As Delhi winter draws to an end and the days get warmer, I am thinking of my brief stint with the cold and snow in Kashmir in January.
Different cultures learn to keep warm in different ways. While the Bhutanese, for instance, eat chillis to keep warm, Inuits use seal oil lamps and animal skins, and the Japanese huddle around (or under) kotatsus.
In Kashmir, they use the kangri. It is somewhat like a personal heater; a mud pot filled with red-hot coal embers kept under your clothes and close to your body. When I first saw all these Kashmiris walking with their hands hidden under their voluminous robes (called pheran), I thought it was just a way to keep their hands warm – the local equivalent of putting them inside the pockets. But no, they are actually keeping their entire bodies warm with kangris, earthen pots covered by a wicker basket.
Kangris are sold in shops everywhere, with vendors even carrying them around in local markets. Imagine the skill needed to hold a burning hot mud pot close to your stomach, but even kids carry them with insouciance, walking with one hand holding a kangri and the other, a school bag. I am told that kangris are also kept on beds, under quilts or blankets. And guest are welcomed at home with a kangri, as much as a cup of hot kahwa.
Interestingly, the Japanese have a similar “belly warming” device, called haramaki. The original haramaki is armour a samurai would wear around his chest, but now refers to a narrow knit garment wrapped around the tummy to keep your core warm. They used to have a ruddy-duddy image, associated with the very old or with kids. But now, fashion houses have gone all out to make the haramaki a trendy, must-have accessory in both winter and summer.
So, it is true that if you call it high fashion, anything goes in Japan.
But if it is Kashmir you are still thinking about, see this lovely photoessay on the kangri. Like other forms of indigenous knowledge, the kangri is also fighting against more modern heating aids, but nothing comes close to its cost effective and eco friendly little pot.