Zoon Dabb balconies, roofs of bark and mud, Kasaba, Taranga, Pulharu, Putta Hurr – so perfectly were they all suited to our lives
The social life of Kashmir was well showcased in a feature programme of the erstwhile Radio Kashmir, called “Zoon Dabb”. This programme was broadcast for almost two decades and was so popular that hardly any Kashmiri missed it. I have heard many friends saying that whenever they faced any social problem they would wait till Zoon Dabb would solve it. It was a programme laced with humour, fun and laughter.
The name of the programme itself signified a cultural and architectural heritage of Kashmir, namely “Dabb”. Dabb used to be a popular fixture in old houses and was a mini balcony. Old women would sit on these dabbs and would talk to their neighbours even across the streets and discuss all sorts of social and household matters as telephones had not penetrated in our society till then. It was an architectural feature specific to Kashmir and had multi-faceted uses like basking in sunshine, enjoying a moonlit night, open air meetings with neighbours, etc. It was a delight to sit in such mini balconies in summer. These were also festooned with ropes of dry turnips, apples, maize cobbs, vegetable marrows and chillies for winter use.
Many other architectural and cultural marvels peculiar to Kashmir are still fresh in our memory. It is our pious duty to preserve them and keep them for posterity. In some villages the roofs of the larger houses and the shrines (ziarats) were made of birch bark with a layer of earth above it. This formed an excellent roof and in the spring the housetops were covered with different kinds of beautiful flowers and grass, providing a panoramic view and food for thought for artists, writers and poets. Such verdant roofing was in vogue in cities also and some of them may still be existing. I also remember seeing such houses in interior Habba Kadal and elsewhere in Srinagar city .The roofs of houses were also made of wooden shingles and the houses itself were made of wooden logs built by laying them one upon another and then axe-cut planks fitted into the grooved beams. At some far-off places, mud houses with thatched roofs are still found. Mud is a bad conductor of heat and so is the air trapped in the thatch of the roof. Thus, in summer the heat from outside does not flow in and the house keeps cool. Conversely, in winter the heat from within does not flow out and it keeps warm.
Kanger is also an inalienable part of our culture. Much has been written on it and it is still reigning roost in our cultural and social ethos. In fact it has now penetrated deep inside the plains of India also where it is sent as gifts to friends and relatives on festive occasions. Kanger is held very close to one’s bosom in winters under the woollen gown called Pheran. The pheran and kangar are supplementary to each other. Some call the kangar a cause of cancer also.
Pheran is our cultural and national dress, so to say .It is very relevant in view of the climatic conditions but also for the grandeur and aura it carries with it. It is worn by both the genders alike. Heavy and full, the old version of the pheran was buttoned at the neck and fell almost to the feet. Weight was given to the bottom of the pheran of old with a deep hem. The sleeves of the pheran were wide and their cuffs were turned back. In winter it was made of wool and in summer of cotton. It has now undergone a sea change and comes in different shades of colour and forms of design.
The head dress of an ordinary Kashmiri was, and still continues to be at some places, a cotton skull cap. A white pagri was worn by the elite class especially on festive occasions like marriages and other functions. Qasaba, the popular and common head gear worn by women folk, had many folds held together like a turban and was decorated with trinkets and round-headed small pins. It has already been discussed in a previous write-up by this author. There is not much required to be added to it, but the valuable comments given by our learned luminary of the state, Jenab Dr Haseeb Drabu sahib, in a tweet are worth mentioning. These comments are reproduced as under:
“There used to be a “thoad kasaba” for the elite and landed gentry and a “boan kasaba for the proletariat. Its variants were linked to occupation and religion, too. Kasaba was what the Muslims wore; Pandit women wore “taranga”. Both were very similar.”
A word of thanks to Dr Drabu sahib for evincing such interest and providing valuable addition to the topic.
The traditional footwear generally consisted of a straw sandal known as “Pulharu”. It was made from the wisp of rice straw. In order to give support in long journeys and to fight the scourge of snow in winters, bandages of woollen cloth were wound around the legs. These were known as “Putta hurr”. Binding of this bandage was also a great Kashmiri art.
Let all Kashmiris take pride in and love their glorious past and art and cultural heritage.
—The writer is a retired telecom engineer. [email protected]