect. Starting from Vasco Da Gama’s voyage to India, Lisbon’s historic connection to Goa is well-documented. Its traces can be still be seen on the streets of both to this day.

While the Indian population in Lisbon is largely integrated with the local population, a few diaspora groups are trying to keep their cultural roots alive. Casa de Goa, formed in the ‘90s, is an association of people of Goans, Damanese and Diuese origins residing in Lisbon. Ekvat (literally meaning ‘roots’ in Konkani) is their art and culture arm that aims to preserve Goan heritage in Portugal. Through all of its almost 30-year-long existence, Ekvat has been presenting traditional Goan dance and music performances in Portugal and internationally.

Be sure to visit the Champlimaud Centre for the Unknown, hailed a masterpiece of contemporary architecture, which was designed by the critically-acclaimed Goan architect Charles Correa. If you pay attention, you can find ancient Indian influences, like cut-out windows and stand-alone pillars. The National Museum of Ancient Art also has on display a collection of intricately-crafted traditional Goan jewellery. At LOSTIn - Esplanada Bar, half of the people can be found lounging about in kurtas and Indian shawls. There’s also a mural of Bal Krishna and a traditional Rajasthani-style door to complete the desi picture. But it’s not just the cultural landmarks that reflect this connection. The integration of Goans in Lisbon is so deep that most households tend to have Goa-inspired textiles and furniture as a part of their home decor, and most families have adapted Goan curries in their cuisine. In the past two decades, the city has seen a surge in the number of non-Goan Indians as well. North Indian delicacies, for example, are readily available and can be found on Zomato, which has a presence in the city.

If you wish to avoid the crowds of the peak tourist season, you can even consider a visit to Lisbon during winter. To plan your trip, check out your travel options here.

Munich

Munich’s biggest draw remains the Oktoberfest – the world’s largest beer festival for which millions of people from around the world converge in this historic city. Apart from the flowing Oktoberfest beer, it also offers a great way to get acquainted with the Bavarian folk culture and sample their traditional foods such as Sauerkraut (red cabbage) and Weißwurst (a white sausage).

If you plan to make the most of the Oktoberfest, along with the Bavarian hospitality you also have access to the services of the Indian diaspora settled in Munich. Though the Indian community in Munich is smaller than in other major European destinations, it does offer enough of a desi connect to satisfy your needs. The ISKCON temple at Munich observes all major rituals and welcomes everyone to their Sunday feasts. It’s not unusual to find Germans, dressed in saris and dhotis, engrossed in the bhajans. The Art of Living centre offers yoga and meditation programmes and discourses on various spiritual topics. The atmosphere at the Gurdwara Sri Guru Nanak Sabha is similarly said to be peaceful and accommodating of people of all faiths. They even organise guided tours for the benefit of the non-Sikhs who are curious to learn more about the religion. Their langar is not to be missed.

There are more options that’ll help make your stay more comfortable. Some Indian grocery stores in the city stock all kinds of Indian spices and condiments. In some, like Asien Bazar, you can even bargain in Hindi! Once or twice a month, Indian film screenings do take place in the cinema halls, but the best way to catch up on developments in Indian cinema is to rent video cassettes and VCDs. Kohinoor sells a wide range of Bollywood VCDs, whereas Kumaras Asean Trades sells Tamil cassettes. The local population of Munich, and indeed most Germans too, are largely enamoured by Bollywood. Workshops on Bollywood dance are quite popular, as are Bollywood-themed events like DJ nights and dance parties.

The most attractive time to visit is during the Oktoberfest, but if you can brave the weather, Munich during Christmas is also a sight to behold. You can book your tickets here.

Thanks to the efforts of the Indian diaspora abroad, even lesser-known European destinations offer a satisfying desi connect to the proud Indian traveller. Lufthansa, which offers connectivity to Lisbon and Munich, caters to its Indian flyers’ priorities and understands how proud they are of their culture. In all its India-bound flights and flights departing from India, flyers can expect a greeting of Namaste by an all-Indian crew, Indian food, and popular Indian in-flight entertainment options, making the airline More Indian than You Think. And as the video shows, India’s culture and hospitality have been internalised by Lufthansa to the extent that they now offer a definitive Indian flying experience.

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This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of Lufthansa as part of their More Indian Than You Think initiative and not by the Scroll editorial team.