The Kashmiri Kangri

Xavier Leenders's blog | Created 3 years ago

A recent acquisition in  the Anthropology & Archaeology Department

Written By Megan Williams

Frontal view of the Kashmiri Kangri basket.


Image copyright WA Museum 

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.
 

Side view of the Kashmiri Kangri basket.


Image copyright WA Museum 

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

Megan Williams inspecting the Kangri Basket.

Inspecting the Kangri Basket.
Image copyright WA Museum 

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.

 

Megan Williams inspecting the Kangri Basket.

Inspecting the Kangri Basket.
Image copyright WA Museum 

 

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. 

Further Reading:

  • 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).