When my mother came to my father’s house for the first time in the year 1936 after her marriage, her father gifted her few items for her comfort at the new home including a cow and a brass milk pot known as paala tappela into which the milk is squeezed from the cow. This brass milk pot is 77 years old.
My mother along with their parents came to her husband’s house for the first time in a decked up double bullock cart with all her belongings and the cow following the bullock cart. The care taker of the cow also accompanied the caravan.The list of other gift items are saris,cloths,gold and silver ornaments,brass and copper cooking and otherutensils, sweets,snacks, fruits, flowers and the most important mandatory items – pasupu, kumkuma and chanividi(a kind of sweet made with rice flour and sugar). My mother belongs to a village called Korumilli located on the banks of river Godavari, in East Godavari district of Andhra Pradesh. Her father’s name is Salapaka Lingamurthy. My Father belongs to village Someswaram named after the presiding deity of the village Someswara Swami with a magnificent temple.
The care taker of the cow, whom we call paaleru, that came from Korumilli village used to take care of the cow and milk the cow into the brass milking pot. After few days he handed over the duties of the cow to a care taker appointed by my father and left our house. Then the new paaleru took care of the cow including milking daily in the morning, feeding the cow regularly and cleaning the cow.His responsibilities include taking care of the paala tappela. The paala tappela is meant to be used only for milking the cow and after that the milk is transferred to another brass vessel for boiling the milk and further usage. Once the milk is transferred, the milking pot is cleaned thoroughly by rubbing with tamarind juice first followed by fine soil with coconut fibre. Then the paala tappela is dried and stored in its usual storage area and used to be removed only the next day morning for milking the cow. The milking is done in the evening also.
The height of the antique milk pot is 7 inches, the diameter at the belly is 7.5 inches and the diameter at the mouth opening is 5 inches.
For any reason if the paaleru was absent, my mother used to milk the cow.There are two reasons for my mother to take charge of the milking, firstly, the cow is comfortable with my mother since she knows her from a long time and allow her to squeeze the milk. Secondly, nobody in the house has the required skills to handle a cow, and even if they venture for milking the cow, the cow is reluctant to allow them to touch her. After some time the cow became pregnant and after due course of time gave birth to a calf. Now the cow’s milk has to be shared between us and the calf. First in the morning the calf is to be let loose and the calf will run to the mother and have the first course of her milk. After few minutes the calf would be pulled out from the udder of the cow and our milk man would squeeze the milk but would take care that enough milk is left un-squeezed so that the calf has her full quota of the milk.
The milk that the cow gives till 7 days of her delivery of the calf is entirely different .They are thick and creamy. We use to call them Junnu Paalu. My mother used to cook a sweet from the junnupaalu called Junnu .It is cooked with Junnupaalu, jaggery and black pepper. Its taste is divine.
Generally cows produce milk when they deliver the calf and will continue to give milk till they are dried-off. The cow normally is in DRY condition after 305 days of continuous lactation. This dry season lasts till the cow is with the next calf. Cow has a gestation period of 280 days almost similar to a human gestation time.During the dry season it will not give milk.Once our cow declared that it will not give milk.So we were without milk.This information has gone to my mother’s father and he has sent another milking cow and the dried up cow was sent back to Korumilli.This rotation of cows kept us with continuous milk supply.My mother’s father used to have lot of cows and in the group there will always be few milk giving cows or lactation cows .My maternal grandfather has no problem in sending a milk yielding cow but I came to know later that he used to have problem with the cows that returned from our house.
My grandfather was a landlord and he also had farms. He also used to have a mini dairy. His paaleru used to take all the cows to the banks river Godavari for grazing the pastures. Godavari river flows in such a way that it forms mini islands in between its streams.There will be lot of green grass on these islands and the cattle have to cross the rivulets to reach the island.The rest of the cattle used to cross the waters easily but the cows returned from our house would be scared to cross the water.The reason being the cows in our house are kept in the house only and they never gone out into the fields and rivers. They were fed with cut grass and they forgot how to graze in the open meadows.
This rotation of cows between the two houses of my father and grandfather stopped somewhere for some unknown reason and our family was buying milk from milk vendors. With the result our beautiful brass paala tappela was not used and given permanent rest. Finally it joined my antique collection and occupies a regal place in our collection as well as in our hearts. Now both my mother and my maternal grandfather passed away long back, but their images and memories flood my thoughts whenever I see this Paala tappela that gave a glorious service to our family.
Milking a cow is an art .First you should establish a friendly rapport with the cow. If you approach her with negative vibes it will sense and will not cooperate with you. If you have a friendly approach she will cooperate and allow you to milk her. You have to sit in a correct posture near the cow with a convenient proximity to the udder and the teats. Youhave to sit on your feet with the knees folded. The paala tappela is kept in between the folded knees and milking is done with both the hands. The paala tappela should be positioned directly under the udder of the cow and the teats are to be squeezed so that the milk directly falls into the paala tappela. This is the traditional and professional way of milking the cow. Now a days people sit on a stool and keep the Paala tappela on the ground under the cows podugu(udder)and milk the cow. However the cow will enjoy giving the milk to a seasoned milk man by his rhythmic squeezing movements. Whereas, it will not enjoy the clumsy movements of a nervous new comer.
The job of paaleru is also to take care of the daily discharge of the cow dung.He used to make pidakalu out of the cow dung. Pidakalu are the dung made to the shape of a round disk and dried in the sun. These cow dung pidakalu are used as a fuel to boil water or milk. For Sankranthi festival as children we used to make small pidakalu called bogi pidakalu in the shape of wadas and we used to make a garland of the Bhogi pidakalu and put them in the Bhogimanta, the ceremonial fire lit in the early morning of Bhogi pandaga that falls one day before the Sankranthi. After dropping the bhogi pidakalu garland in the fire me, my sisters along with children used to sit around the fire and warm ourselves against the January winter cold .The Sankranthi festival generally falls on 13th,14th and 15th of January.
Ghee is known to Indians since 6,500 BC. This was revealed through the traces of ghee found from the excavated pots belonging to that period. Ghee was used by ancient Indians for the ritual fire sacrifices called Homam. Ghee is truly an Indian invention and mainly used in India. It has spread to the neighboring countries like Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Nepal. The origin of the word ghee is from Sanskrit word ghrta. It is called ghee in Hindi, Gujarati and Bengali, ghio in Punjabi, tuppa in Kannada, neyy in Malayalam, ney in Tamil and neyyi in Telugu.
Ghee was stored in earthen pots in the early years and its shelf life was up to nine months. Later, with invention of metals like copper and brass, Indians started preserving ghee in copper and brass pots. I have collected two antique brass ghee storage pots with beautiful shape and I’m happy to share pictures of these vintage pots and the story of how I acquired them through this article.
Ghee Pot with Lid in Round Shape
This ghee pot has a handsome round shape resembling the famous Indian lota. The pot is handmade with brass with a lid that perfectly fits the pot preventing any leaking. It has a handle made out of thin brass rod. There are two handmade brass plates riveted with copper rivets to the two sides of the ghee pot with a hole to which the handle is hooked. The handle is flexible. It rests on the belly of the pot when not in use and becomes straight when it is lifted with hand or when it is hung from the hook. Brass metal is conducive for some chemical reaction when it interacts with certain materials. To prevent such reactions, the brass containers are coated inside with a thin layer of tin metal, also known as tagarampoota. This brass ghee pot also coated inside with tin metal.
Ghee Pot with Cylindrical Shape
This ghee pot has a cylindrical or a barrel shape with a lid on the top. The entire ghee pot is handmade complete with the lid and handle. The cylindrical ghee pot has two heart shaped brass plates that have been riveted to the two sides at the top of the pot. These heart shaped brass plates have holes that are used to hook the brass handle. The handle is made by bending a thin bass rod. The side brass plates serve the purpose of hooking the handle and also for strengthening the body of the ghee pot. The brass ghee pot is lined with tin metal to prevent any possible chemical reaction of ghee with the brass metal.
In our ancestral house at our village Someswaram in East Godavari district of Andhra Pradesh, we used to have a place within the house called “Palagoodu” meaning a dairy cupboard fixed into the wall in which all items related to milk and milk products are stored such as milk, curds, ghee, butter, butter milk, and also oils for cooking. This palagoodu is generally fixed to the wall in such a height that children cannot reach the opening. The cupboard has two doors and when closed they are held tight by a handmade wooden latch. In my childhood days, I used to see these ghee storage pots in palagoodu. These two ghee pots are the storage pots and are specifically used for transferring a small amount of ghee to a small bowl which is then served with a spoon. The lid is always kept very tight to prevent red ants from attacking the ghee.
My mother inherited these pots from her mother-in-law and we do not know the actual person who has purchased these. But they must be more than 100 years old. There are minute dents on the body of the pots due to constant use and antiquity. There are beautiful patina marks on these ghee storage pots.
Ghee and Indian Culture
Indian culture and ghee are intricately woven into the life cycle of Indian Hindu. Here are a few examples:
Immediately after the birth of the child, the father puts a drop of ghee on the lips of the baby with a golden ring even before cutting the umbilical cord.
During cremation of dead bodies, Hindus pour ghee over the dead bodies after placing them on pyre.
In traditional Hindu prayer, known as pooja, a lighted lamp or diya with the cotton wick soaked in cow ghee is placed in front of the God.
In harati ,the ritual of showing the lighted lamp to the images of deities in circular motion, cotton wicks soaked in ghee are used for the lamp.
During Diwali, the festival of lights, Goddess Lakshmi is invited into the house with the row of ghee lamps. On the day of Ksheerabdi Dwadasi, also known as Tulasi pooja (the day of celebration of Tulasi marriage with Lord Vishnu), the surroundings of Tulasi plant are decorated with ghee lamps.
Fire sacrifices called Homam have been performed way back since 5,000 years in which ghee was used. Homam is the vedic ritual of offerings to Gods through the medium of Agni (fire) in which ghee, rice, herbs and other ingredients are offered called poornahuti. In one form of Hindu worship called Pachamrutaabhishekam, the deity is bathed in a sacred mixture called Panchamrutam consisting of ghee, mishri (kalakanda), honey, milk and dahi (curd). Rice balls mixed invariably with ghee and dal (lentils) are offered to the deceased in an annual offering ceremony called shradh .
In the 5,000 year old traditional medical system native to India called Ayurveda, ghee is profusely used. Ayurveda is made up of Sankrit words – Ayus and Veda. Ayus is longevity and veda is science. Hence the word Ayurveda means the science of health and longevity. Ayurveda considers pure ghee as a supreme food. It is considered as having immense medicinal benefits apart from being a high powered nutrient. Ghee aids in the rejuvenation for both young and old. It provides vitality, enhances fertility, improves mental function, provides good voice and brightens the complexion. Ghee is consumed by mixing it with the food which enhances the taste and flavor of the food. Ghee is so nice it can be eaten as it is.
Ghee as the Life Giver – Mahabharata and Kauravas
The great Indian epic Mahabharata gives credit to ghee for the birth and life of Kauravas. This story tells us that ghee has the power of giving life. Once, the great sage Vyasa Maharshi visited the palace of Gandhari and Drutharashtra. The royal couple welcomed them and Gandhari served him nice food with which Vyasa Maharshi was very pleased. He asked Gandhari to ask a boon and Gandhari wanted 100 sons with King Drutharashtra.Vyasa granted the boon. Soon Gandhari became pregnant but could not deliver even after 2 years. Meanwhile, Kunthi, Pandu’s wife gave birth to the first of Pandavas. Getting impatient and angry with herself, Gandhari struck her womb which resulted in a miscarriage and a mass of flesh fell out. Vyasa Maharishi came to know about the miscarriage and ordered Gandhari to cut the lump of flesh into 101 pieces and store each piece in a separate pot filled with ghee and close the pot for 2 years and hide them. Then Vyasa Maharishi went to Himalayas. After two years, 100 boys and one girl broke open the pots and came out. That is how 100 Kauravas were born. The eldest being Duryodhana followed by Dussasana. The name of girl is Dusalla. Thus, Vyasa Maharishi had mentioned some 5,000 years ago that ghee has the power of giving life.
Ghee and Origin of Life
Ghee is considered as a sacred food because it is provided by cow which is considered as the most sacred animal. The origin of ghee is attributed to the Hindu vedic God Prajapathi, the Lord of creatures. He is said to have created ghee by rubbing his hands or by churning the hands together to produce ghee and pouring the same into the fire to create his descendants and all living creatures. The vedic ritual of pouring ghee into the fire is virtually the re-enactment of creation as done by Prajapathi. Butter is a symbol of semen, churning with hands represents the sexual act, the ghee represents formation of foetus in the mother’s womb. Thus, ghee is a life giver.
Ghee and Indian Food
My paternal grandfather, Yenugu Krishnamurthy garu, is a great connoisseur of ghee. His lunch consisted of rice, dal, vegetables, pulusu, rasam, two varieties of chutneys, one fresh lime, one pot full of curds and one bowl full of ghee. First, he would start with a small dose of rice drenched with warm ghee thus greasing the passage of the food that follows. Then he would mix each item with rice, pour ghee over the mixture and consume. The only exception is curd rice with which he will mix lime juice. By the time he would finish his food the bowl full of ghee will be empty. He lived a full life of 90 years and died one day peacefully after having his lunch with his favorite bowl full of ghee. I am inclined to think that the secret of his healthy life with full gusto till 90 years is the pure homemade ghee. He had no fat in his body or any problem of cholesterol.
Now a days we see people talk about avoiding consumption of ghee since they fear putting on fat or higher levels of cholesterol. My grandfather’s example adequately supports the theory that ghee in fact helps reduce the fat and the cholesterol and Ayurveda support this theory.
Ghee Preparation at Home
Ghee is derived from butter. Butter contains fat and milk solids. When butter is melted and simmered at low temperature, the water gets evaporated, milk solidifies and the fat gets separated. When the milk solids are filtered, pure golden colored butter fat is available which we call ghee. Ghee is luscious butter fat and an intense power food with butter flavor. Ghee has a nutty taste, with excellent aroma and marvelous mouth feel.
Melt the butter in a thick bottomed saucepan on a low heat.
Slowly increase the flame so that the butter boils.
First you will observe lot of white foam floating around and gives way to bubbles.
You will hear the sound of bubbles forming and breaking continuously. This happens due to the evaporation of water from the butter. You will reach this stage around 12 -15 minutes from the start.
Then you will see the brown particles start forming and are distinctly seen in the boiling butter. These are the milk solids that got separated from butter.
Keep boiling the butter for another 8 minutes.
You will see the brown particles become dark brown and settle in the bottom of the pan. At the same time you will see golden color ghee with the beautiful aroma.
We normally test the ghee for the right cooking by splashing few drops of water in the boiling ghee from a distance. If you hear a loud splintering sound, the ghee is well cooked. If you here a mild sound, the ghee is not well cooked. But this test has to be done carefully.
Your ghee is done. Put off the fire and let the ghee cool down.
Strain the ghee to separate the dark brown milk solids.
Your pure homemade golden colored pure ghee is ready. Keep the ghee in dry bottles with tight screw lid. Preserve the ghee in room temperature only. It will form into a nice grainy liquid. It will not get spoiled for at least six months. There is no need to refrigerate the home made ghee.
Difference between Ghee and Clarified Butter
If we have to explain ghee in English, we use the word clarified butter. In fact, there is a slight difference between ghee and clarified butter. By heating the butter, if the water in the butter is evaporated and the milk solids are separated from the butter, it is called clarified butter. In preparing ghee, the clarified butter is further simmered and boiled till the milk solids are caramelized and convert into dark brown. The ghee acquires a deep golden color with a heady taste and beautiful aroma. The clarified butter cannot be stored for long time whereas ghee can be stored up to 9 months without refrigeration.
Popular Preparations with Pure Ghee
Indian sweets like Mysore pak from Karnataka, minapa sunni from Andhra Pradesh taste best when prepared with pure ghee. All those mouth-watering sweets from Gujarat and Rajasthan are mostly made with pure ghee. Boorelu, the special traditional sweet dish from Andhra Pradesh is eaten along with ghee by making a hole in the sweet and filling the hole with warm ghee. In Punjab, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh, chapathi is roasted with pure ghee. If it is not roasted with ghee for any reason, it is smeared with ghee just before serving or eating. The famous Hyderabad biryani is made with pure ghee. In south India, rice mixed with vegetables, dal, or sambar is eaten mixed with ghee. The special variety of idlis known as Guntur idlis are prepared by applying lot of ghee and are rolled in spicy dal powder.
You may also like to read the following related articles:
Boorelu are the classical traditional sweet dish of Andhra Pradesh. This sweet item is associated with celebration, joy, festivity and warmth. For happy occasions like marriages and for celebration of festivals, boorelu are a must. They are so much associated with something good and joy that when people want to ask a person when he is going to get married they simply ask when are you giving us a boorelu treat. Sankranthi is a very important harvest festivalof Andhra people and everybody in the family gathers together to celebrate this festival and the main sweet attraction in the celebration are boorelu. Tasting boorelu is a gourmet ecstasy.
Boorelu are round in shape and contain a mixture of Bengal gram and jaggery with cardamom flavour, dipped in the batter made out of black gram and rice and deep fried in oil to a golden brown colour. Mookudu is a frying pan. Thus, boorela mookudu is a frying pan used for frying boorelu. I am now going to share with you the story of brass boorela mookudu that is more than 90 years old and is a rare antique in my collections.
Boorelu – The Ultimate Sweet Dish in Andhra Food
Boorelu taste best when they are served hot. They are eaten along with ghee. It is a ceremonial custom to make a hole with the pointing finger on the top of the boore (singular of boorelu), fill up the hole with hot ghee and then place the whole boore in the mouth like pani poori chaat. The taste of boore gets enhanced many fold when eaten with fresh hot ghee. Boorelu can be stored for two days without refrigeration since they are deep fried. Eating boorelu is an epicurean experience wherein the bite gives you the taste of crunchy salty taste of the outer fried batter combined with the succulent sweet taste of poornam inside and is further enhanced by cardamom flavour.
Boorelu are also called Poornalu (poornam is singular). Poornam means complete, all contained, all inclusive, and wholesome. Thus, boore is a complete and wholesome nutritive sweet dish. The black gram and Bengal gram dals provide the proteins, rice provides the starch and the jaggery gives the iron. Boorelu are called Sugeelu or Sukkinunde in Karnataka, and Suzhiyan or Sugiyan in Kerala.
Boorelu are made not only for festive occasions but also for religious occasions, particularly for poojas associated with Goddess Durga mata. For Ugadi (Telugu new year day), all the grama devathalu (local guardian deities) are offered boorelu. It is a must to have boorelu for Dasara festival since the festival is associated with Goddess Durga and for Varalakshmi pooja which is associated with Goddess Lakshmi.
The Story of Boorela Mookudu
Sampara Kavamma was the mother-in-law of my paternal grandfather Mr. Yenugu Krishna Murthy. Once in our village Someswaram, an enterprising gentleman came out with a lottery scheme in which each interested person should buy a lottery ticket for four annas (equivalent of ¼ th of a rupee) and the winner of the lottery would get two brass items, namely one Boorela mookudu (frying pan) and one gangalam (water storage vessel ). It so happened that Sampara Kavamma garu was one of the participants in this lottery and with her luck she happened to win the lottery. With the help of my uncle Mr. Bapiraju, she got the possession of her prized items and brought it home and ever since these two items have become a part of our family. These items have seen Kavamma gari generation, my grandfather’s generation, my father’s generation and they are now a part of my antique collection. My mother tells me that these items were acquired in the year 1922 and these should be more than 90 years old.
How to Prepare Poli Poornam Boorelu
1 cup rice
1/2 cup black gram dal/urad dal/minapa pappu
1 cup bengal gram/channa dal/senaga pappu
1 cup sugar or 1 cup grated jaggery
1 cup grated coconut (optional)
3/4th tea spoon cardamom powder
Salt to taste
Oil for deep frying
Soak black gram dal and rice in water, each in separate vessels for 6 hours.
After draining water from the black gram dal and rice, grind the two items to a fine paste similar to dosa batter. Add a pinch of salt and leave aside with proper cover.
Drain the water from Bengal gram and grind it into a fine paste adding a little water.
Steam cook the Bengal gram paste just like you prepare idlis by keeping the paste in greased idli plates for 15 minutes. Cool the steamed batter and then crush it into granules. When you crush it in between your palms, it will break into granules. Set aside.
Mix powdered jaggery along with water in a heavy bottomed vessel .The quantity of water should be just enough to soak the jaggery. Let the jaggery melt in the water. Boil the jaggery water.
When it starts boiling and you see bubbles, add the Bengal gram granules and mix well. Also mix the grated coconut (if opted).
Cook till it forms a thick mixture. Add cardamom powder and mix well.
Let it cool. Take a table spoon full of the mixture and shape into round balls.
Take a frying pan and add enough oil for frying and heat the oil.
Dip each Bengal gram ball into the batter of black gram and rice and let it be coated uniformly.
Gently drop each ball into the hot oil. Deep fry them till they turn into a golden brown colour.
Kalasam is the most sacred symbol of Hindu religion. All Hindu religious rituals start first with kalasa pooja. It is considered as Sarva Devata Roopam (image of all Gods), Sarva Veda Roopam (image of all vedas ) and Sarva Divya Nadee Roopam (image of all sacred rivers). Because of its sacred nature, kalasam is invariably found on the top of temples, temple towers, temple chariots, and on temple umbrellas. The kalasams are made with brass and some of them are coated with gold. I have collected a magnificent temple umbrella kalasam and I am happy to introduce this sacred artifact to you.
The significance of Kalasam in Hindu religious rituals:
Firstly, we will talk about how to make a kalasam. Take a copper or silver pot of medium size and fill water till half. Decorate the pot with sandalwood paste, haldi (turmeric) and kumkum and place few mango leaves around the mouth of the pot in such a way that the stem portion of the leaves are in the pot and the other half is above the rim of the pot. Now take a coconut with the fibre handle and decorate the same with sandalwood paste, haldi and kumkum. Place the coconut in inverted position on the opening of the pot with the fibre handle facing upwards. Now the kalasam is ready. The kalasam has to be sanctified by inviting the Gods, Goddesses, Vedas, and the holy waters from the oceans and Bhoodevi by chanting the following mantra. While reciting the mantra, keep the right hand on the top of the kalasam.
By reciting this mantra we do ‘Aavahanam,‘ that is inviting the following Gods and the holy creations of God to come and occupy their positions in the pot to make it sacred.
We invite Lord Vishnu to the mukha or opening of the pot, Rudra to the neck, Brahma to the base, all matruganas (Goddesses) to the center, all oceans, seven dweepas (continents) and the entire earth, and all four Vedas to the belly of the kalasam.
Now we do Aavahanam, that is invite all sacred rivers to the kalasam by reciting the following mantra.
Now all the sacred rivers, Ganga, Yamuna, Godavari, Saraswati, Narmada, Sindhu and Kavery have been invited and settled in the kalasam.
Now the kalasam is the personification of sarva devatas (all Gods), sarva divyanadee (all sacred rivers) and Sarva vedam (all vedas). It now becomes sacred. Symbolic to this, kalasams are made with brass and are placed on the top of the temple umbrellas. One such brass umbrella kalasam is in my collection.
Temple Umbrella Kalasam Design
The kalasam has a beautiful shape and is hand made with brass sheet. It is designed basically in two parts. The bottom part is a round stepped pedestal that sits on the umbrella. The second part is the actual kalasam that has a pot decorated with eleven mango leaves around it. An inverted coconut sits at the opening of the pot with the conical fibre part on the top. Since the kalasam is sacred, it is kept on a pedestal. The entire kalasam is hollow so that the top end of the wooden pole of the umbrella can be inserted into it. There are two holes in the middle of the kalasam. These holes are meant to drive the screws to hold the kalasam securely to the umbrella pole. The kalasam on the top of the umbrella serves two purposes, first it covers the naked wooden pole that protrudes out of the upper part of the umbrella, and secondly, the holy kalasam brings divinity to the ordinary umbrella.
Measurements of the brass temple umbrella kalasam
The height of the kalasam from bottom to the top is 15 inches. The diameter of the base pedestal is 8.5 inches. The round top of the pedestal is 5 inches diameter. The protruding mango leaves are one inch long each.
It is a part of the ritual poojas to the Gods to take them out on a procession, seated on various vahanas (mounts) around the temple streets with royal regalia. The procession consists of the God/Goddess seated on the vahana which can be a palanquin, chariot or animal or bird vahanas carried by men. The Gods on the vahana are invariably covered by decorated large umbrellas held by archakas (priests). These umbrellas are mounted with a kalasam made out of brass on the top of the umbrellas. There will be a leading procession in front of the God consisting of nadaswaram, drums, tableaus, traditional dances like kolatam, bhajans, garaga dances, puliveshalu, yakshagana characters. These colorful art forms and performances add life to the procession and make the procession vibrant. Thousands of devotees participate in the procession. Though there will be colourful electric lights, there must be the traditional oil kagada (torch) in the lead. The devotees participate with pomp, gaiety and spiritual fervour.
The Tradition of Annual Tirupati Umbrella Procession in Chennai
An organisation called Tirupati Umbrella Charities and Hindu Dharmartha Samiti donates special umbrellas to Lord Venkateswara at Tirupati every year. Ten decorated umbrellas, two big and eight small, are taken on a procession in Chennai for two weeks and finally reach Tirupati on the day of Garuduseva during Brahmostavam of Lord Venkateswara. The umbrellas are used for the procession on Garudostavam (fifth day of Brahmostavam). The umbrella procession starts from Suncoovari house in George Town in Chennai and this house belongs to one of the founder members of the endowment. The distance from Chennai to Tirupati is 176 kilometres and this distance is covered by the procession in 14 days, stopping en-route at many places for devotees to offer worship to the umbrellas considered as Lord Venkateswara personified. The procession consists of 150 people. The procession stops at Tiruchanoor and two umbrellas are offered to Padmavathi Ammavaaru, the consort of Venkateswara Swamy. On reaching Tirupati, the umbrellas are received by the Devasthanam with due honour and they are paraded on the Garudaseva day.
These umbrellas are specially made by the traditional experts. The handle is made with teak wood and the collapsible frame work of umbrella is made of cane. The covering cloth is made of pure silk. The wood work and the silk lace work are done in Chennai and the cane/bamboo work is done in Kanchipuram and the final assembly is done in Chennai. The umbrellas are massive and fine pieces of art work. All these umbrellas are fitted with brass kalasams.
I purchased this beautiful item from an antique dealer in Chennai in the year 1968. Whenever I see this kalasam in my collection, images of great processions of temples with colourful umbrellas decked with kalasam on top pass through my mind. I drift to a spiritual state of mind where I see everything blissful, beautiful and celebration. I hope and wish you too experience the same feeling.
The real joy of acquiring an antique lies in identifying an antique at its original source, persuading the owner to partake it and adding it to your collection. In this process, you get to know the source of the item, the genuineness of the item, the owner of the item, the history of the item, and the purpose for which the antique has been used. When we acquire an item from a known source, we can narrate a story around the item. Any antique will acquire its intrinsic value by its history and the story around it. The more mysterious the story is and the more intricate the history was, the value of the item will be greater. Antiques that do not have a story around them are mere objects and do not have the glamour and emotional bondage that are an essential part of an antique.
As they say, the journey is more interesting than the destination. Similarly, the drama that takes place in hunting for the antique is more thrilling than the mere acquisition of a piece. Buying an antique from an antique shop with the help of a catalogue and price list is like buying any other item from a shop or supermarket. Buying an antique from a shop is advised only when that particular item is required and is available in that particular store only and nowhere else. I prefer and enjoy collecting my antiques directly from the source and I share with you the top three methods I use to acquire them.
Explore and Exchange
Wherever I go – like a friend’s place, a relative’s house, or any other place , I explore that place with an eye to detect some old item which I assume that they may not be using or is underutilised. I do not make it look too obvious that I am searching for something, but at the same time keep an eye for anything that catches my attention. In my initial days of antique collection, I used to collect whatever was available to me. Slowly, I started collecting only those antiques that have a bearing on our culture and tradition. Now, I specialize in collecting and exhibiting cultural antiques and I specifically look for such type of items. When I see a real antique I get excited, my heart races, and a pleasant burning sensation engulfs me. If I can make a deal and get the item then it is all good. Otherwise that particular item haunts me in my dreams. The very thought that I liked it so much and still couldn’t get it plays in my mind for a long time. It takes time to erase it from my memory. Most of the antiques are acquired by emotion rather than by reason.
I once went to my brother-in-law’s brother’s house to attend a function at Pittahpuram, once the capital of the kingdom of Pittahpuram Maha Raja in the East Godavari District of Andhra Pradesh, India. My brother-in-law’s name is Shri. Vakkalanka Venkateswara Rao and his brother’s name is Shri. Vakkalanka Madhava Rao. Shri Madhava Rao’s wife’s name is Maniamma garu. His house is more than a hundred years old and many generations lived in that house. These sort of houses are the ideal places for hunting antiques. I started exploring. I went to the kitchen area where Maniamma garu (garu is added to a name in Andhra Pradesh to respect the person of that name) was busy cooking. While I was talking to her, she stretched her hand to pick up some salt from a nearby pot. When I saw the pot my heart raced and started pounding hard and I was excited. It was a China blue and white pottery vase. Immediately something from within me told that my hunt is over and I should work on how to acquire it.
I composed myself and asked Maniamma garu casually since when have they been using that Jaadi (jaadi is a local version of porcelain vase) to store salt. She told me that ever since she knew the kitchen, this jar has always been there to store the salt and that it was passed on to her from her mother in-law. Her father-in-law had worked for the Maharaja of Pithapuram many years back. Now my guess was confirmed. The jaadi was very old indeed. I again casually asked her whether she can use a similar new jaadi for storing the salt or is she particular about using only this jaadi. She told me that a jaadi is a jaadi and anything that serves the purpose of storing salt is good enough for her. I immediately came out of the house, went to the nearest market and purchased a porcelain jaadi that is cylindrical in shape having two colours of brown and white with a shining lid, one size bigger than the Blue pottery one. This new one was similar to the one that the locals use to store Aavakaya, a spicy mango pickle famous in Andhra Pradesh.
I bought the item to Maniamma garu and told her that I bought a new salt jaadi for her and if she doesn’t mind can she give me the old one. She was first surprised and wondered why I took so much trouble in buying a new one for her when the old one was serving the purpose. Then I revealed to her that I like old items and I am collecting such old items from people like her from good families. Then she washed the new jaadi with water mixed with Haldi powder and again rinsed with fresh water and dried the jaadi with a dry cloth. Then she transferred the salt from the old jaadi to the new jaadi and handed over the old jaadi to me. When I reached Chennai, the city I was living in at that time which is the capital of the state of Tamil Nadu, India, I showed the vase to an expert and he confirmed that it is a genuine antique china pottery vase.
Let Your Friends and Family Members Know Your Passion for Antiques
When you talk to your friends and relatives, be open and talk with passion about your interest in antiques and about your antique collection. Deep passion is something viral and it catches on. When they want to thank you for whatever you have done for them, or they want to express their love and affection to you, or when they want to gift you something for an occasion, they know that the best way to make you happy is to gift you an antique piece.
When I was in Mumbai, my wife’s friend Annapoorna who is from Hyderabad visited us in the year 1992. She was excited to see her friend after a long time. She saw our antique collection and participated in our passionate talk on antiques. Suddenly, she declared that she has one old Brass gangalam which is now stored in the attic of her house in Hyderabad and that she would love to gift it to us as a gesture of her encouragement. She further said that the gangalam will look better in our collection rather than lying unnoticed on their loft. She told us that whenever we visit Hyderabad, we should visit her house and collect the Brass gangalam. We thanked her and the conversation drifted to something else.
After three months from this incident, we happened to go over to Hyderabad and informed her that we were in Hyderabad. She invited us for dinner and after a well spent evening with her, her husband, and children, we got up to leave her house. She asked us to wait for a minute and called her servant and instructed her to go up the attic and bring down the brass gangalam. She further told the servant to clean it up and put it in our car. We were surprised that she remembered her word given to us at Mumbai and were happy to know that she meant it. As a courtesy, we politely told her that we will take it later. But she insisted that we stay a little longer and take with us her gift.
Of course, we happily stayed for some more time and collected the gift. It is a beautiful Brass gangalam that was mostly keep at the entrance of the house in good old days filled with water so that whoever enters the house will first wash their feet and then only they enter the house. This was a tradition in the good old days. When we first saw the brass gangalam it was almost black in colour due to long storage and oxidation. We wanted to know the age of the gangalam but what Annapoorna told us is that she got it from her mother and her mother got it from her mother in turn. She said that it is there since 4 generations in their family. We brought it to our Mumbai residence and got it cleaned. It is now a proud possession in our house. We affectionately call it “Annapoorna Gangalam”.
Attend Local Exhibition cum Sales Events
I closely follow the newspapers and magazines for information on exhibitions cum sales events happening in the city. These advertisements normally fall into the following three categories:
1. Families that want to reduce or dispose part of their collection
2. Families that are shifting to a new location within city or to other cities
3. Families that are leaving the country and settling abroad
Most of the people falling in the above three categories want to sell their valuable collection. I invariably visit these sales since it gives me an opportunity to buy the antiques from a known source and when purchased I can ask them the history and related story about the antiques. I also generally get them at a very reasonable price since the people who leave the country to settle abroad have to clear their items within a set time. Most of these sales will be for one day only. Hence, I make it a point to go with adequate cash to purchase the item on the spot if a deal is struck. If you are interested in having a wide selection, you have to go early and clinch the deal. Of course the first half of the day’s sales will be at a relatively higher price, and as the evening sets in the prices start getting reduced, but you will have the limited choice. I have acquired most of my collection through such “Sales”.
Once I attended a sale in Madras (now renamed as Chennai ) by a family who were leaving India to settle abroad. I saw a beautiful stone sculptured statue of a lady drummer similar to the sculptures of Konark temple. The sculpture was very captivating with a gracious posture, enchanting hair style, and well-rounded body curves. I asked the house owner as to what is the price for the sculpture. He said it is priceless. Then he added that I can give him whatever I value I feel is right for that piece since he has to close the sale that evening. I could see how much feeling of separation he had felt to part with that piece. I gave him whatever I thought at that time was a reasonable price is and came out with that lovely statue. You can have a look at that wonderful stone statue.
These are just a few tips and experiences that I have written down. I’m sure you will have your own experiences to share. Feel free to drop in your comments and suggestions. I will be glad to read them and reply.
You can subscribe to my future blog posts;
Please fill in your email address and you will be informed whenever I write a new blog post.
Kamandalam is a water pot with a handle used by Hindu religious sadhus, sanyasis, munis, yogis, ascetics, Buddhist monks and Hindu mendicants to carry water. Kamandalam represents a self-contained and simple life. Kamandalam is also called as Kamandal or Kamandalu. It is traditionally made out of ripe bottle gourd, or pumpkin, or coconut shell, or from wood of the Kamandalataru tree. It is said that the water in a traditional pumpkin Kamandalam is equivalent to Amrutam, the elixir of life; hence it represents life, continuity, fertility, and prosperity. It is depicted that Hindu Gods and sanyasis carry the traditional Kamandalam in their hands. Nowadays, Kamandalam is made out of Brass, Copper, or Silver and also with Clay. I have collected a unique and beautiful Kamandalam made out of the combination of brass and copper.
My Early Experience with Kamandalam
I have childhood memories of Kamandalam being used profusely in our village Someswaram in the Godavari delta in Andhra Pradesh, India. Hindu religious sanyasis used to come to our village and they used to visit few houses and collect rice in their shining brass Kamandalam till it is full. Once it is full, they used to go under the Pipal tree near the tank of the village and cook the rice for their mid-day meal. I used to admire the shining Kamandalam vessel in their hands.
The Brahmins in our village used to carry Kamandalam with the water to the temple to do Abhishekam to the Sivalingam in our Someswara Swami temple. Abhishekam is a form of pooja ritual to the God in which he is drenched with water by slowly pouring water on the entire body of the God starting from the head till the toe. Lord Shiva is known as Abhisheka priya (lover of abhishekam) and hence most of the people do Abhishekam to Lord Shiva in his Lingam form with devotion and tender care from the snout of the Kamandalam.
The History of the Kamandalam
The Kamandalam shown in the picture belongs to my paternal grandfather and he used it for doing Abhishekam in our village Shiva temple. I was told by my mother that my grandfather Shri. Yenugu Krishna Murthy has purchased this Kamandalam at Kasi, presently known as Varanasi, during his pilgrimage to various holy places In India in the year 1927. So we can say that this Kamandalam is 85 years old. After my grandfather’s death, this has come to my possession as a part of my antique collection. Since it is just decorating my shelf, my father- in- law Shri. Machraju Bhaskar Rao, started using the Kamandalam to do Abhishekam on every Masa Sivarathri day to Lord Shiva in the city of Vijayawada. The short form of his name “M.B.R.” is also engraved on the Kamandalam so that it can be easily identified among the several Kamandalams that come to the temple for Abhishekam.
The poojari (temple priest) collects all the Kamandalams with water; he does the abhishekam and then returns the Kamandalams to the respective persons. After my father-in-laws demise, the Kamandalam has again come back to my collection. I really don’t know how many times this Kamandalam served Lord Shiva by being an instrument in doing abhishekam to Shiva from its beautiful snout.
The Design of the Kamandalam
Here are the measurement of the Kamandalam: Height from base to mouth: 5 inches, from base to the handle: 8 inches, diameter of the base: 2.8 inches, diameter of the belly 4.5 inches, diameter of the mouth: 3.4 inches.
This Kamandalam is hand made with brass and copper and this is a beautiful combination, aesthetically speaking. This Kamandalam is called Ganga Jamuna Kamandalam since the brass in itrepresents Ganga river and the copper represents Jamuna river (also know about Ganga Jamuna pot in the article “Ganga Water Lota” written by me). The Kamandalam has a three stepped base, a round shaped pot and a wide open neck. All the three elements of the pot are exquisitely blended to form a lovely curvaceous pot. There is a graceful snout resembling the neck of a peacock attached to the belly of the Kamandalam through which water can be poured in a controlled way. There is a beautiful semi-circular handle attached to the mouth of the Kamandalam to facilitate excellent gripwhen carried and to monitor the flow of the water from the snout in a measured way.
Traditional Kamandalam is made out of bottle gourd or pumpkin or coconut. The ripe pumpkin is removed from the creeper and is sun dried. After the skin becomes dry, the inside flesh along with the seeds is scooped out keeping the skin intact. The skin is cleaned thoroughly from inside. Subsequently, the skin is cut into the shape of Kamandalam with a handle.
The Spiritual Significance of making Pumpkin Kamandalam
The pumpkin creeper plant is compared to the material world and the pumpkin to the individual. The seeds and the flesh of the pumpkin are symbolised as ego. The individual has to cut himself off from the material world like the pumpkin is plucked out from the plant. One has to scoop out his ego and carnal desires to clean his inner self to attain moksha, the celestial bliss, just as the way the flesh is removed from the pumpkin and the skin is cleaned. As the dried pumpkin is fit to hold the water which is equivalent to Amrutam, so is the mind which is fit to enjoy celestial bliss. The desires can be removed from the mind by Yogic practices similar to the cleaning and drying the skin of the pumpkin. Thus, the mind is filled with celestial joy as the Kamandalam is filled with nectar.
Stories about Kamandalam
In Hindu puranas and epics, there are stories signifying the importance of Kamandalam. It is interesting to know some of these stories.
The Story of Agastya muni and Cauvery River
For the marriage of Lord Shiva with Parvathi all the Gods, Devatas, Rishis, and Munis were present to witness the wedding. Due to the weight of such large gathering, the north part of India got tilted down. In order to balance the earth, Lord Shiva asks Agastya Maha Muni to go to the Podhigai mountain ranges in the south of India. Rishi Agastya, though being short statured had immense spiritual strength and was the only person who could maintain the balance. Agastya muni was unhappy that he could not witness the divine marriage. So Lord Shiva granted him the divine vision to witness the marriage from wherever he is. Lord Shiva also took a hair from his thick locks and converted it into a river called Kaveri and commanded her to be in the Kamandalam of Agastya rishi and that she should flow out when directed by Agastya.
Indra, the king of Devas, afraid of the demon Surapadman left his abode and reached Sirgazhi, located in the southern part of India to hide himself and to pray to Lord Shiva. He created a beautiful garden and was performing pooja to Lord Shiva from the flowers of the garden. Varuna, the God of rain, afraid of Surapadman, stopped giving rain water to Indra’s garden and hence Indra could not do his pooja with the flowers. Indra approached Lord Ganesha and requested his help. Ganesha disguised as a boy came to Podhigai ranges where Agastya rishi was living and sat on his Kamandalam and tilted itso that water could flow out. When Rishi Agastya lifted his hand to shoo off the crow, Kaveri river took it as a signal for her to flow and it flowed in the direction where Indra’s garden is located and watered his garden. Agasthya Maha Muni started chasing the boy and Lord Ganesha gave his darshan as Ganesh. Agastya was very repentant that he tried to punish Lord Ganesha and as repentance started hitting his forehead with his knuckles. Lord Ganesha blessed Agastya rishi and gave a boon to him stating that whoever worships him by beating his forehead with knuckles will attain wisdom and victory in their life. Thus, the Kamandalam is instrumental in carrying river Kaveri to south of India.
The Story of Vamana and Bali
Mahabali was a great Asura king and he conquered both earth and heavens and had driven Indra from his Kingdom of Heavens. Bali was the son of Prahlada and Prahlada’s father was Hiranyakasapu. Indra, being helpless prayed to Lord Vishnu to restore his kingdom of heavens. Lord Vishnu took incarnation as Vamana Avatara to dethrone KingBali and restore heavens to Indra. Lord Vishnu was born to Rishi Kasyapa and his wife Aditi as Vamana. He grew as a dwarf Brahmin. One day, the dwarf Vamana goes to King Bali with a grass umbrella and a Kamandalam in his hands and asks a boon from him to grant three feet of land. Sukracharya who is the guru of Bali and all Asuras sensed that Lord Vishnu has come in disguise as Vamana and was apprehensive of some foul game. Sukracharya requested Bali not to grant any boon as Lord Vishnu had come in the avatar of Vamana. But Bali insisted on giving the boon since he had already committed. Vamana asks Bali to sanctify the boon by pouring water into his hands from his Kamandalam. Bali takes the Kamandalam into his hands from Vamana to pour water.
To prevent the boon being sanctified, Sukracharya enters into the spout of the Kamandalam in the form of a bee and prevents the flow of water from it. Vamana guessed the play of Sukracharya and cleared the way of the snout by piercing a Dharba grass which blinds the eye of Sukracharya. Vamana then takes the form of Trivikrama and enlarges his form into gigantic proportions in such a way that one leg is kept on the earth and another on the heaven and then he asks Bali where he should keep his third foot. Bali offers his head and Vamana puts his foot on the head of Bali and pushes him to Pathala Loka, the netherworld. He then grants a boon to Bali that he can come to earth and visit his kingdom once in a year and that day will be celebrated as Onam festival. The people of Kerala welcome Bali every year by celebrating Onam festival with floral decorations in front of each house, song and dance, boat races, and of course the most important feast with 21 course meal. Thus, Vamana’s Kamandalam plays an important role in sanctifying the boon granted by King Bali and blinding the eye of Sukracharya.
The Story of Satyavrata and Matsyavatara
It is said in Bhagavata Purana that King Satyavrata saved a fish from the big fish by keeping it in his Kamandalam. This fish was Lord Vishnu in his Matsyavatara form. The same Matsya takes a gigantic form and saves Satyavrata from a great deluge. The fish tells Satyavrata to build a boat, and sit in it along with Sapta Rishis. At the time of deluge, the great Matsya pulls the boat to safety and saves Satyavrata from the great deluge of Kalpantara and he lives in the next kalpa or the post deluge era. For full story of how Satyavrata is saved by Lord Vishnu in his Matsyavatara, please read the article “Antique Brass Tiruchoornam Bharani (container)” written by me.
The Story of Ksheera Sagara Madhanam (Churning of milky ocean ) by Devatas and Asuras
It is written in the Mahabharata that Devatas and Asuras churned the milky ocean to obtain Amrutham, the elixir of life. Dhanvantari comes out of the ocean with a Kamandalam in his hand full of Amrutham. Both Devatas and Asuras fight for Amrutham. Lord Vishnu appears in the guise of a beautiful and enchanting woman called Mohini, tricks Asuras and distributes the Amrutham to Devas only from the Kamandalam. For the full story on churning of the milky ocean (Pala Samudra Madhanam) and how Mohini tricks Asuras and favours Devas, please visit the article “Maha Kumbh Mela” written by me.
Gods and Goddesses who hold Kamandalam in their Hands
Goddess Durga– Goddess Durga is worshipped in nine forms as Navadurga in the Navaratri pooja festival. Out of the nine forms, one form is known as Brahmacharini. In this form, Goddess Durga is depicted as the one who practices austerity, bestows happiness, prosperity, peace and grace. She holds Kamandalam in one hand and a rosary in another hand.
Lord Shiva – In front of Shiva (in the centre), a Kamandalam made from the pumpkin is always shown on the ground. The pumpkin Kamandalam contains nectar and is a symbol of spiritual attainment. Kamandalam also signifies the simple and detached life of Lord Shiva.
Dattatreya – Lord Dattatreya was born to Rishi Athri and his wife Anasuya. He has six hands and in one of the hands he holds Kamandalam. The water in Dattateya’s kamandalam is of highest purity and can cure mental and physical ailments.
Lord Brahma – Lord Brahma is depicted as having four arms. In the top left hand, he carries Vedas, in the top right hand he holds a rosary which he uses to count time, in the lower right hand he gives Abhayamudra that is protection for his all devotees and also bestows divine grace on his entire creations, in the lower left hand he holds a Kamandalam and the it represents cosmic energy out of which the universe is created.
More about Gods and Kamandalam
Gods associated with water like Varuna, Goddess river Ganga and Goddess river Saraswathi carry Kamandalam in their hands.
Brihaspathi, the guru of Gods, and Agni, the God of fire, are also depicted as carrying Kamandalam in their hands.
The Goddess Karamgamaladharini wears a garland made out of several Kamandalams around her neck.
The Kamandalam water is also used by Gods to curse the wrong doers and bless their devotees by sprinkling water on them. Goddess Brahmini killed demons with the holy water from her Kamandalam by sprinkling it on the demons. This is mentioned in the pious book Devi Mahatyam. This shows how powerful the water in a Kamandalam is.
In an excavated coin belonging to the period 183 to 165 BC, there is a stamping showing Lord Krishna carrying a Kamandalam.
The birth of holy river Ganga is attributed to the Kamandalam of Lord Brahama. The story goes that Lord Brahma washed the toe of Lord Vishnu and collected the holy water in his Kamandalam. This holy water has come out of Brahma’s Kamandalam and flows as Ganga river. The birth of mythical river Saraswathi is also attributed to Brahma’s Kamandalam.
The origin of river Narmada is from Amarkantak in the mountains of Madhya Pradesh. An ancient Kamandalam is always kept full of water at Amarkantak and is called Brighu Kamandalam, meaning the Kamandalam belonging to the Rishi Brighu.
The story of the origin of Silambu river says when Brahma washed the feet of Vamana from the water of his Kamandalam, a drop fell from Vamana’s foot on the ground and the same drop of water converted into river Silambu.
Garuda Purana states that any one gifting a Kamandalam to a Brahmin during the Shraddha, a kind of the ritual done for the dead person during the funeral ceremony, ensures that the dead person has plenty of drinking water in his journey after life.
Do you know how ladies used to dry their hair after a head bath in those good old days when electric hair driers were not available? Yes! They had a traditional style of drying the hair with perfumed hot air. Sounds romantic and feels cosy doesn’t it? In the old days, when modern gadgets had not yet invaded the lives of humans, drying wet hair after the bath was a cosmetic ritual. Ladies used Sambrani dhoop, the incense smoke that is generated by burning sambrani powder on the charcoal fire for the purpose. The sambrani powder has an inherent sweet aroma and the smoke that comes out of burning charcoal is warm. Thus, the hair is pampered with hot and sweet scented smoke. The perfumed warm smoke can penetrate into the deep spaces inside tresses from the roots to the ends. For this purpose, the craftsmen of those days designed brass pots that are used to hold burning charcoal with necessary ventilation for oxygen supply required for the burning process. Here is one such antique beautifully designed sambrani burning incense pot made out of brass.
Design of the Sambrani Incense Pot
The pot is made up of two parts joined together. There is a cup to hold the charcoal fire and below the cup is the hollow base that serves as an air gap to supply the oxygen that fuels the fire. The height of the air gap base is 1.5 inches and the height of the charcoal cup is 2.5 inches. The bottom of the charcoal cup has three holes that supply air to the burning charcoal and also serve as drain holes to discharge the charcoal ash. This pot is meant to be kept on a plate for practical reasons. It is not possible to hold the hot brass pot with bare hands and hence it is carried by keeping it on a plate.
Traditionally, sambrani pots are kept on a round plate with a rim around it along with the sambrani powder next to the pot for convenience. Sambrani powder, when it touches the fire, gives a spurt of instant thick smoke and subsides very soon. So, one has to sprinkle another dose of the powder into the charcoal to get the next billow of incense smoke. Hence, it is essential that the charcoal pot and the sambrani powder are together at the same place always and the plate serves as the common ground. The plate is also required to hold the ash coming out from the drain holes. There are intricate designs on the surface of the charcoal pot. There are circular lines designed on the base of the pot. The residue of the burnt sambrani settles on the surface of the charcoal fire which hampers the burning of the charcoal. Hence, it is necessary to fan the fire periodically or reshuffle the charcoal pieces to keep the charcoal fire live.
What is Sambrani?
Sambrani is a term used by traditional medical science Ayurveda for the yellow resin, a gum like substance that comes from perfumed sap of Sal tree. The sap is extracted from the tree by making an incision in the bark of the tree. This herbal resin is then collected and processed in the form of minute granules that are pressed hard to form crystals or bars of sambrani. It is also called as Jhuna.
The botanical name for sambrani is Benzoin resin. It is produced out of the bark of tree species like Genus Styrax. The main component in the resin is Benzoic acid, generally called Benzoin resin.
Benzoin resin is mainly produced by the countries Cambodia, Thailand, Vietnam, Laos, and Sumatra since Styrax species of trees are grown in these countries. Benzoin gum is also used in the orthodox churches of Russia as church incense. In Arab countries of Middle East and in India, Benzoin is burnt over charcoal fire as incense. It is also used in Japan and China in the manufacture of incense sticks.
How is Sambrani Used?
Sambrani is used for multiple purposes like drying the hair of ladies and children, in the temple poojas as incense, as a germicide, as a mosquito repellent, as a sweet fragrance, to create divine atmosphere etc. It is also used as a perfume in the perfume industry, to manufacture incense sticks and cones, as a flavouring substance, and in medicines like Tincture of Benzoin.
Traditionally, sambrani is used to dry the hair by holding hair over the sambrani pot and letting the smoke in. If the hair is really long and thick, another person or a family member could assist by holding the hair over the smoke for effective drying. In instances where there is no one to assist, the ladies devised a method to effectively spread the smoke in the hair and evenly dry it out. This was done by placing a straw basket over the sambrani pot and then holding the hair over the straw basket. This served two purposes. One, it evenly distributed the smoke from the gaps in the straw basket. Two, it reduced dependency and risk of hair burning due to contact with the charcoal.
Since thousands of years, Indian temples have been using incense. It also used in Buddhist and Hindu temple for religious ceremonies as a purifier of atmosphere near the temple areas. It is also used in the pooja rooms in private houses and in domestic shrines during pooja to bring in a meditative ambiance to the religious ceremony. It is also believed that the smoke generated by sambrani wards off evil spirits and cleanses the air. That is one of the reasons why it is mainly used in temples, churches, and in religious ceremonies.
The Medicinal Benefits of Sambrani
The smoky aroma that is generated by roasting the sambrani powder on burning charcoal is therapeutic, antibacterial, and curative. It helps in enhancing sensorial perception and mental clarity. According to Ayurveda and spiritual concepts, it induces serenity, calms the nervous system, revokes negative thoughts, and fosters a quiet mental state. It helps in spiritual practices by enhancing the consciousness and inner awareness.
The amazing uplifting aroma of sambrani is conducive to create soothing ambiance and calm serenity.
Sambrani oil is extracted from exotic resins and several other elements obtained from tropical forests like wood, roots, bark of Genus Styrax species of trees. The oil is extracted by the traditional distillation process using earthen pots. In India, sambrani oil is prepared in the state of Madhya Pradesh. This oil is used in perfumery industry, manufacture of incense, and for medical purpose.
I had sourced this sambrani incense brass pot approximately 35 years ago from an antique dealer in Chennai, Tamil Nadu. We have actively been using the same in our house ever since for pooja, religious ceremonies, and of course drying the hair. If you haven’t experienced using sambrani first-hand, I encourage you to do so. It is soothing, has a great fragrance, and is beneficial. If you are unable to source a brass pot for the purpose, you could go for a much more economical and convenient earthen pot with a similar design and ventilation outlets which are widely available across the country.
Ancient Indian wisdom of storing water in brass vessels for healthy living is now proved to be a scientific fact. Extending the same habit, ancient Indians drank their water from brass pots. This culture was prevalent till the beginning of 20th century and that was when the stainless steel and plastic culture pushed out the use of brass as a medium of storing and drinking water. Modern world, enamoured by the comfort of stainless steel and the economic aspect of the plastic, had started using the vessels made out of both these materials. The wonderful art of making brass vessels in different shapes and sizes has slowly withered away and the beautiful and artistic brass drinking pots have gone out of everyday use and are now mostly available only with the collectors of these ancient treasures. I have managed to collect some of these magnificent antique Brass drinking pots and it gives me great pleasure to share these beauties with you.
I have grown up in the brass culture. In my child hood, everyone in our family including elders and children used to drink water from brass drinking pots or brass drinking lotas and brass tumblers. The elders used to drink from brass pots while the youngsters used to drink from brass tumblers since they are relatively lighter than the heavy brass pots. We also used to eat in bronze dining plates. My grandfather alone used to eat in a silver plate with a small patch of gold at the centre but invariably used to drink his water from a particular brass drinking pot which is exhibited in this article. The metal vessels in which the food is eaten and the water is taken actually form an integral part of the whole experience of serving and eating food. Along with the cooked food, my grandfather’s meal also consisted of microns of silver and gold absorbed by the hot rice served and brass microns from the drinking water. No one else in the family was allowed to use my grandfather’s drinking pot. Our elders used to call the brass drinking pots that of the size and shape shown in the pictures as Aapukara.
This is a magnificent piece of art work. My grandfather used to drink with this pot only. He lived for nearly 90 years and my mother used to tell me that he was using this for more than sixty years. This item is from our family’s collection and should be more than 100 years old.
This pot is made out of bronze, otherwise known as gunmetal. This pot stands on 3 supports fixed to the base of the pot unlike the rim on which the pot sits in other varieties of the brass drinking pots. It is also peculiar that the belly is not so prominent when compared to the traditional drinking pots whereas the neck is wide with thin rim like in a tumbler.
This is a beautiful and cute drinking pot. The belly is much larger compared to its height. The bottom rim and the rim of the mouth are almost equal. It has a beautiful design engraved on the body but you would now notice that it has faded due to usage through decades and antiquity. This item was gifted to me by my cousin sister Narasu who always supported me in my quest for collecting antiques.
The Design of the Brass Drinking Pots
These drinking pots are made with brass casting technique.
These pots have a perfectly balanced shape and proportion. The diameter of the bottom end and the mouth end is almost same with a bulging belly that beautifully tapers to a neck and finally opens up to a mouth with a rim. The design has soft flowing curves with the fine smooth finish.
The designer has designed the pot so beautifully that its base sits on the ground perfectly, the middle part with big belly shape holds a good amount of water and the smooth tapering neck takes the water gently to the opening (mouth) and the rim of the mouth facilitates ease of flow of water into the mouth of the drinker.
The neck of the pot is designed in such a way that it snugly fits into the grip of the hand when clenched between the palm and fingers.
The entire shape is aesthetically pleasing and functionally convenient.
The Most Popular Design in the 19th Century
This design of the brass drinking pots was very popular in that era. The same design was used not only for brass metal works but also for wood works, buildings, and other decorative aspects. I also have a Victorian style antique cot with canopy in my collection. The legs of the cot have a design exactly similar to that of the antique brass drinking pot.
The same design in a larger size was used to make an earthen pot for drinking water purpose called Cooja in India. Any design similar to Cooja is called a “Cooja design” in India.
The parapet walls of the terrace of the vintage buildings were also decorated with the similar design but in a slightly elongated style called Cooja design.
The Health Aspect of Drinking Water from Brass Pots or Brass Lota
On a recent trip to India, Reed, a microbiologist at Northumbria University in Newcastle upon Tyne, UK, witnessed villagers doing exactly this.
Reed, with his colleagues Puja Tandon and Sanjay Chhibber, carried out two series of experiments. In Britain, the researchers filled brass and earthenware vessels with a diluted culture of Escherichia coli bacteria, which can cause illnesses such as dysentery. They then counted the surviving bacteria after 6, 24, and 48 hours. A similar test was carried out in India using naturally contaminated water.
The amount of live E. coli in the brass vessels dropped dramatically over time, and after 48 hours they fell to undetectable levels, Reed told the Society for General Microbiology’s meeting this week in Edinburgh, UK.
You can read more information about the experiments conducted on the effect of brass on bacteria in the article here.
I have also written an article on “Ganga Water Lota” which provides some more information on Brass and Copper lotas. A lota is similar to a pot but it differs in shape. The article can be read here.
Gaja in Sanskrit means Elephant, and Diya is an oil lamp with a wick. This oil lamp is crafted to show an Elephant carrying a diya on its back.
It is customary that Gods, Kings and Dignitaries sit in a howdah placed on a caparisoned Elephant. They do not sit directly on the back of the Elephant. In this picture showing Gaja diya, the diya is not placed directly on the back of the Elephant but is placed on an elevated place representing howdah and there is caparison design on the back of the Elephant. Diya in Hindu mythology is very sacred and equivalent to Goddess Lakshmi and hence given such an elevated position in this Gaja diya. Gaja and Lakshmi have a strong association in Hindu mythology. Airavata, the first elephant, and Goddess Lakshmi, both have emerged from the celestial milky ocean (Samudra madhanam) when Devatas and Asuras churned it for getting Amrut, the nectar that gives eternal life.
In Hindu mythology, Lakshmi is worshipped in eight forms (Ashta Lakshmi) and one of her aspect is known as Gajalakshmi. In Gajalakshmi form, she is seated on a Lotus flower flanked on either side by Elephants performing Abhishekam (sprinkling water on the Goddess) with their raised trunks.
Elephant has lot of significance in Hindu mythology. Airavat, the white elephant (the first of the elephant species) that emerged from the milky ocean is the mount of Indra, the chief of Devas. There is another version of the creation of Airavat that says it has come out of the egg shell in the right hand of Brahma followed by seven more Elephants that are called Ashta Dig-gajas who guard the eight directions of the universe. An Elephant represents abundance, fertility, richness, boldness, strength, wisdom, and royalty, and its presence in the house even in the form of a picture or sculpture or an object of art will bring prosperity in the house.
This antique exquisite creation of Gaja diya was designed and crafted taking into consideration all positive aspects of Gaja and Lakshmi to bring prosperity to the house in which it is used.
Deepa sundari (Deepa means the flame from the lamp and Sundari means the beautiful lady).Thus, the Deepa Sundari Diya depicts the beautiful lady holding the diya. Deepa Sundari figure made out of brass is really beautiful with well-proportioned body and a long and well-adorned hair plaited upto the hips. Part of the hair is dressed like a bun on the top of her head and the other part of the hair is woven into a charming long plait resting on her hips.
The features on the face and some of the body parts are smoothened due to continuous usage, cleaning, and antiquity. This Deepa Sundari idol is there in our family since more than 5 generations and is estimated to be more than 100 years old. Since any idols that do not have clear and sharp features are not merited to be kept in the pooja, this Deepa Sundari has come into my antique collection from our pooja room.
Traditional Oil Lamp
This is an enchanting design of Oil diya. It has a solid base to support the oil cup. The upper part of the oil lamp is in oval shape instead of the typical round shape with a long snout to hold the wick. The base is in a round shape tapering and joining the cup. The joint near the oil cup is deliberately kept narrow so that the user can slip the fingers around the narrow neck of the diya and the cup of the diya rests on the palm of the user for safe handling and to prevent the spillage of oil. The rim of the cup has a design to give some aesthetic appeal to the diya.
This diya is used in our pooja room since 5 generations. My paternal grandfather’s mother -in-law had brought this diya from her family to our grandfather’s family. She had only one daughter and after the death of her husband she moved into her daughter’s house (that is my grandfather’s house) with all her belongings including this enchanting diya. From my grandfather, it had come to my father and from there to me. This diya was used in our family prayer room from generations in order to light a long cotton wick filled with Til (sesame seeds) oil.
This is a typical Kerala bronze oil lamp. Kerala is a state in South India and is famous for temples and brass oil lamps. Kuthu Vilakku has robust design with a solid round base and an oil cup of the same shape and size. Both the base and oil cup are joined with a long rod with ring like grooves throughout the length of the rod to provide a strong grip for handling.
Even if oil spills by chance, these grooves provide the strong grip against slippery oil. No snout is provided to the oil cup thus giving the freedom to keep any number of wicks anywhere.
There is no functional value for the projection in the center of the oil cup but there is a symbolic value. It is sometimes interpreted that the design is symbolic of female and male reproductive system. The protruding central portion is symbolic of male genitalia on a female womb depicted by the oil cup and the burning light representing the creation of life.
Deepam Kundi (Decorative Diya)
Deepam Kundi is an oil lamp that can be placed anywhere for decorative purpose. These Kundulu (plural for Kundi) are placed at a strategic place in a pooja room or to decorate a ceremonial religious event.
Varasa Deepalu (Row Diyas)
These Varasa Deepalu are row diyas (serial lamps) created on a single sheet of brass .They are used to enhance the lighting arrangement on special occasions like Lakshmi Pooja on Diwali festival and Tulasi Pooja in Kartika masam (Month of October).
Kada Vottulu are the cotton wicks that are used to light the oil diyas. One end of the wick will be in the oil and the other end will be lighted for the flame.
This wonderful art object in the form of a fish is actually a Bharani (Container) made out of Brass metal used for storage of red powder called Tiruchoornam. Tiruchoornam is used by Vaishnavite sect of Hindu Brahmin Community to apply Namam, a religious mark on their forehead.
Vaishnavism and the Namam
Namam mark is a visible sign of a person belonging to a particular sect of Hindu religion. The followers of Vishnu, called Vaishnavites, apply this mark on their foreheads in “U” shape depicting the foot of Lord Vishnu. The “U” shape mark also contains a red straight line in the centre of “U” depicting goddess Lakshmi the consort of Vishnuand Goddess of wealth and prosperity.
The centre line is made up of red ochre powder which is called Sindhoor or Tiruchoornam or Trichoornam. The “U” shape in white colour is made out of white soft stone known as Sudda. The namam mark is also called Tilak mark.
The red line was originally drawn from a red stone available within the ant hill. The ants usually build their ant hill on top of the red stones. When the stone is rubbed in water, a red colour paste is formed.
In the Sri Vaishnava sampradaya (Tradition), the Namam is made from the white colour mud found in anthills. The scriptures reveal that the mud from the base of a Tulasi plant and the white colour mud from the base of the ant hill are pure and ideal for making Namam.
This Fish shaped Bharani is used for storing Tiruchoornam that is red powder.
Significance of fish shape for Tiruchoornam Bharani
Lord Vishnu is the supreme God for Vaishnavites. Whenever the need arises, Vishnu takes avatars (incarnations) and comes down to earth to destroy the evil and to protect and uphold virtue on earth. One of his avatars is Matsyavatar (matsya means fish and avatar means incarnation). To commemorate Matsyavatar the artisan has made the Bharani in the shape of Fish.
How to apply Namam on the forehead?
The white colour stone is cut into small sizes in the shape of handy slabs for easy handling and use. One can put some water in the palm and rub the white stone on the wet palm till you get a white paste.
This paste can be applied on the forehead in “U” shape by the help of a thin metal rod or wooden stick the size of a tooth pick. Some experienced people use fingers directly without using any device. The white paste will dry in no time forming a bright “U” shaped mark.
Tiruchoornam powder is used for central red line. The powder is kept on the palm and few drops of water is added and rubbed nicely with the thumb to have a nice red paste. Central line is drawn with the red paste using a tooth pick like device in between the white lines.
Namam is a visual form of Lord Vishnu – Since Vaishnavait Tilak mark is itself considered as a visual form of Lord Vishnu, the powder used in marking the Tilak mark is given much importance. The devotional reverence to the red powder can be felt that they make a specially crafted Bharani in shape of Matsya (fish) to adore Matsyavatara of Lord Vishnu.
Design and workmanship of Brass Trichoornam Bharani
The antique Tiruchoornam Bharani is made out of brass and is handmade. The belly of the fish which is very bulky stores good amount of powder. The mouth of the fish is used to fill up or empty the powder. The mouth of the fish can be closed by the wonderfully designed lid.
The lid has a handmade screw system having 5 threads. Its knob has diamond cut design having 13 diamond cut faces. The lid can be closed tightly due to threads and make the powder leak proof. With 13 diamond cuts, the screwing and unscrewing can be done smoothly and efficiently with a tight grip and there is no chance of slippage at the time of handling.
The fish scales on the body are beautifully hand carved. Similarly, the fins on both sides are symmetrically hand finished. The gill covers over the eyes are neatly shaped. The eyes are realistic and lively. The symmetry and anatomy of the body is perfectly carved. This is a rare piece of religious artefact.
The story of Matsyavatar (Fish Incarnation)
This is the first Avatar of Lord Vishnu. This happened in Chakshusha Manvantara in Krita Yuga. The story of Matsyavatara is found in Shrimad Bhagavatha, 8th sanda (Chapter).
At the end of one of the Kalpas, Lord Brahma felt sleepy and opened his mouth for a yawn. Without his knowledge the four Vedas slipped from his opened mouth. A Daitya (demon) by name Hayagreeva noticed the Vedas and snatched them. Lord Vishnu observed the theft of Vedas by Hayagreeva and decided to retrieve the Vedas and return them to Lord Brahma to continue his creation in the next Kalpa which is a day break for Brahma. According to Brahma calendar, one day of Brahma is equal to one Kalpa on earth. Lord Vishnu instead of directly attacking him and retrieving the Vedas chose to wait and combine this task with another important work of saving his Bhakta (disciple) and noble king Satya Vrata from the forthcoming Pralaya (deluge). Lord Vishnu decides to descend on to earth from his abode Vaikuntam in the form of a fish to accomplish these two tasks.
One day King Satya Vrata was performing Sandhya Vandanam (daily ritual prayers) by offering Tarpana (offering of water) from the waters of river Kritamala. A small fish came into his cupped palms along with the waters. He slipped the fish back to waters. When he lifted second round of cupped waters, the fish reappeared in the waters and this incident kept on repeating. Finally, King Satya Vrata placed the fish in his Kamandalu and took it to his palace and kept it in a tub. The fish out grew the tub next day. He then transferred it to a well, to a pond, to a lake, to the river and finally to the sea to accommodate the growing form of the fish. Satya Vrata realised that the fish is not an ordinary fish and prayed to God to reveal the mystery of the fish. Then the fish spoke and revealed that he is the Lord Vishnu in the form of fish.
Lord Vishnu pleased with his Bhakta asked him what he desired. Satya Vrata said that he did not want anything for himself but wished to be instrumental in saving the worthy souls from the impending Pralaya.
Lord Vishnu in Matsyavatara told Satya Vrata that a (a great deluge) will inundate earth on the seventh day and destroy everything on earth. Lord Vishnu told Satya Vrata that he will send a huge boat and Satya Vrata should be on-board with all herbs, seeds, beings of all variety along with Sapta Rishis (seven sages) who will survive the deluge and enter into next Kalpa .The fish further instructed that he should use Vasuki ,the great serpent, as a rope and tie the boat to the horn of the fish. Satya Vrata followed all the instructions of the fish and the entire crew of the boat were saved from the great deluge. During the sailing of the boat throughout the night of Brahma, Lord Vishnu gave Upadesha (divine preaching) to Satya Vrata and the seven sages and his Upadesha later came to be known as Matsya Purana. After the boat crew reached safety the great fish attacked the demon Hayagreeva and retrieved the Vedas from him. He then handed over the Vedas to Lord Brahma.
Thus, in Matsyavatara, Lord Vishnu saves his devotees, destroys the demon Hayagreeva and restores the great Vedas to Brahma. Satya Vrata is known as Vaivaswatha Manu in the Chakshusha Manvantara.
Vaivasvata is a Sanskrit word meaning “sun-born” and he is born to the Great Sun God. In religious scriptures, Vaivasvata is a sage and he is also one of the Manus, or divine lawgivers, who have shown the way to mankind how to lead a right life.
Influence of religion on art:
The brass antique container in the shape of a fish for sindhoor powder is the best example as to how religion influences the art. The artisan has depicted the entire story of Matsyavatara of Lord Vishnu in a simple object like powder container in the form of a fish but crafted with extraordinary skill. In ancient times art emerged from myth, and religion, and it has maintained its compelling influence through its sacred aura. The intense spiritual and religious beliefs have played a dominant role in influencing the Indian art. The Indian artists visualized the various aspects of Gods and Goddesses as mentioned in the scriptures and infused these aspects into the objects of everyday life for religious rituals like the application of Namam on the forehead by the Vaishnavites and the fish container for the red powder Trichoornam for their Namam.