Walter R. Lawrence, the British settlement commissioner in Kashmir wrote in his book “What Laila was on Majnoo’s bosom, so is Kangri to a Kashmiri. But this art imported from Italy and perfected in Kashmir may not survive for too long. ”
Contrary to Lawrence’s prediction, it seems that the modern heating appliance dominating the local markets have failed to replace the Kangri (a traditional earthern fire pot) in various rural and urban areas of Kashmir.
Kangri, the proud possession of Kashmiris is used beneath the traditional gowns called Pheran to counter the chilling winters. If a person is wearing a jacket, it can be used as a hand-warmer and some even take the Kangri to bed.
Though wicker weavers put deforestation and government apathy responsible for the slight decrease in the artisan trade of Kangri production, yet they maintain that the growing heating gadgetry like electric heaters, blowers and LPG heating gas cylinders have had little or no impact on the production of the Kangri.
The varieties of Kangris produced in Bandipora and Chrar-i-sharief areas are considered aesthetically the best and most durable.
70 year old Saif-ud-din Ganaie of Bandipora, busy in weaving the Kangri in his single story mud house, is of the opinion that the Kangri trade is increasing. People still prefer the Kangri over heating appliances. “Twenty years back, I used to produce 300 Kangris in season (September to January) the production went up to 600 in the last decade. During the past two years, I have been producing 800-1500 in a season ”, says Saif-ud-din. Saif-ud-din has employed ten more worker due to ever increasing demand.
Basit Ahmed Lone, a young science teacher in a private school and also a part-time Kangri-weaver earns about fifteen thousand rupees during the winter vacations. “Kangri weaving is our age old traditional and ancestral artisan trade,” Says Lone.
Preferring the Kangri as a heating device over electrical and gas heating appliances, the traditional device would continue to be preferred among the masses in times to come. More so, , with the erratic electric supply during winters in Kashmir, the Kangri retains its popularity.
Thousands of wicker weavers in Chrar-i-Sharief, Bandipora, Sopore, Baramulla, Anantnag and Magam areas (famous for Kangri production in Kashmir) are nowadays busy in producing Kangris of different varieties to keep the stock available for coming season and artisans are working overtime to meet the demands of customers.
The deforestation and government apathy towards the poor wicker weavers is cause of slight decline of the traditional artisan trade of Kangri weaving in the valley. Amid growing deforestation a weaver have to pay for Wicks which were once freely available. To add to this precarious situation, the cost of the mud cup used in a Kangri cost more.
Many plant species used to make Kangri, are easily available in almost in all the forests in the Valley. However it needs proper extraction of the wicks from the plants. “Both the plant species used for extraction are regenerative, but owing to decades of faulty extraction, has lead to extinction of raw material” Barkat Ali Qureshi, a noted ethno-botanist from Srinagar said. Suggesting preventive measures for boosting of the trade, Barkat suggested that the government should depute experts to regenerate the plant species used in the Kangri production and help to preserve one of the great symbols of Kashmiri culture.
by Sheikh Saleem, Media Education Research Centre, Kashmir University.
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