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Featured Video

Vintage Measuring Cups

Before the introduction of Metric System, Indian states had their own indigenous measuring systems in place. When I was a child, we used measuring cups in our house. I distinctly remember my mother using them. With time, they were replaced with modern ones in my house and that’s the last I saw them.

After many years, I saw two of these vintage measuring cups in an antique shop. This was the time when I just started collecting antiques. I instantly decided to acquire them. As the years went by, I started collecting more of these during my travels and hunt for traditional antiques. As of today, there is no trace of these measuring cups in any urban household. I’m not sure if any of these are still used in the villages. My elder sister who is about eighty one years old still uses the tavva measuring cup (made out of bamboo) in her house in Kakinada. I’ve also had friends tell me that some Tamil households still use the padi.  

So here’s a short video on vintage measuring cups that I have in my collection. If you have any stories or memories about measuring cups, do share. It would be wonderful and worthwhile to have some concrete information about these humble measuring cups that could be passed on to those (the future generations) who would want to know about them.

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Featured

The Cultural Voyage of a Corporate Executive – Zishta

 

I got to know about Zishta by chance. And I should thank Facebook for that. Social media has worked wonders for me. I have met interesting people online and have had engaging and interesting conversations with them regarding antiques. Some inspired me, some told me that I inspired them, some were full of questions and some were eager to share their thoughts. So here’s a story of how I met a team of passionate people doing something very different. 

About a year and a half back, I was checking my Facebook posts and noticed one by Zishta which had something about kalchatti (a stone cooking pot) in it. I had blogged about kalchattis earlier and have some in my collection too. I knew that they were long gone from the market and people hardly manufactured them anymore as there was hardly any demand.  I knew nothing about Zishta and never heard the name. But they had to do something with kalchattis and I had to dig deeper. I checked their page and they had a number. I decided to call and visit them once I was in Bangalore.

Artisan at work. Photo Courtesy – Zishta.

A Car Garage Minus the Car

Once in Bangalore, I called up on the number and spoke to Varishta. I enquired if I could visit their office that very day and she happily obliged. I noted down the address and was off to see them. When I reached the address, I wasn’t looking at any regular office building. What I found was a house. I walked in and saw a small path leading to what seemed like a car garage. Now I was curious than ever. I stepped in and saw two people busy packing items and readying them for dispatch. This was something! One of the persons was Archish (founder of Zishta) and then there was Varishta (who I had spoken to on the phone). We sat down and got talking. While I was engaging in conversation with them, I couldn’t help but notice all these traditional items neatly stacked, packed and ready for dispatch. All of this in what was originally a car garage. Interesting!

Zishta For You

Before founding Zishta, Archish was a seasoned marketing professional in one of the top MNCs in Bangalore. He is also an avid trekker and cyclist. Though the job was well paying and things were going pretty good in his career, it wasn’t what he wanted to continue doing. He had some ideas in mind but the corporate life doesn’t leave one with much time now, does it?

Archish on one of his bicycling adventure trips

During one of his cycling trips in the Himalayas, he says that he felt really humbled by the mountains and nature. He always thought about living a sustainable life in sync with nature and he had some ideas about it. Those ideas and feelings felt stronger than ever and he was clear about what had to be done next. And that’s how Zishta started.

The Co-Founders

Meera Ramakrishnan

After 22 years of holding senior leadership positions in some of the best Indian and MNC organizations, she felt an urge to understand ‘purpose’ in life.

This urge and restlessness over the last four years made her explore various aspects that had a better meaning to what she does everyday.

This journey led her to understand deeper passion for our traditions that were meaningful for our living. She decided to join hands with the team at Zishta.

 

Varishta MS 

A fresher out of college whose only passion had been playing volleyball for the state team. She was adamant to be her own boss and when Archish mooted the idea of starting an own venture, she joined in as a partner.

Passionate about preserving our traditions, she tirelessly works towards building a strong network of artisans and works with them in improving their capabilities.

A dynamic entrepreneur who energizes Zishta with her drive and enthusiasm. She manages the entire operations to make sure the best products are delivered to the patrons.

The Vision

Zishta was started with a vision to revive traditional knowledge and in the process revive and restore the rich artisan clusters who have lost out their traditional art forms to more industrial solutions for homes. The turning point was when Archish and his team started introspecting what they wanted to do with their lives. They realized that there is so much one could learn from parents and grandparents to lead a healthy holistic life. They also saw that there is a significant movement among the young people who are increasingly interested in organic produce. They realized that there is a good possibility that they can educate and inform the younger generation about traditional cooking techniques. Zishta team not only documents the different types of products like vessels and utilities used but also shares info about scientific reasons to back the use of such products.

Artisan at work. Photo Courtesy – Zishta.

After travel to different parts of Tamil Nadu, meeting interesting artisans and people passionate about traditional lifestyles, the Zishta team streamlined their efforts around three key result areas:

  • Sustainability of traditional knowledge
  • Sustainable livelihood for rural artisans and their traditional space
  • Sustainable solutions for an urban household

These guiding key result areas have helped Zishta to narrow down their focus on kitchen cookware and storage as first category of entry. A pilot proof of concept at the Organic Exhibition helped them to have conversations with many customers and they got an encouraging response. 

The Goal & Starting Point

Archish is absolutely clear about the goal and that is to make any urban household sustainable and holistic. That is the reason they’ve expanded their range to include products which have a lot of utility value and help in better living.

Archish at Zishta’s old office

Once the vision was clear and the goal set, Zishta team started on their exploratory journey. They did a lot of research to identify different aspects of traditional knowledge and learn from authentic sources as to where they should focus on. As part of their research, they visited our website and it is heartening to note that the material in the website gave them further impetus to take the journey forward. To put it in Archish’s own words, “Our visit to YK Antiques website gave us immense knowledge on various traditional aspects of our forefathers and the kind of products used by them. This gave us confidence to explore the kitchen in detail and identify artisans whom we could work with.”

Artisans & Adventure

The most difficult aspect of  Zishta’s venture was to find the artisans still making the traditional products, dealing with them, boosting their depleting morale and motivating them. They had to travel extensively, speak to many people and connect with number of artisan groups. This helped them in identifying the right group of people whom they need to work with. After identifying the artisan group, it meant double the effort to enable them to understand current urban consumer mindset and encouraging them to make products with the right requirements while maintaining the authenticity of our traditions. This is one of the key areas of Zishta’s   work and they put in a lot of effort to engage and motivate the artisan group.

Artisans at work. Photo Courtesy – Zishta

It is interesting to know the reactions of the artisans when Zishta team travel all the way from Bangalore to meet them and talk about their products. Archish says that their first reaction is of suspicion and inquisitiveness. As the artisans have started working with Zishta team over time, they have realized that the group is not there to exploit them but to enable them to get more for the effort they put in. Archish says that one of their principle policies is that they do not negotiate with their artisans to reduce cost. Zishta pays them what they ask for the effort they put in which adds to their credibility.

Patrons

Though the initial customer-base was modest, now they have a lot of patrons across the country. Zishta addresses the customers as ‘patrons’ since they patronize their products and continue to have relationship with them.

Archish says that he is very proud of their customers. Zishta has got amazing feedback from their customers who have listen to their journey and want to be part of it. The Zishta team consider themselves not as suppliers but as enablers for the customers to kick-start this journey to a sustained tradition way of healthy living. They help the customers as much as possible to make this transition smooth.

Most of their customers love the products they have launched. They associate with these products as they have seen them being used in the family.  Zishta has a rating of 4.2/5 on Amazon with more than 80% of the reviews being extremely positive.

What Next?

Archish feels that there is a comeback of these traditional products and there is an emerging trend of using them. Zishta team does see that happening. They feel there is a huge movement building up where people are slowly becoming aware of what they are losing and want to reclaim it.

An eye for detail. Photo courtesy – Zishta

On being asked what plans after 5 or 10 years, Archish says that he envisions Zishta to be the knowledge repository of all traditional wisdom across the country and work with different artisan groups and enable them to reach more customers. Zishta group want to focus on only utility value products that has strong connection with traditions and they would continue to focus on this area.

Why Write About Zishta?

To me, the message that comes out of Zishta’s journey is clear and thought provoking – lead a sustainable life! There is so much we can adapt and adopt from traditional wisdom; all that we have to do is to keep an open mind.

This article is an outcome of my admiration of Archish for kicking out a cool corporate life with money and glamour associated with such a job, and to take up a path many people dare to walk. He took to roads to identify the artisans of yore who are at the brim of losing their traditional livelihood and determined to change their fate to provide a continuous and sustainable life at their own native villages. I appreciate his passion to revive the traditional wisdom and present it to the present society in a way that helps them to lead a sustainable life. My interactions with him  further confirmed my conviction that here is an inspiring story that is  good to be available to those aspirants who wish to live up to their dream and touch the lives of people around. I took his permission to write this article and I am happy I did a wise thing.      

You can read more about Zishta through their Facebook page here or website here or get in touch with them via WhatsApp on +91 9742717707.

You can also find Zishta on Amazon here and Jaypore.com

 

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Featured

Antique Brass Milk Feeding Cup – Paladai

It is amazing to know that a simple cup with an elongated snout has played a crucial role in feeding the babies milk and medicines over centuries. There is no doubt about the fact that breastfeeding is the best form of feeding the babies. Sometimes, due to various factors, breastfeeding is not always possible for mothers. Babies who are deprived of the mother’s breast milk, for whatever reason, are then given milk from other devices that have been created by humans. Though it is not a natural way, these man-made devices play a crucial role in the feeding process to ensure that the babies get their dose of nutrition and grow up to be healthy. One of such man-made devices is called paladai or sangadai in Tamil. In Telugu, it is called uggu ginne. Jhinuk is another name given to it in West Bengal and people in the northern states call it bondla.

 

Paladai is made of various metals like gold, silver, copper, bronze and brass. Which one is used in a household depends on the financial status of the family. The paladai is considered as a sacred and auspicious item and it is given a reverential treatment. After use, it is cleaned thoroughly and placed in a secluded place where nobody can touch it. Only the designated elders of the family handle the feeding cup. If there’s a paladai in the house, it means that there are children in the house and there is progeny and continuation of life in the family.

Apart from it being used for milk feeding, paladai is also used to administer homemade concoctions of medicines for increasing the immunity of the child. It is also used for administering other ingredients like castor oil and other liquid medications.

 

The Design of Paladai

This antique paladai has a beautiful unique shape. It is basically a cup with a long groove-like spout on one side and a handle on the other end of the cup. The cup is fairly deep so that the milk is held in the cup even when the cup is tilted to feed the baby. The long open spout has thick edges since sharp edges can be rough on the baby’s mouth. The paladai has a round tubular base on which the cup rests.

The elevated base also helps in preventing ants and other pests from reaching the milk. The open cup also helps in cooling the milk in case it is hot and not fit for consumption. The handle can be held firmly with the thumb, pointing finger and the middle finger. It is heavy and sturdy and doesn’t break if dropped by mistake. The sturdy circular base sits firmly on the ground and has good stability.

My Memories of Paladai Feeding

The images are still fresh in my memory. My mother used to feed milk to the children of our family members with paladai sometimes. She used to sit on the floor, stretch her legs, draw her sari to the knee length, place the baby on her lap, and gently tuck the legs of the baby in between her legs. This was to ensure that the baby would not kick the legs destabilizing the milk in the paladai. She would then hold the two hands of the baby with her left hand and take the paladai in her right hand and place the tip of the spout in the baby’s right side of the mouth. If for any reason the baby would not open the mouth, she would gently tap the left side of the mouth with her pointing finger. This gentle tapping motion would make the baby open the mouth and she would dexterously slip the spout into the baby’s mouth.

The baby would normally gulp the milk and in case the baby held the milk in the mouth without gulping it for some reason, she would again gently tap the left side of the mouth with her finger. This gentle tapping movement sets in motion the gulping rhythm of the baby.

My mother also used to administer castor oil and sometimes medicines as well to the baby with the paladai. It was a common practice during my younger days to feed the babies with castor oil once in a week. This was done to ensure smooth and regular bowel movement for the babies.

Paladai and the Opium Connect

Back in the day, when the baby used to cry without any obvious reason, my mother used to diagnose that the baby must be having some stomach problem and then used to administer a mild dose of opium. Now, before some of you get shocked, let me clarify that this was a common practise. The dosage was crucial and mothers would be very careful and mindful of that.

We used to always have opium stored in a small silver container at home. I came to know from my grandfather that opium was supplied in Taluk offices to the ration holders during British rule in India. As strange as it may sound in today’s world, this was how it was back in the day.

To administer the opium to the child, my mother would take a needle and dip it into the opium and pick up what is held by the needle head. Then the opium was heated on a fire and dipped into the milk in the paladai and mixed well. You kind of get a sense of how tiny the quantity would be. The opium milk would then be administered to the baby, and surprisingly the baby would stop crying and sleep well.

My Experiences of Gulping Castor Oil from Paladai

I remember my mother feeding me and my sisters with castor oil once in a month till I was about 10 years old. Castor oil has a rancid smell and it is very repulsive to gulp too. When we used to see the sight of the paladai we used to run away to escape from the agony. The very sight of paladai would send shivers down our spines because we knew what was coming. My mother and other elders would catch hold of us and then we used to be coaxed and persuaded to take the castor oil. If we resisted, we would be bribed with biscuits and sweets. Once we realized that we couldn’t escape the inevitable, we would very reluctantly gulp the oil by closing the nose with our fingers to mitigate the odor of the oil. This oil gulping ceremony was generally conducted early in the morning so that the bowel movement would free up. Then sometime around 11 a.m. is when we would be given rice mixed with dry ginger powder and ghee followed by rasam. There would be strictly no yogurt, dal or vegetables for us on that day.

Whenever I see the paladai in my collection when I take it out for dusting or cleaning, I fondly remember my childhood adventures with it. I touch and feel these cute paladais that once were an integral part of my childhood and I grew in the paladai culture.

Feeding the Babies in Today’s Age

Nowadays, one can’t find a paladai in any modern household. It has slowly become obsolete and forgotten. People who have some idea or memory of it now consider it to be old fashioned and something that is barbaric. It is convenient to use plastic feeding bottles with plastic nipples, but how safe are they? Use of plastic itself is dangerous, be it food grade or whatever and it is best avoided when children are involved. But to think of it, there’s no escape from plastic for us now. It is everywhere! In our homes, in our offices, out on the streets, deep in the soil and also in the water bodies.

Plastic bottles carry harmful bacteria and unless they are regularly sterilized, they can be very hazardous for the health of the infant. Paladai made in brass, bronze or silver is relatively safe. The design of the paladai is so simple that it is easy and effective to clean. A paladai doesn’t have to go through the cumbersome process of sterilization like the plastic bottles.

Paladai has stood the test of time and it has been passed on from one generation to the other as a heirloom till we saw the emergence of the plastic feeding bottle. In our present materialistic world, we miss the greatness in small things and beauty in simple inventions by our ancestors. Since the last few years, there is a slow revival of the brass paladai and people are realizing its value. We now also see paediatricians advising parents to avoid the feeding bottle and introduce the cup feeding (read paladai feeding). There’s also something called “Ban the Bottle” movement that has been gaining traction. Something worth pondering on.

Traditions Associated with Paladai

I have already mentioned that paladai is known as uggu ginne in Telugu. I am from Andhra and have grown in the uggu ginne culture. “Uggu” in Telugu means milk or any liquid food and  “ginne” means a cup. Words like uggu ginne, uggu paalu, uggu pattadam were regularly used in day-to-day life a few decades ago.

A newborn baby born in a family is a joyous occasion meant to be celebrated. Andhra people celebrate every small thing associated with the growing up process of a baby. The celebrations are very meaningful and colourful. The first word, first laugh, first crawl, first step, first of everything that the baby does are all occasions to celebrate.

The joy of celebration is not just restricted to family alone but also to the neighbors,  friends and relatives as well. Sweets and special delicacy items are prepared and distributed. Each event is dedicated to a particular variety of special treats.

In those days, when there were no cell phones or digital cameras, the memories associated with the occasion were not stored in any digital form but ingrained in sweet memories. Here, I list down some of the traditional celebrations associated with the growing stages of the baby.

1. Ookalaku Uggu Ginne: Ookalu is the first oral sound(s) the baby makes. Think of baby gibberish. When the baby makes the first oral sounds when she/he sees the mother or a family member or a visitor, the event is celebrated by distributing uggu ginne to the relatives, friends and neighbors. This is a great event in the family since it is the first  achievement of the baby trying to socialize with the family.

2. Navvulaku Nuvvu Undalu: When the baby flashes the first smile, sweet balls  prepared with nuvvulu (til or sesame seeds) and jaggery are shared with near and dear ones.

3. Palukulaku Chilakalu: When the baby utters her/his first word, this event is celebrated by sharing a sweet in the shape of a parrot  made out of sugar .These sugar parrots can be preserved for a long time.

4. Muddalaku Mudda Kudumulu: When the baby starts making the movements of closing and opening fists similar to the motion of making a rice morsel, a dish called mudda kudumulu is made and distributed to near and dear ones. Mudda kudumulu are also known as undrallu which is the traditional dish made as an offering to Lord Ganesha. Kudumulu are made with broken rice, first boiled along with pulses like  Alasandulu (black eyed peas) or chana dal, then shaped  into small  round balls which are then steamed in a steamer. Making kudumulu with alasandulu is a traditional way of preparing this item.

5. Borla Padithe Bobbatlu: When the baby masters the feat of turning from the back-lying-posture to lying-on-the-stomach posture, which is called borla padadam, bobbatlu (a special sweet dish) are made. Pappu polilu, puran poli, bhakshalu are other names for bobbatlu.

6. Paakithe Pakam Chalividi: When the child starts crawling and starts moving around on his/her own, this is a great event and is celebrated with another special dish prepared only in Andhra called chalividi. Chalividi is prepared with rice flour and jaggery or sugar and flavored with  cardamom along with fried pieces of coconut.

7. Gadapa Daatithe Garelu: Gadapa is the bottom part of the door frame that rests on the floor. In English, it is called the threshold. In traditional houses, all the door frames used to have gadapas. If one has to pass through the door of a house, the person has to cross the gadapa and then enter the room. When the baby crosses the gadapa for the first time while crawling, it is a great feat and such a rare occasion is celebrated by preparing and sharing garelu with neighbours, friends and relatives. Garelu are also called vadas.

8. Adugulaku Ariselu: Finally, the first walking steps of the baby (adugulu) are welcomed by distributing ariselu to the neighbours and loved ones. This sweet dish is specific to Andhra region.

 

Traditional vs Modern

The plastic feeding bottle which is considered as a miracle solution to soothe a crying baby is now progressively seen as an enemy. Some pediatricians are advising the modern young mothers to go back to the tradition and follow the wisdom of their grandmothers and mothers in adopting spoon feeding, cup feeding or the good old paladai feeding.

Annal Gandhi Memorial Government Hospital, Trichy, recently gave away a paladai each to mothers as a takeaway gift. I’m sure this initiative must have other hospitals and mothers to encourage the use of good old paladai. You can read more about it here

As with everything, there can be mixed reaction and opinions. I would love to hear what you have to say/share. Any memories of the paladai?

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Featured Video

Welco 280 De Luxe Portable Vintage Typewriter

 

A laptop of its era, this Welco 280 De Luxe typewriter was owned by my brother-in-law. It is now part of collection of antiques. Here’s a short video that will tell you more about it and the era of typewrites.

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Featured Video

Antique Brass Gangalam – An Interesting Story!

 

Whenever guests or visitors come home, they always end up asking me about this antique brass gangalam that proudly sits in my living room. It is a beautiful artifact and I just had to acquire it when I first laid eyes on it. The story of how I got to know about this gangalam is an interesting one. It was during a visit to Vijayawada that my nephew told me about this family in the neighborhood that wanted to dispose the old items in their house. My nephew knew about my interest in collecting antiques and immediately asked me to take a look at the items the family was selling. And then started the drama. More on it in the video. 

The gangalam has some beautiful artwork on it and some very interesting details. Hope you like the video. If you have any queries or suggestions, do write to me.  

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Featured Video

Antique Brass Spice Box

 

Love spices? This time, we’ve got something unique and interesting lined up for you antique lovers – the antique brass spice box.

No meal in India is complete without spices. We’ve been exporting spices to the world since ages and Indian food is synonymous with spices. Agree or disagree? When I was a kid, I used to help my mother in the kitchen when she prepared food. We had this round-shaped box made out of brass in which the spices were stored. And every kitchen in my village had one. Whenever my mother used to cook, I took out the box and picked the spices from the mini containers within the spice box and excitedly watched as she added them to the hot oil. Ahh, memories!

With time, the materials used to make the spice box changed and so did the contents. But the essence is the same. Here’s a lovely antique brass spice box that I acquired form a family in Kerala. The minute I saw it, it brought back childhood memories for me. I want to share the same with you through this video. Does it bring back some memories for you too? Let me know.

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Featured Video

Antique Brass Idli Steamer (Idli Patra)

 

Idlis are a preferred choice of breakfast in South India and they’ve has also gained popularity in the rest of India too. A good source of carbs and protein, idlis are light, tasty and a healthy choice. While the modern stainless steel idli steamers do the job well, back in the day most households had brass idli patras. As with time, the brass idli patras were slowly phased out and replaced with modern ones.

Here’s an antique brass idli patra that I have in my collection which is still very much functional. Take a look at the video to know how I acquired it and what sets this one apart from the rest. We’ve also added info on how idlis are made from the start. Hope you like it. For any questions or comments regarding this particular antique piece, do write to me and I would be happy to answer. 

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Featured Video

Antique Gajalakshmi Panchaloha Oil Lamp

 

As some of you might already know, I’ve made some interesting friends via the blog who keep writing to me about antiques and share their views about my collection and also about antiques that they own. One such friend that I’m regularly in touch with is Mr. Rajappan. In case you are wondering who he is, I’ve previously written an article “Bonding Over Antiques – An Interesting Association.”  You can take a quick look at it.

Sometime in early July 2016, Mr. Rajappan called me up and mentioned about a friend of his from Cochin who had a collection of antiques and family heirlooms which he was willing to part with. This particular person’s family traces its roots to the nobles from the region. I immediately asked for some photos of the gentleman’s collection and promptly received some. After seeing the photos, I immediately decided to take a trip to Cochin and acquire some antiques.

The minute I saw this beautiful Gajalakshmi Oil Lamp, I decided to acquire it right away along with a few more antiques that I particularly found interesting. Here’s a video on the Antique Gajalakshmi Panchaloha Oil Lamp. Do take a look at it. I’m sure you will also fall in love with this beautiful antique that’s now a part of my collection.

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Featured Video

Antiques & Technology – Doing Things The Video Way!

 

The very idea behind starting this blog was to share my collection of antiques with antique lovers all over the world and to somehow re-ignite the spark for preserving and cherishing antiques that were once part of our daily lives. We came up with articles and all of you encouraged the initiative by subscribing to the blog, liking the YK Antiques page on Facebook, and by sharing the links with your friends and family. We received a lot of encouraging messages, queries, words of appreciation and phone calls too.

Written material or text is best complemented by video. Though both mediums are powerful in their own ways, a combination of both can actually work wonders. Keeping that in mind, we wanted to experiment with blog posts + videos. This video that you see is a result of that. This is an attempt to write, talk,, and video document the story behind each antique that I have acquired over the years.

Do take a look at the video and let us know where we can improve and what we can do differently.

Keep the comments and words of encouragement coming in.

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The Antique Brass Fire Walking Pot.

 

 

The antique brass fire walking pot.
The antique brass fire walking pot.

India,the Incredible India, has diverse cultures, mysterious rituals ,age old traditions, rich heritage  and  mythical legends .This is a land where people worship a stone, a tree, a river and a snake and  many more since they see God in all of them. The Hindus in India believe that the entire universe is the manifestation of god Himself in different forms and hence you can see God in every aspect of the universe. There is an underlying sound faith in god behind the multiple rituals and ceremonies they perform. One of such ritual is Fire walking. The fundamental faith is that if you are righteous, god will protect you and you will come out of the fire unscathed. In this article I am going to talk to you about a brass pot, known as kalasam, that is designed and used in the incredible ritual called Fire walking.

The brass pot shown in the pictures is used by the devotees of the goddess MARI AMMAN during the fire walking ceremony. The tradition is they keep the pot filled with the water and decorate it with turmeric paste and marigold flower garlands.  They sanctify the pot by keeping in few mango leaves and neem leaves. Such sanctified and decorated pot is called kalasam. The kalasam is placed on their head and held in position by their both hands and they walk on the fire. The ardent devotees, who had taken a vow to do penance in lieu of cure of a disease or fulfillment of a wish, walk on the fire to fullfil their vow.

The antique fire walking brass pot.
The antique fire walking brass pot.
antique fire walking brass pot with depression for resting on the head.
antique fire walking brass pot with depression for resting on the head.
Two identical brass pots one with depression at the bottom and the other with the rounded bottom shape.
Two identical brass pots one with depression at the bottom and the other with the rounded bottom shape.

The design and shape of the  brass fire waking pot.

This handmade beautiful brass pot has a large belly, narrow neck and wide opening mouth. There is hand etched design around the body of the pot. There is a large dent or depression at the bottom of the pot. The dent is designed to snuggly hold the pot on the head of the devotee so that the pot remains stable and intact on the devotees head while he/she is performing the fire walking ceremony.

The code of conduct and penance for fire walking.

The devotees who have taken a vow to do fire walking wear yellow colored clothes all the time during the month of AADI and abstain from eating non-vegetarian foods, remain celibate, walk bare foot.  They wear a yellow cotton wrist wrap with a turmeric pod tied to it during the moth to remind themselves of their vow and from straying away. During the fire walking ceremony they wear a garland of marigold flowers and hold bunch of neem leaves in one hand.  Once the flag is hoisted in the temple near the place where the person resides, he is forbidden to leave his village or town till the culmination of the Mari Amman festival that is celebrated for 10 day.

Mari Amman of the famous Samayapuram temple.
Mari Amman of the famous Samayapuram temple.

The Godess Mari Amman

The female deity, Mari Amman is very popular in Southern India, especially in Tamil Nadu. She is the mother goddess of mainly rural areas of Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, and Maharashtra states.  Mari Amman is considered a reincarnation of goddess Parvati, the spouse of Lord Shiva. Mari Amma is the counter part of Shitaldevi of North India and Godess Manasa of eastern India. She is the mother goddess who brings rains to parched lands and thus life and prosperity.  She is also known to cure diseases such as small pox, chicken pox and cholera. There are huge temples for this deity in places like Samayapuram near Trichy, Erode, Madurai, Tirunelveli, Kanya Kumari in India and also abroad in places like Malaysia, Singapore, Sri Lanka, Thailand, US, UK.

During the Tamil month of AADI (roughly between July and August) temples of this Goddess celebrate a festival with great fan-fare, with many customs, rituals, and the most important of all is fire walking and car (big wooden chariots) festival. These rituals last for 10 days to pray and thank goddess Mari Amman for abundant rainfall, good heath and prosperity by the farming community in particular and the public in general.

The Fire walking ritual.

On the last day of the celebrations, after the chariots are pulled and return to their starting points, after sun set, the worshippers perform the fire walking ceremony. They keep the brass pot (kalasam) on their head and walk bare footed over a pit which has burning coal and wood.  This fire walking is for a distance of 20 to 50 feet depending on the tradition of the temple. The dent in the kalasam is purposely made to allow the devotee to place it comfortably on his or her head and ensure that it is stable. Now a days devotees who cannot afford brass pots use steel pots for this purpose. Miraculously they are not harmed at all and they believe that since they have remained pious throughout the month, the mother Goddess has protected them from all dangers and will bestow them with all their hopes and aspirations in the coming days.  People who have not observed the fast or remained pious would not dare to even think of coming near the fire pit.

Picture showing preparation of the fire pit.
Picture showing preparation of the fire pit.
A fire walking procession proceeding to the fire pit holding pot (kalasam) on the head.
A fire walking procession proceeding to the fire pit holding pot (kalasam) on the head.
Devotees doing Fire walking with flower decked kalasam on their head wearing yellow cloths, garland around the neck. with spiritual fervor.
Devotees doing Fire walking with flower decked kalasam on their head wearing yellow cloths, garland around the neck. with spiritual fervor.

Both men and women participate in this ritual and even children are encouraged by their parents to observe the penance.  It is heart wrenching to see kids (boys and girls) to walk over the burning fire without any protection.  But, they smilingly walk over to the other side and are hugged by their parents with joy.

The fire carrying ritual.

Some devotees do another forms of penance. Instead of walking over the burning fire, they carry a pot completely filled with hot burning wood and coal with their both hands, dancing to the music of nadaswaram and melam and reach the temple.  All along, common people pour pitcher full of water over the heads of these devotees to help them keep their bodies from getting exhausted and also to take their blessings

Some devotees also do penance by piercing trident (trishool) or vel to their cheeks, tongue, ears, stomach etc. The guilt feeling among the devotees for any wrong doing knowingly or unknowingly done is also a reason for them to do self-imposed punishment like impalement of skin and tongue, carrying fire pots with bare hands and flagellation. Astonishingly, they hardly feel the pain or experience heavy blood loss during piercing or while removing the objects.

It is a very unique custom to Tamil Nadu and has been in practice since centuries.  Modern views of rational thinkers who dwell in city would be that it is absurd, foolish and a form of superstition or blind faith.  But, the faith, trust and belief of the believers are growing in great numbers day by day. It is a mystery as to what kind of spiritual ecstasy they experience in undergoing such hardship.

The MOLLAPARI ceremony

There are more ceremonies that are associated with Mari Amman festival. One of such ceremony is MOLLAPARI. Women keep soaked pulses in cotton cloth to germinate overnight.  These sprouted pulses known as “MOLLAPARI” are then transferred to a vase containing mud and they daily sprinkle water to keep it moist.  By the 10th day the sprouts could reach up to 5 inches in height.  The sprouts symbolize the mother’s grace on their families and ensure good harvest in the coming days. The Mollapari is brought to the temple tank on the final day and immersed in the water.

Lady devotee wearing yellow sari, holding the pot (kalasam) on head and wearing a garland of marigold flowers being escorted by volunteers after completing fire walking ceremony.
Lady devotee wearing yellow sari, holding the pot (kalasam) on head and wearing a garland of marigold flowers being escorted by volunteers after completing fire walking ceremony.

The story of British General’s encounter with the power of Amman

There is a legendary story about the Goddess Mari Amman.  There was a old small temple of Mari Amman in a village near Madurai which was frequented by many people from surrounding places and everyone had absolute faith in the powers of the mother Goddess.  It was a period when India was under the rule of the British.  One of the British Generals wanted to build a road after demolishing the existing temple for smooth and faster movement of British troops, which had to otherwise take a longer route to reach the cantonment.

The people vehemently opposed the idea and pleaded with the General to drop the project as it concerned their faith and belief. They warned the General about the powers of the Goddess and to not try her patience.  The General rubbished their warnings as irrational and proclaimed that he was not afraid of any stone figure at all.  The night before the temple was to be demolished; the General was inflicted with severe bout of small pox and high fever.  In the morning, when he looked at the mirror he was astonished to see his condition. He immediately summoned the battalion doctor.  The doctor came and tried every possible medication, but to no avail.  The condition of the General was getting worse and his fever was not subsiding.  He could not eat or speak. His energy was completely drained away.  He was sure that he would not survive for the next day.

One of his trusted Indian soldiers told him that this was the curse of the Goddess and that if he sincerely dropped the plan to demolish the temple and pray for forgiveness, the mother would not only save his life but also cure his disease completely.  The General agreed to the suggestion.  He was carried in a palanquin to the temple.  The priest of the temple immediately took him in front of the deity.  The General asked for forgiveness and promised not to touch even a single stone of the temple. The priest received divine instructions and accordingly the whole body of the General was wrapped in yellow colored clothes, covered with neem leaves for 3 days and on the 4th day he was given a bath.  After the bath, the small pox was completely cured and he was in his old health and personality. The General thanked the Goddess and promised to renovate the old temple and perform Kumbhabhishekam.  Accordingly, the temple was renovated and built in a grand manner and Kumbhahishekam was performed.  Even today the temple exists and the statue of the British General is kept at the entrance of the temple.

The picture showing the design on the antique fire walking brass pot.
The picture showing the design on the antique fire walking brass pot.

The significance of hanging neem leaves above the entrance of the house

It is a custom to keep neem leaves above the entrance of the homes of children or adults afflicted with small pox and even over their bodies. No allopathic medicines are given to such people and proper hygiene is maintained as people consider Mari Amman to have come to their house in the form of small pox for some reason.  The Tamil name for small pox is “Amman” (mother).  Relatives coming to see the patient also have to observe many restrictions such as taking daily bath, refraining from eating non-vegetarian food, alcohol, sex till the time the person is cured and Amman leaves the house.

Fir walking-The ultimate experience

Fire walking is generally considered as a trial of one’s will power and courage. It is a matter of mind over body. These weird rituals serve the purpose of  social unity and team spirit among the community members. Social scientists believe that the religious rituals that test extreme level of physical strength and mental stamina  serve as a bonding factor of the participants by aligning their emotional condition. The strong bondage developed by these intense sharing of weird experiences, prompted the corporate world to prompt their employees to undergo such experiences as fire walking for team building exercise.