The mortar (Kanz) was made of a hollowed-out wooden block and the pestle (Mohul) of light hard wood, especially of the hawthorn (Posh Hatb) tree
Rice is a crop of prime importance in Kashmir agriculture. It is the staple food of a large population of this land-locked valley. The pounded paddy that yields rice is called “Tumul”. In fact, life without a morsel of rice is impossible here. Dhan or Shaali has been extensively grown in irrigated lands since times immemorial, for food as well as fodder. The aromatic type of rice is regarded as the best kind of rice. In order to make it fit for consumption, rice is properly cleaned, sieved, washed and cooked.
The cultivation of rice passes through many stages. It is called by different names during all these different stages. When it is in field, it is called “Dhani”. After it is thrashed, it is called “Shali”. And when it is husked, it is called “Tumul”. It becomes “Vye” when it is washed and ready for cooking. Finally, when it is cooked and ready for serving, it is called “Batha”. Leftover pre-germinated paddy seeds are used as a delicious snack and are known as “Beul Tumul”.
Community-based celebrations and customs in Kashmir are accompanied by many processes involving rice. At the onset of sowing season, it is “Gongal” which is an occasion of merriment, especially for children, when dry fruits and “Tehri” is freely distributed. Then it is “Nend Qaad” during paddy cutting, “Thal dethen” during thrashing, and “Tumbul Tschattun doeh” for marriage ceremonies. Some of these occasions are still celebrated while some are now only remembered as our precious but lost cultural heritage.
Village women carrying a copper “Samovar” on their heads out to the fields used to be a familiar sight. Yet another interesting sight was of Kashmiri women husking rice in a traditional way inside a wooden mortar (Kanz). The Kanz was a hard strong bowl in which substances are/were crushed into powder by hitting or rubbing them with a pestle (a heavy tool). It still continues to be in vogue in one shape or the other. However, the wooden variant of it is conspicuous by its absence. The pestle or Mohul was a heavy stick made of stone or metal with a thick rounded end which is/was used for crushing substances inside a mortar (a strong bowl) by hitting and grinding them, like in cases of spice grinding and ayurveda/ unani medicine preparations.
For husking paddy, every household extensively used a pestle and mortar. The mortar was made of a hollowed-out wooden block and the pestle of light hard wood, especially of the hawthorn (Hatb wood) tree. Paddy was taken periodically from the store, dried in the sun, pounded by women, winnowed, and then the rice was fit for consumption. It yielded clean rice, including broken and crushed grains. However, to reduce breakage, the grains were thoroughly dried and subjected to repeated husking. The rice husk mixed with oil cakes was fed to the cattle as a nutritious feed.
Grinding was used to get rice out of the dried paddy. It was one of the major household chores, till machines took over. It is now one of the many marvels of our cultural heritage. With the change in lifestyle, the valley of Kashmir lost that heritage along with other utility services like Kanz and “Shoop”. Kanz is now thought to be a useless item and has been banished from Kashmir homes. Its other supplement was a large mortar carved out of Devri stone that once was a common item in every Kashmiri home, mainly used to hull (musk) rice or grind spices manually. Two women usually did the pounding in tandem which was called “Dug Talun” in the local lingo. It was in itself a great art, being a rhythmic operation all along.
The ouster of Kanz from Kashmir homes several decades ago has brought higher incidence of “Beri beri”, a vitamin deficiency caused by insufficient intake of Thiamin B, found in abundance in less polished rice. Today the pestle portion or Mohul is also hard to find as the tree, locally called Posh Hatb, has been depleted to a large extent. Many other lifestyle disorders, especially in rural womenfolk, can be traced to the abandonment of this marvellous cultural heritage of Kashmir which needs to be revived again.
The writer is a retired telecom engineer. [email protected]