The fire pot known as the “Kanger”, in Kashmiri, is an earthen pot to store embers, placed in a wicker type basket with two handles propping the back side up with sturdy wicker sticks. The Kanger endures a lengthy process to manufacture. First, the sticks need to be harvested, and then boiled to soften their skins. After cooling, they are peeled. The sticks are then bundled to dry and shipped for manufacturing. The Kanger involves experienced artesian craftsmen workers. The profession remains an emblem of a age-old Kashmiri craft. After the wicker is weaved, a potter sculpts an earthen pot with his fingers and set to dry. The fire-pot is then stored into the woven basket.
After purchase and during use, the Kanger is filled with charcoal and ignited to make hot embers. It is placed beneath traditional clothing (pheran) to keep warm. Kashmiris also regard it as a work of art because some Kangers have stylish colored designs. The charcoal can be purchased in charcoal stores, and through hawkers who specialize in it.
Rural women are experts in making charcoal for fire-pots and use it by placing it under their Phiran, the Kashmiri woolen cloak over the pot. The Kanger also is used under sheets and blankets. Even though there are modern electrical gadgets, the Kanger has not lost its significance throughout the Kashmir valley because it is light in weight and easy to carry around. Sizes vary, and so does the price, ranging from 200 to 800 rupees.
The fire-pot is used more than electrical devices primarily because of the high expense for people with a limited income. Even people, who can afford the luxury of electric blankets and heaters, use a Kanger because it is comforting when the warmth absorbs into their clothes. The recommended time of use is up to eight hours.
It is generally believed that Kashmiris learnt the use of the Kanger from the Italians who were in the retinue of Mughal emperors, visiting the valley during the summer. In Italy ( a similar device known as a scaldino) comes in a great variety of shapes and stylish designs. However, historical data contradicts the claim that Kanger did not come to Kashmir from Italy, but, data confirms that it was introduced in the Mughal Empire.
A caveat is in order here: some dangers come with the Kanger, and if used continuously for prolonged periods of time, it can cause cancer. This effect was first discovered by W. J. Elmslie in 1866 and was thought to be caused by blistering burns, but it is now believed to be the result of a carcinogenic distillation product of wood coals. If it is used for more than its recommended time, the Kanger can cause injuries on legs and thighs.
As I mentioned before, the Kanger is often used to warm up our sheets and blankets when there are power outages, but this needs to be done responsibly because the ambers can fall onto the mattress or covers while asleep. Be aware and wise when attempting this, it might burn your bed or your home down.
Visitors to Kashmir during the winter season are surprised to find people carrying the firepot in their hands or placing them on their laps, but almost every Kashmiri knows how to handle the apparatus with care. It is considered a Kashmiri tradition, and even in modern times, it threads enormous demands. A shopkeeper in Srinagar, displayed the Kanger in his window, to attract customers to his textile business.
The delights and wonders of the Kanger are manifold. As a parting word, don’t give up on the apparatus which is woven into the entrails of our culture. Use it but do so with care!
The author, a KAS aspirant, can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org