Pandits living outside try to stay connected with their roots by recreating the Kashmir in their small dwellings. Marila Latiftalks to a few migrants, who speak fluent Kashmiri, eat in copper wares, keep Samovars for company, and sleep thinking of a reunion
Despite never visiting Kashmir, Divya Zadoo, 22, a journalism student in Chandigarh University, Punjab, is fluent in Kashmiri. A migrant Pandit girl who resides in Jammu with her family, feels connected to her Kashmiri roots.
“I have learned Kashmiri from my grandparents because they didn’t know any other language,” said Zadoo.
Zadoo, who is equally fond of Hindi and English, recalls how her parents would scold her if she speaks in any other language in front of them. “It is their way to stay connected with their roots,” feels Zadoo.
Like a number of Pandit families who left Kashmir in 90’s, Zadoo’s parents and grandparents, too want get feel of living in Kashmir valley, despite staying outside. “Every item in our house reflects Kashmiri culture,” said Zadoo. “Our marriage ceremonies are in-sync with Kashmiri tradition. We cook Halal meat, something unheard of in mainland India by other Brahmins.”
Zadoo recalls how her parents visit a particular part of the Jammu city to get halal meat. “A non-Kashmiri Brahmin cannot understand our traditional and cultural affinities.”
A marriage ceremony of a Kashmiri Pandit family in Jammu or elsewhere is incomplete without a folk music.
The tradition of using bachkoats, a male dancer, is still very much in vogue in during marriage ceremonies among Kashmiri Pandits. “Like Kashmiri Muslims, we too don’t allow females to dance in front of males,” said Zadoo. “This is our culture and substantial morals for the admiration we feel en route for our ethos and calibre.”
In their frail voices Kashmiri Pandit’s keeps humming their cultural and religious superiority over other residents.
“Since ages we were known for our emphasis on education, culture, and moral values,” said Sunil Bhatt, 37, who works for Doordarshan Chandigarh.
Sunil has transformed his small flat in Chandigarh into a traditional Kashmiri house. His living-room displays a Samovar, a traditional copper kettle, Kangri, an earthen fire-pot used to keep warm during harsh Kashmiri winters. “These things help us stay connected to our roots,” said Sunil. “Though we don’t use Kangri as climate is completely different here, still we keep it as a reminder of our culture.”
Besides, Sunil feels proud to have a “secret language” like Kashmiri at his disposal which nobody else understands. “We can talk with our fellow Kashmiris and nobody can decipher a word what we are saying,” said Sunil with a hint of pride in his voice.
In order to keep his family members connected with their roots, Sunil eats in copper plates polished with silver, instead of the modern bone china ones.
“These crowned heads are our prides how we can consign these things to oblivion,” said Sunil. “These are part of our rituals and aesthetics.”
In spite of having a dining table at his flat, Sunil’s family eats on a traditional Dastarkhan, a table cloth used for serving food, in typical Kashmiri household. “As long as I live, I will safeguard my roots,” he added in a sobbing tone.
Rayees Rasool, a Kashmir based social activist, said “If we snip some precious contravene from someone they scamper towards it more. That is what has happened to the Kashmiri Pandit viz-a-viz their homeland”.
Rayees feels, this sense of void and longing for their home will pass on from one generation to another.
“Even if I reside in Delhi for more than a week I switch on to Chakir and Kashmiri folk music to fill the void,” said Rayees. “One can only imagine how they feel.”
Ahima Kaul, 21, who resides in Jammu, said I only wear the ethnic Kashmiri attires like Tili Pheran, Makhmal and Kurtas with conventional art work, in a bid to discern myself from Dogra community. “It’s like a craze for us especially during winters when every other Kashmiri girl puts on a Pheran.”
An embroidered Pheran is considered reserved for special occasions only as it is both costly and sophisticated.
“I recalled my time in a tuition centre where I was only comfortable with Kashmiri Muslims girls,” said Kaul. “While we would chatter and gossip in Kashmiri, locals would gaze us like ghosts.”
Kaul quips and said, “We are natives and politics cannot unbind our relationship.”
Like most of the Pandits who live outside Kashmir valley, Kaul yearns to settle down in her ancestral village. “I wish we all could get back to the time when we lived in peace and harmony. I still remember how my grandparents used to tell stories of good olden days every night,” said Kaul. “I recall them telling me how they used to sit, eat and celebrate festivals together with their Muslims neighbours. I wish to live what they have lived back then.”
Kashmiri PanditMarila Latif
The Kashmiri Kangri
Xavier Leenders's blog | Created 4 years ago
A recent acquisition in the Anthropology & Archaeology Department
Written By Megan Williams
It’s always interesting to discover some of the stories behind the objects in the collections. Over the past few months one of the projects I have been working on is a generous donation of a large collection of baskets, representing cultural groups from Australia, south-east Asia, India, Nepal, Tunisia, Democratic Republic of Congo, Melanesia and the Pacific. The donor, June Colquhoun, collected the baskets between the 1950s and 1970s. Intended as a representative collection of baskets from around the world their uses are wide and varied, from protecting and preserving their contents to encapsulating human creativity and social identity. With 57 pieces to the collection including a few exceptions to baskets, a couple of Indian wall hangings, a woven leaf raincoat from Kathmandu, Nepal, and a shell and woven palm frond fan from the Cook Islands, there are many baskets that are culturally specific and provide insights into the lifestyles of their source community.
One of the baskets I found most interesting in the collection is a Kangri from the Kashmir region of India. The Kangri 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. The heat generated by the embers can reach around 66˚C and will burn for up to 9 hours. To harness as much of this heat as possible the Kangri is traditionally carried under ones phiren, the Kashmiri cloak, or blanket. It is a popular source of heating as it is inexpensive and portable. There are everyday Kangris, such as the one featured, and special Kangris, such as the bridal Maharani (queen) Kangri. These special examples, not represented in the collection, come with different colours and ornamentation and are used in festivals and rituals.
The Kangri has a significant place in the culture and heritage of Kashmir. While some believe that the Kangri was adapted from a similar utensil, the scaldino, in use in Italy during the period of the Mughal Empire, 1526-1757. There is archival evidence of Kangri use even earlier than 1526. The revered Sufi Saint, Sheikh Noor-ud-din Wali who lived from 1377-1440, made note of the deep relationship between Kashmiris and the Kangri. Among his most prized possessions was his own Charari Kangri, included in the possessions with which he was entombed. The use of Kangris is embedded into everyday Kashmiri life and they are central to important rituals that celebrate Kashmiri culture
While Kangri occupy a treasured place in the Kashmir community, their use comes at a price. Specific to the Kashmir region, Kangri Cancer, heat-induced skin carcinoma, is found in the abdomen and inner thighs due to prolonged use of the Kangri. The cancer was first linked to the Kangri in the early 20th century yet, though rare, still remains a problem today. Regular users of Kangris can be affected but those in poorer areas of the community have a greater likelihood of developing the cancer. Gas and electric heating options are now becoming more easily accessible in the region, but are an expensive alternative. Kangri use is so deeply ingrained in the heritage and culture of the region it is still an obvious choice for many, and as such, the occurrence of Kangri Cancer is a direct result of socioeconomic and environmental conditions within the Kashmiri region.
The Kangri 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.
The Anthropology and Archaeology Department will soon be releasing an online exhibition of the June Colquhoun basket collection. The exhibition will showcase the variety of baskets produced around the world, including those made here in Australia.
- Kalimuthu, SG. “KNOW THY CANCERS: KANGRI CANCER, THE HEAT OF THE MATTER.” BFM 89.9 - The Business Station. 14 January 2014. http://www.bfm.my/19874.html (accessed January 29, 2014).