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Antique Brass Oil Diyas

Gaja Diya

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.

Gaja Diya.
Gaja Diya.

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.

Gaja Diya Lamp.
Gaja Diya with Lit Lamp.

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.

Gaja Lakshmi
Gaja Lakshmi from our Pooja Mandir. Gold Plated.

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 Sundari.
Deepa Sundari.

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.

Deepa Sundari Lamp.
Deepa Sundari holding a Lit Lamp.

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                                               

Traditional Oil Lamp
Picture showing 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.

Traditional Oil Lamp Lit
Traditional Oil Lamp with Lit Flame.

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.

Kuthu Vilakku

Kuthi Vilakku.
Kuthi Vilakku.

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.

Kuthu Vilakku Collection.
Kuthu Vilakku Collection.

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.

Kuthu Vilakku Flame
Kuthu Vilakku with Lit Flame.

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 Collection
Deepam Kundi Collection.

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)

Varasa Deepalu
Varasa Deepalu.

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

Kada Vottulu
Kada Vottulu (cotton wicks).

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.

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Antique Brass Pulusu Gangalam

Antique Brass Pulusu Gangalam
My collection of Antique Brass Pulusu Gangalam.

Gangalam is a huge metal vessel normally used for cooking food and storage of water. Pulusu is an Andhra special food item prepared with Tamarind juice and vegetables cooked together with spices and seasoned to get the special flavour. This dish is a semi liquid item with vegetables and is eaten mixed with hot rice. The picture shown here is a Gangalam made exclusively for cooking Pulusu and hence is known as Pulusu Gangalam. This elegant looking Pulusu gangalam is hand crafted with brass metal.

Antique Brass Gangalam
Hand-crafted Antique Brass Gangalam. Notice the beautiful hammer marks.

The exquisitely shaped Gangalam is also known as Pulusu Kalayi. Kalayi is a tin coating given inside of a brass vessel so as to avoid contact between Tamarind juice and the brass metal to prevent any chemical reaction of Tamarind juice on brass metal. Since the brass Gangalam that is exclusively used for cooking Pulusu must invariably be coated with Kalayi, this vessel is also called as Pulusu Kalayi.

Brass Pulusu Kalayi
Brass Pulusu Kalayi with tin coating inside.

How to cook with Antique Brass Pulusu Gangalam

Pulusu Gangalam is used for preparing Pulusu to serve large scale feeding like in marriages, religious ceremonies, temple feasts, and social gatherings. Since the brass is large in size and heavy, it is placed on a large sized improvised stove on the ground called Gaadi Poyyi with firewood as a source of fuel for fire. Poyyi is a small fire place where small vessels are used for cooking on the firewood flame. Gaadi poyyi is a large scale Poyyi improvised by digging a Gaadi (pit) in the ground. Firewood is burnt in the pit and Pulusu Gangalam is kept on the pit. This pit is normally narrow and long so that two or three vessels can be kept on the fire pit for simultaneous cooking.

The story about the Antique Brass Pulusu Gangalam

I have collected three Pulusu Gangalams from a village named Teki. Two Gangalams were collected from a temple near the village tank and one Gangalam from a family known to my friend Visweswara Rao. It is actually from my friend Visweswara Rao, who is a resident of Teki village, that I came to know that the temple is selling the Pulusu Kalayilu. The temple had its own collection of the entire range of brass cooking vessels for cooking large scale food to feed the villagers during the temple festivals and other important ceremonies of the temple. I was told that the temple was unable to maintain the old brass vessels and hence would sell them and buy new Stainless Steel vessels in their place that are easy to maintain. I am lucky enough to acquire two identical Pulusu Gangalamulu (plural of Gangalam) so strikingly beautiful with stunning shape.

Pulusu Gangalams
The twin Pulusu Gangalams collected from the temple in Teki village.

These identical twin Gangalamulu are the pride of my collection, particularly for the reason that they are from a pious temple. These Gangalamulu have inscription on them in Telugu language saying “Shree Cheruvu Vadda Gudivi” meaning “belonging to the pious temple near the tank”.

Inscription on the Gangalam
Inscription on the Gangalam “Shree Cheruvu Vadda Gudivi “, meaning “Belonging to the pious temple near the tank”

The Design and Shape of the Pulusu Gangalam

The design of the Pulusu gangalam is both aesthetic and functional. It has a broad bottom base to absorb more heat to cook the Pulusu quickly and an upward tapering shape with narrow mouth to preserve the heat and to prevent the spillage. The entire tapering shape is achieved by constant hammering of the brass metal sheet.

Pulusu Gangalam
Pulusu Gangalam with broad bottom base and upward tapering shape.

There are two handles in the shape of a ring to handle and carry the huge Gangalam. When the Gangalam is full with hot Pulusu, it requires two men to carry it. It can be carried by each person holding one ringed handle or by inserting a pole across the rings and carrying the cradled Gangalam by keeping the ends of the pole on the shoulders.

Brass Gangalam
Brass Gangalam with two rings used as handles for movement.

Brass Ring Support for Pulusu Gangalam

Normally, the brass Gangalam is kept on a metal ring to have a complete support on the ground. Since the bottom of the Gangalam is curvy, there is a good chance that it may tilt or wobble when there is Pulusu in the Gangalam. To keep up the balance and make it stable, it is kept on a metal ring known as Chutta Kuduru. For serving the Pulusu, it is drained into small serving pots (there is an article on “Antique Brass Serving Pots” (can hyperlink the article to the coloured words) written by me) and served to the individual guests. A wooden or iron ladle is used to transfer hot Pulusu from Gangalam to the serving pots.

Pulusu gangalam
Pulusu gangalam sitting on brass Chutta Kuduru (brass ring).

Know more about Pulusu

Mukkala Pulusu also known as Dappalam is a speciality dish of Andhra Pradesh, India. This dish is something like Stew or Broth of Western World or Sambar of Tamil Nadu of India. Pulusu means any kind of stew and the key ingredient for Pulusu is Tamarind juice. If Pulusu is made with vegetables, it is called Mukkala Pulusu. If it is made with Pappu (pulses) it is called Pappu Pulusu and if it is made with Thotakura leaves (Amaranth leaves) it is called Thotakura Pulusu, if it is made with Majjiga (butter milk) it is called Majjiga Pulusu. In Majjiga Pulusu, Tamarind juice is not added. Instead, sour butter milk is used to get the tangy taste of Tamarind juice.

Pulusu Gangalams
Mukkala Pulusu was cooked in these beautiful Pulusu Gangalams in good old days.

 Mukkala Pulusu is prepared by boiling a variety of vegetables like Yellow Pumpkin, Bottle Gourd, Drumsticks and Sweet Potato in Tamarind water added with Jaggery, Besan powder and seasoned with Fenugreek seeds, Cumin seeds, Mustard seeds, Asafoetida, Turmeric powder, Salt and Red Chillies. Mukkala Pulusu is both spicy and sweet in taste and is eaten mixed with hot rice and accompanied by Mudda Pappu, ghee and Vadiyalu.

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Antique Brass Tiruchoornam Bharani (Container)

 

Tiruchoornam Bharani in the shape of fish.
Tiruchoornam Bharani in the shape of fish.

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 

vishnu namam
Namam depicting the Vishnu Padam (foot) in “U” shape in white colour and red colour line in between “U” shape depicting Goddess Lakshmi.

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.

Priest of Vishnu temple wearing the Vaishnavite namam.
Priest of Vishnu temple wearing the Vaishnavite namam.

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.

Dwaja Stambham
Vaishnavite tilak on the Dwaja Stambha (Flag Post) of Vishnu temple in Secunderabad, India.

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.

Sudda - White stone
Sudda – White stone for marking the “U” shape in white.

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.

Trichoornam powder shown in a brass tray.
Trichoornam powder shown in a brass tray.

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.

Rubbing white stone on the wet palm to form the white paste.
Rubbing white stone on the wet palm to form the 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.

Preparation of Tiruchoornam paste for namam.
Preparation of Tiruchoornam paste for namam.

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.

Fish and the cap shown separately.
Fish and the cap shown separately.

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.

 Cap hand carved with 5 threads forming the screw and 13 diamond cut surfaces.
Cap hand carved with 5 threads forming the screw and 13 diamond cut surfaces.

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.

Beautifully carved fish scales on the body, fins on both sides, bright eyes and gill covers above the eyes. All hand carved.
Beautifully carved fish scales on the body, fins on both sides, bright eyes and gill covers above the eyes. All hand carved.

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.

Matsyavatar of Lord Vishnu.
Matsyavatar of Lord Vishnu.

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.

Fish shaped Bharani shown with fish mouth opened
Fish shaped Bharani shown with fish mouth opened

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.

Fish Bharini shown in a different position.
Fish Bharini shown in a different position.

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:

similarities between Matsyavatara and trichoornam Bharani
Similarities of fish between Matsyavatara picture and Trichoornam Bharani

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.

 

 

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Antique Brass Rice Cooking Pots

Beautiful Antique Brass Rice Cooking Pots

Do you know how rice was cooked before the invention of modern gadgets like pressure cookers, electric rice cookers and micro oven? In the good old days, rice was cooked in dedicated brass vessels exclusively made for cooking the rice. I have collected some of these rare brass rice cooking pots called Annam ginnelu in Telugu language (Annam = rice, ginnelu = pots). These beautiful brass cooking pots are revered as Goddess Lakshmi (Goddess for wealth and prosperity).

 

Rice is the staple food for more than half of the world’s population.

Rice is a staple food in many parts of India. Most of the people offer the first morsel of rice to God by placing the rice in front of the eyes and then eat it as a prasadam. Both the rice and the rice cooking pots are treated with utmost respect and reverence. It is said in Sanskrit “Annam parabrahma swaroopam” meaning food is equal to supreme God. The brass cooking pots are given the same status as the food in which it is cooked.

Rice has been cultivated since 5,000 B.C. As the staple food for more than half of the world’s population, rice has earned its reputation as an indispensable grain. For many societies, rice is truly a way of life.

The Antique Brass Rice Cooking Pots

Antique Brass Cooking Pots – A perspective

These antique lovely crafted brass cooking vessels shown in the picture are from our ancestral family collection and must be more than 100 years old. My mother used to call these cooking vessels by names such as Addedu Ginne, Manika Ginne, Tavvedu Ginne and so on and I never understood what they meant. So I did some research to find out what these names mean.

We now weigh rice by kilograms but in 19th century they measured rice by a different system.  My research shows that in 19th century there existed a measuring system brought to light by Herbert Wrigley Wilson (1866 – 12 July 1940). He was a British journalist and naval historian and he mentioned that the smallest measure of capacity in use is Gidda which amounts to 900 rice grains. Captain Jervis calculated that one Gidda = 5.837 cubic inches, the fourth of a Sola. With the help of elders who used this measurement system I have arrived at the measuring system that was in use in olden days and it goes like this.

The Indian measuring system of 19th century

Gidda = the smallest measure 5.837 cubic inches

2 Giddalu = 1 Arasola

2 Arasola =  1 Sola

2 Sola = 1 Tavva

2 Tavva = 1 Manika

2 Manika = 1 Adda

2 Adda  =  1 Kuncham

—————————————

Tavva measure made out of Bamboo. The rich yellow colour of the bamboo is due to its age. It must be more than 100 years old.

 

Sola. Made out of iron. See the dent marks due to constant use. Very old

 

Ara sola. Made out of iron. See the dent marks due to constant use. Very old
Gidda. Made out of Wood. Observe the seasoned look of the wood due to antiquity.

I now understand why my mother was calling a particular pot as Tavvedu Ginne.  Tavvedu Ginne means Tavva = 2 times of sola and Ginne = pot). Actually my mother used to call them by names that indicate the rice cooking capacity of each pot. The name of the pot indicates its capacity as to how much rice that pot can cook.

Addedu Ginni . Top view. Height-25 cm, width -30 cm, weight-2 kg.500 grams.

 

Addedu Ginni. Front view. See the craftsman’s hammer marks.

 

Manika Ginni. Top view. Height -22 cm, width-26 cm, weight-2 kg.900 grams.

 

Manika Ginni. Front view . See the marks ye.kru. indicating abbreviation of my grandfather’s name Yenugu Krishna Murthy. This particular pot is acquired by my grandfather hence he has inscribed his name on that pot. The rest of the pots are from my grandfather’s ancestors.

 

Tavvedu Ginni . Top view. Height-20 cm, width -25 cm, weight-2 kg.200 grams.

 

Tavvedu Ginni. Front view.
Soledu Ginni. Top view. Height-19 cm, width -22 cm, weight-1 kg.800 grams.

 

Soledu Ginni. Front view.

She had brass rice cooking vessels in all the sizes mentioned here. Depending on the number of people to be served, she would select a suitable rice cooking pot. She had an earthen stove and she used to cook with firewood flame. She used to apply a paste made out of ash and water to the bottom of the pot where normally the smoke from the firewood fire makes a black mark. This I understand serves two purposes. One, it provides uniform heat to the vessel and hence the rice is also cooked uniformly. Secondly, the smoke gets coated on the ash and not on the brass surface. Hence, cleaning becomes easy and the metal surface is saved from heavy scrubbing .This saves the life of the brass vessel.

The salient features of the antique brass cooking pots:

–  These cooking pots are thick all around so that the rice is not burnt and has uniform cooking.

–  The shape of the pot is designed to reach the flame of the fire all around up to the middle part of the pot. This makes the cooking time less and provides heat all over the pot for uniform cooking.

–  The rim of the pot is very wide .This enables the lid to sit squarely on the rim and seal the vapours inside securely. This wide rim also helps to drain the liquid starch from the boiled rice.

 

The rim of the pot is wide.The brass pot is thick all around.

How to drain liquid starch from the pot

Draining the ganji from the pot

Drainage of the hot liquid starch (“Ganji” in Telugu language) is done by placing a draining plate on the rim of the pot and tilting the pot lower and lower till the entire starch is drained. The draining plate is placed on the top side of the rim and held tight to the rim by pressing the plate against the rim by the thumb on one side and the other side of the rim by the combined strength of both pointing finger and the middle finger.  Since the starch water is very hot, people use cloth In between the rim and the fingers as an insulator.  In the orthodox tradition, Hindu communities, particularly Brahmin community of South India, cloth is not allowed to touch cooked food for “Untu” purpose.  What is Untu is explained in the later part of this article. To counter Untu, my mother used to use “Chilla Penkulu” (pieces of clay roof tiles ) to hold the rim and the plate together. The clay tile pieces are bad conductors of heat and at the same time can be washed any number of times to dispel Untu.

 

Ganji warpudu using dexterously “chilla penkulu”
Chilla Penkulu

How to cook rice with antique brass cooking pots

For preparation of a good rice dish, care should be taken at every step starting from selection of rice grain suitable to the dish you want to prepare, rinsing the rice, soaking the rice, quality and quantity of water that should be added, the selection of the cooking vessel, method of cooking rice and storing the rice preparation. We shall get into the details of these processes.

Selection of rice

We should select rice according to the dish we want to prepare. Depending on the rice you choose, the method of cooking and the cooking time vary. Thus, we should match the rice with the dish we want to cook. For example, old rice needs more water to cook and the cooking is uniform and hence suits better for dishes like Biriyani and fried rice. New rice will be lumpy and sticky and hence is suitable to dishes like khichdi, pongal and payasam.

Basically rice comes in 3 varieties. Short grained variety, medium-grained variety and long grained variety.

Long grained variety of rice is used if you want to prepare a dish that should have loose, separated, fluffy, and slender grains like in Biryani and fried rice

If you want the cooked rice to stick together like in khichdi or pongal and if you want to use rice as a base and you want to mix it with a thick liquid item like Sambar used in South of India, then your choice of rice should be medium-grain variety.

Short-grain rice is almost oval in shape and is very sticky when cooked. It is ideal to use this type of rice for semi liquid and sticky dish like Payasam or rice porridge (java) or rice desserts.

Brown Rice – Rice acquires its colour due to its level of milling. If the milling is done in such a way that its husk and bran are retained, it appears brown. If the milling is done deeply and the husk and the bran are removed completely then the colour of the rice will be white. The brown rice has more nutritional value but takes more time to cook.

Boiled Rice –The rice grain with the husk is boiled in water in large scale till the husk splits into two. Then the rice is dried by spreading the hot and wet grains on the open floor. Then the husk or skin is separated from the rice by processing through a machine. Then the rice is polished in a separate polishing machine. This is also called parboiled rice.

Flavoured Rice – There are certain varieties of rice that have unique flavour and texture. These are something special in rice varieties. Basmati and Jasmine rice fall under this category of something special. This rare and exotic rice are used for preparing rice preparations like Biryani and Pulao.

Rinsing the rice

Rice has to be cleaned well before cooking. Rinsing the rice takes away the impurities in the rice and also the loose starch or rice dust that surrounds the grain. This helps to keep rice less sticky and ensures even cooking.  Kadugu Butta is a designed vessel dedicatedly made for cleaning the rice.

Rinsing the rice in Kadugu Butta under running water.

Kadugu Butta (The Rinsing Basket)

The antique rinsing basket shown here is made out of brass. It has perforations on all four sides. You have to keep the rice that needs to be cooked in the basket and keep it under running water while rinsing the rice with your palm and fingers. The dirt, the bran, and the loose starch particles will be thrown out along with the water that goes out from the holes. Keep rinsing till the water that comes out from the holes is clean. You can hang the rinsing pot to a hook and leave it for some time. The entire water will get drained out and the remaining water will be absorbed by the rice.

Water flowing out from the holes of the kadugu butta.

This process will take care of both rinsing and soaking the rice. After half an hour, the rice can be transferred from the rinsing basket to the cooking pot. The Kadugu Butta has a single hanging ring to hang.  Because of the single ring, the basket will be tilted giving scope for more water to drain out.

Soaking the rice

To get the best taste out of the rice, it has to be soaked at least half an hour in the water before cooking. The soaking will strengthen the rice and keeps the rice in its shape without breaking even after cooking. Rice tends to break at the time of boiling in water or at the time of stirring the rice with the ladle. Some rice (Basmati for example) cooks better after soaking in water to soften the grains. Soaking also helps for better texture or to prevent breaking of brittle varieties. Most sticky rice won’t cook properly without soaking,

Kadugu butta hung to a hook for draining and soaking.

Quantity of water that you should add

Certain varieties of rice take more water to cook than others. For example, old rice requires more water to cook than the new rice. If you want to drain the starch from the cooked  rice, you have to add more water to facilitate draining.

Selection of the cooking vessel

You have to select the right size of vessel for a given quantity of rice to be cooked. If the cooking pot is not adequate, the boiled rice will get spilled out and fall into the fire/flame. The pot should be thick so that the cooked rice is not burnt. When you keep uncooked rice in the pot there should be a gap of minimum 4 inches between the surface of the rice and the top of the vessel. If the gap is less, change the rice to a larger vessel. If you want to cook large quantity of rice it is better you cook in two or three batches of smaller quantity and select your cooking pots accordingly. Rice is cooked uniformly in smaller quantities and in small vessels compared to large quantity in larger vessels. By this way you take at a time what is required for immediate consumption keeping the other cooked rice intact in the pots that keeps them fresh and warm.

Methods of cooking rice

There is a general feeling that rice can be cooked in only one way. It is not true. The cooking method depends on the type of rice preparation. The following are the methods of rice cooking.

Attisaru – This is known as absorption method. In this method, a fixed amount of rice and fixed amount of water is kept in a suitable vessel and cooked till the whole water is absorbed by the rice and the rice is cooked well. This method of cooking rice requires lot of practice since the measurements and proportions of water to rice should be precise so that no excess water is left when the rice is cooked or there should not be any shortage of water so that the rice will not be cooked properly. You should not stir the rice and leave it itself to cook. In Attisaru method, the rice will stick to each other and the final condition of the cooked rice is lumpy.

Ganji warpudu – This is known as boiling method. In this method, the water is boiled in a vessel and the rice is added to the boiling water. Rice should be sprinkled into the boiling water so that each grain is surrounded with water and not get sticky with the other rice grain .You should constantly stir the rice so as to avoid sticking of rice to each other. In this method, more water is kept in the vessel than what is required to cook the rice .This excess water, known as “ganji” is drained out into a vessel called Ganji Ginni.

Ganji is drained out into “Ganji Ginni”

After the rice is cooked the boiling water has to be drained immediately and then some cold water is to be added and again drained. This process of rinsing the cooked rice with cold water is to halt further cooking of the rice.

Storing and preserving the rice

Uncooked Rice

Rice has a low moisture content and hence can be stored normally for 1 to 3 years. It is considered that rice preparation with old rice is tasty and healthy. In our house, my mother used to cook rice that is one year old or at least 6 months old. Cooking with new rice is forbidden. For this reason, we used to store rice for longer periods. Rice is normally stored in a dark, dry and cool place.  In our house the rice is stored in large wooden trunk box. For longer storage you should ensure there is no bran in the rice because insects will come for eating the bran and spoil the rice.

Cooked Rice

In the olden days when refrigerators were not available, cooked rice is preserved in a liquid preparation called Taravani. Taravani is a type of fermented starch liquid and mostly ganji (starch water drained from the cooked rice) is used for this purpose. Now it can be stored in refrigerator for a maximum period of 3 days .Make sure that the rice is in the room temperature before keeping in the fridge.

Ganji Ginni. Admire the hammer marks that formed due to hammering the sheet to give shape to this vessel. See the rhythm and pattern in hammering.

Concept of Madi, Tadi and Untu

Madi – Madi is a state of purity of the body practiced by the Brahmins of South India. To attain the condition of Madi, the person should take a bath and wear clothes that are washed and dried and untouched by anybody who is not in Madi condition. If anybody in a Madi condition is touched by a person who is in non-Madi state accidentally or otherwise, the Madi condition of the person is gone and to regain the Madi condition the person has to take a bath again and wear the fresh Madi clothes (Madi clothes are called Madi Batta in Telugu ). If Madi batta is not available, the person has to wear wet clothes which are considered as ultimate Madi. Madi is essential condition to participate in religious ceremony or for cooking food for religious ceremonies.  The opposite of Madi is Paachi. For a person who is in Madi state, all non-Madi persons are Paachi and are to be avoided any physical contact to maintain Madi condition. My mother used to practice Madi strictly to cook food from early morning till noon every day during her Madi state we were not allowed to go near her, let alone touch her. As a child, I used to wait impatiently till she declares she is out of Madi state and run to touch her.

My mother Subba Lakshmi.She cooked rice in all the Antique Rice Cooking Pots shown here and maintained them

 

Tadi – Tadi means wet in Telugu. Wearing Tadi Batta,(wet clothes) is considered as the highest form of purification of the body. To participate in some religious rituals where utmost purification of the body is essential, the performer is required to wear Tadi Batta. If a person is in Madi condition and has to go outside the house, he has to carry water in a lota and immerse his fingers in the water to maintain the Madi condition. By immersing the fingers in the water the person is in a state of Tadi thus holding the highest purity. When a person is in Madi condition and touches a cooked item witch is considered as Untu, the person has to Tadi his fingers ( rinse his fingers in the water ) to get purified. After taking a bath in holy rivers, most of the Hindus pray to Ganga Mata and Surya Bhagavan (Sun God) with wet clothes to pray in  utmost Madi condition.

Untu – Untu is a practice of stringent hygienic condition by South Indian Brahmin community. Any food item that is cooked is Untu. If a person touches cooked rice and with the same hand and if he touches raw rice, the raw rice also becomes Untu. Any item that becomes Untu cannot go back to storage for a future usage. It has to be consumed within few hours or thrown out. One has to wash the hands with water after touching an Untu item to attain clean state again and then only they can touch a non-unto item. It is a common practice in Brahmin kitchen for the cooks to wash their hands repeatedly between handing Untu and non-Untu items. Untu is a Telugu word and in Tamil it is called Pathu .This Untu is also applicable to cloth. The clothes worn by a person in unhygienic condition like during the days of menstrual periods of  women  are also considered as Untu.

Now for the younger generation, it looks very complicated to practice Madi, Tadi and Untu but it is a regular and routine life for the Brahmin community few decades ago. For them, it was a matter of pride that they followed these traditions.

 

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Antique Brass Serving Pots

Brass antique serving pots hanging from chain
Before I talk about these lovely shaped serving pots, I should first talk about the traditional Andhra meal, the main dishes in the meal, how they are presented and served. I will then tell you about how these serving pots are used. We have specially designed pots to serve the liquid variety of the Andhra food and entirely different type of pots to serve the non-liquid type of dishes. The serving pots shown here are to serve Andhra traditional liquid food items like pulusu, charu, perugu , majjiga or challa and payasam.

Antique serving pots arranged as a group
Andhra food is very spicy and hot when compared to other Indian foods. Andhra is the hotbed for red chilies which makes the dishes very spicy or fiery. The traditional dishes of Andhra are absolutely mouthwatering with a liberal use of hot spices. Relishing Andhra’s food is a virtual elaborate romance with the taste buds. Traditionally the meal is served in Arati auku (plantain leaf) or Vistari auku (a plate made by stitching together dry vistari auku leaves). The main characteristics of Andhra food are liberal use of a variety of Ooragayalu (pickles ), Podulu (powders) and Pachallu (chutneys)

Andhra traditional food served on a plantain leaf
Traditional Andhra lunch is very elaborate and consists of a variety of dishes. Andhra being the rice bowl of India, the main staple food item of Andhra is rice and it is taken mixed with other dishes and ghee. Andhra food items are well balanced and consist of dishes of liquid items, semi-liquid items and solid items. Andhra traditional lunch starts with Modati mudda (first morsel of rice) and is also known as Paragadupu. This is usually a small quantity of rice mixed with hot ghee or rice mixed with chutney or pickles typically made from gooseberry, lime, mango (aavakaya) or podi (powders) like parupu podi, coriander podi, pudina podi, sesame seeds podi or curry leaves podi mixed well with hot ghee. This may be to grease the throat and to activate the saliva glands for smooth inward journey of the hot and spicy food.

The most important aspect of Andhra food is  Popu also called Talimpu. Popu is basically certain spices and pulses fried in oil and added to the main dish. The Popu gives the unique flavor and distinct taste to the dish. When the Popu is done in the kitchen the flavor spreads throughout the surrounding areas and people in that area gets their saliva glands tickled and the pungent smell of the red chilies fried in the popu stimulate the nose buds resulting in mild cough or sneezing. The quality of the Popu is a main contributing factor about the taste of the item.

Couple relishing an Andhra traditional meal

Then the main course of the lunch starts with variety of items and some of them are listed below
Mudda pappu– kandipappu or red gram boiled in plain water and salted.
Koora vegetables cooked with spices and seasoning.

Vepudu- fried vegetables mixed with spices.

Pulusu- Vegetables or greens cooked in tamarind juice, spices and seasoned. The pulusu made from special type of vegetables like yellow pumpkin is also known as Dappalam.  This is a liquid item.

Pachi pulusu – It is similar to Pulusu but the tamarind juice or the ingredients are not cooked. Only raw materials are used. This is a liquid item.

Charu- Tamarind juice diluted with water and boiled with spices with seasoning.This is a liquid item.

Pickle for Andhras pickle means only Avakaya, a raw mango spicy pickle.

Chutney invariably Gongoora Chutney .Andhras adore Gongoora chutney prepared from Gongoora leaves.

Podi powder of lentils mixed with powdered spices.

Appadalu a round thin crisp preparation rolled out of lentils and spices paste and deep fried.

Vadiyalu a small cup size mixture of Ash guard, urad dal and spices, sun dried and fried.

Oora mirapakayaludried chilies in salted Indian yogurt and deep fried.

Neyya clarified butter. This is a most important item in the Andhra food since it is mixed with rice along with every item except curds .

Perugu curds or Indian yogurt .This is semi-liquid item.

Majjiga or challa curds diluted by churning with water. This is a liquid item. Invariably the Andhra meal ends with curd or buttermilk. If somebody is taking curd with rice it means that he is ending his meal.

Lady serving Mukkala pulusu to a guest using antique Serving pot

Apart from these courses of meal, other Andhra special sweet and hot items are served on special occasions.
Payasam Rice cooked in milk with sugar or jaggery. Dry fruits are added.

Bobbatlu mixture of boiled Bengal gram   and sugar covered with a white wheat powder paste and flattened for a round shape and shallow fried with Ghee or oil on a pan.   

Boorelu- mixture of Bengal gram, sugar and spices to a small ball dipped in a paste of black gram and rice powder and deep fried. For an ultimate taste, it is eaten with hot ghee.

Pootha Rekulu A roll of rice paper filled with ghee, powdered sugar, cardamom powder and dry fruit cuttings.

Ariselu  Mixture of rice powder and jiggery syrup made into flat round shape and deep fried.

Kajalu white wheat powder paste rolled into oval shape, fried in oil and soaked in sugar syrup.

Garelu paste of soaked black gram made into a flat round shape with a hole in the center and deep fried in oil.

Pulihora- cooked rice mixed with tamarind paste and special type of Popu.

Aavadalu Garelu soaked in Curds and sprinkled with spices.

Couple enjoying service from antique serving pot at a community Andhra feast

The Andhra food mentioned here is of traditional vegetarian food. Andhra is also known for its spicy but delicious non-vegetarian food also.

Serving pot from temple in Teki Village
Serving pot from the temple in Teki village

This serving pot is designed and crafted to serve liquid food items and is called Gokarnam in Sanskrit language. In Telugu language also it is called Gokarnam. This serving pot acquired this name may be due to the snout of the pot which resembles that of the ear of the cow (“go” meaning cow and “karnam” meaning ‘ear’ in Sanskrit language). There is a bowl or a pot to hold the liquid and there is a snout strategically placed to pour the liquid directly into the plate of the consumer. The serving pot has a beautifully designed handle to help carry the pot and as a grip for serving the food item. One side of the handle is forked into two sections and riveted to the two sides of the snout and the other end is riveted to the rim opposite to the snout.

Picture of Gokarnam showing handle riveted to the body at 3 locations

This type of riveting the handle to the three sides of the rim of the pot gives robust balance and steady grip and prevents any chances  of tilting the pot at the time of the serving of the liquids for which it is designed.  Because of this wonderful design of snout to the pot no separate spoon or ladle is required to serve the liquid item it holds and the liquid can be directly poured into the plate of the consumer by giving a slight twist to the wrist.

Teki is a village in east Godavari district of Andhra Pradesh state. The temple in Teki prepares and serves food to the villagers on important occasions like temple festivals. For this purpose the temple has their own collection of cooking vessels and serving pots. Since brass vessels are difficult to maintain, the temple authorities decided to sell the brass items and purchase stainless steel items which are easy to maintain. I came to know about their disposal of these antique vessels and rushed to the village and purchased this rare classic serving pot. There is an inscription on the handle of the pot written in Telugu language reading “Sree// cheruvu vadda gudivi “meaning this item belongs to the pious temple near the tank.

Picture showing inscription on the handle in Telugu language reading “Sree// cheruvu vadda gudivi 
This pot is handmade out of brass and we can see the hammer stroke marks that give the beautiful shape to this pot. This item is dedicatedly made for the temple of Teki. The craftsman who made this pot had to conceive the function and purpose of this pot and craft accordingly.
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The second serving pot from Teki village with inscription “Vee:Bhu” in Telugu language

The second serving pot from Teki village with “Vee:Bhu” inscription

When I purchased the serving pot from the temple authorities in the village Teki, there was one gentleman watching this deal and latter approached me introducing himself as a landlord and a resident of Teki village and that he has a serving pot similar to the one belonging to the temple serving pot. He also volunteered to sell the item to me because he was very much impressed with my passion to collect old articles and preserve our heritage and culture. I was excited since I was getting a similar serving pot to my collection and immediately told him my thanks to his offer and my willingness to purchase his item. He took me to his house, instructed the ladies in the house to fetch the serving pot after cleaning the pot. A clean and neat serving pot that is exactly similar to the one from the temple was handed over to me. I saw an inscription in Telugu language on the handle of the pot reading “Vee:Bhu”.

Picture showing the handle of the pot with “Vee:Bhu” inscription in telugu

I asked him about the meaning of the Telugu letters ‘Vee’ and ‘Bhu’. He mentioned that these are the shortened form of the name of his great grandfather who acquired the pot and inscribed his name in abbreviation. This is how I have collected this pot.

A charming girl serving Charu from the Gokarnam with Vee:Bhu mark

It is also made out of brass and handcrafted and the hammer marks are very prominently visible. These hammer marks give beauty to the pot and also give authenticity to the pot that it was handcrafted by an artisan. These hammer marks are to the pot as the weapon scar marks were to a warrior in the olden days of kings and kingdoms.

The serving pot from YK’s ancestors
The pot shown here is from my family collection passed on to me from my ancestors. It has been present from my grandfather’s time and we do not know really how old it is since my grandfather was unable to identify from whom he got it. From the time perspective and from the looks and shape of the pot, it is evident it is really old. I remember that these brass serving pots were not used daily and were kept in the loft .Whenever there is an occasion for mass feeding or a ceremonial meal is served to guests on special occasions like pooja or festivals or special events, these pots are taken out from the loft, cleaned with a paste of tamarind juice and charcoal ash and then they are used for serving liquid food items.

The serving pot from YK’s ancestors

There is another method of serving liquid food items by using a bucket and a ladle. The liquid food item is kept in the bucket held by the bearer in the left hand and the liquid item is served to the guest with a ladle held in the right hand. In this method both the hands are used and occupied. There is a chance of spillage or drippings of the liquid when taken out from the bucket with a ladle and while pouring the ladle full of liquid onto the guest’s plate. By using the antique liquid serving pot you use only the pot and the liquid is directly served to the guest by pouring it onto their plate. It is a clean operation and there is no chance of any spillage or wastage. The service is also fast in the case of serving pot since you are handling only one vessel and the service is done in one shot.

The  Gokarnam with Tin metal coating inside the pot. The gray color inside the pot is due to the Tin coating.

The inside part of these brass serving pots are lined with Tin metal coating which is known as Tagaram poota or Kalayi poota in Telugu. This is to prevent the juices of tamarind and other spices interacting with the brass metal and creating chemical reactions. The layer of Tin metal neutralizes these chemical reactions.

The serving pot purchased from an antique dealer
This serving pot is not very old. The pot was made by pressing a brass sheet into the required shape. There are no hammer marks and hence is not handmade. The lines are sharp and clean indicating a machine make. The shape of this pot is very cute and the riveting is clean and the forking of the handle is beautifully done.


Picture showing the serving pot from the antique dealer

I purchased this pot from an antique dealer in Chennai, Tamil Nadu state. The people of Tamil Nadu use Sambar (a liquid type of food item containing dal, vegetables and spices) in their daily meals as well as during special occasions. They use this type of serving pot to serve sambar. This pot has been with me for about 30 years.

Picture showing antique serving pot with dry curry of Beetroot and coconut gratings
The serving pots can also be used to serve solid or semi-solid foods by using a serving spoon. Though the handle of the pot is a bit of a hindrance to the free movement of the serving spoon, it has the advantage of portability due to the long and sturdy handle.

Antique serving pots with liquid and solid items

These wonderful serving pots are the mute spectators of the glorious era gone by. I remember that whenever there was a marriage or a function in any body’s house in our village Someswaram, they used to come to our house and borrow the serving pot. After the function they used to return to us .I wonder how many marriages and functions the pot has served. Similarly the serving pot from Teki temple must have served many temple ceremonies and feasts and now they adore my house with their colorful presence. I am really proud of these collections. 
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Antique Stone Cooking Pots

Stone Cooking Pots Arranged in a Group
These beautiful stone cooking pots will be the pride of any kitchen and are antique collectors’ delight. They are hand-carved out of a single block of soft stone, known as soapstone. These soap stone pots are mostly used in southern states of India like Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Karnataka. They are called Ratichippa in Telugu language (rati-stone, chippa- cooking pot) and “Kalchatti” in Tamil language (kal-stone, chatti-cooking pot).

Stone Cooking Pots Arranged According to Size
I have grown up with Ratichippa culture. My mother used to prepare in the stone pot shown in this picture (picture-3) food items like Mukkala Pulusu (vegetables cooked in tamarind juice with seasoning) and majjiga pulusu (a preparation with butter milk with or without vegetables) and pappu pulusu (lentils cooked in tamarind juice). My wife continues the tradition and every Sunday we have a special meal with traditional Andhra dishes and the Mukkala pulusu is invariably cooked in the same Ratichippa. Whenever we get important visitors to our home or in family gatherings during festivals, we prepare the traditional dishes in this stone pot and bring the same pot to the dining table for serving. This stone pot has been present in our family since three generations and we treat this pot as one of our family members with great care, love and attachment.
Stone cooking pot from YK’s family
Stone Cooking Pot (Rathi-Chippa) from YK’s Family Collection
My wife Ramana always tells me that her paternal grandmother used to cook daily all items of food like curries, pulusus, sambar, rasam etc in Ratichippa only with the exception of rice for which she used to use a separate brass vessel and they used to taste heavenly. The secret why the food cooked in the stone pots taste so heavenly is that they are chemically inert and hence do not alter or change the natural flavors of the ingredients and retain the original aroma and taste of the food. Also in stone pots the food is cooked uniformly and evenly.

Stone cooking Pot (Rathi-Chippa) from YK’s family Collection With Mukkala Pulusu
This Ratichippa gets naturally darkened with seasoning and aging due to continuous use. My mother used to apply a paste made out of ashes or fine clay soil around the lower part of the Ratichippa before putting it on the fire. She used to do entire cooking using firewood for fire and subsequently shifted to charcoal. This is to prevent smoke settling on the stone surface and to make the cleaning easy. With washing of ash or clay the smoke settled on the surface also goes away thus protecting the stone surface from the pressure of rubbing and scrubbing. This is how the stone pot has been preserved for three generations.This pot is 9 cm high and 17 cm in diameter at the mouth opening.

 

Stone cooking pot from Mr.Ramanathan
The second pot (shown in the picture-4) is larger in size, measuring 18 cm in height and 19 cm in diameter. It has light gray colour since it is not used much. Soap stones are in light gray colour when they are new and they acquire darker shade, almost black, with age and seasoning.

Stone Cooking Pot (Kalachatti) from Mr.Ramanathan
There is an interesting story as to how I acquired this marvelous stone pot. I was shifted to Mumbai by my company in the year 1989 and they gave me a company-leased flat belonging to one Mr. Ramanathan. Mr.Ramanathan shifted to his own new flat. When we inspected our flat, it was clean but on the loft there was this stone pot sitting alone. Immediately we rang up Ramanathan and informed him about the stone pot which they call kalchetti in their language Tamil. He told us they did not want to take this old kalchetti to their new house since they wanted only glittering new items there and told us that the kalchetti can be there in the loft.

Stone Cooking Pot (Kalchatti) from Mr. Ramanathan – Top View
After three years of stay in that flat we shifted to another flat and again rang up Ramanathan and told him to take care of his stone vessel. He told us that they were not interested in the old item and if we wished we can take it. This was a pleasant surprise for me and I grabbed this cute beauty. Subsequently I asked him as to how he got the stone pot, he told me that his mother-in-law was very fond of stone pot cooking and she purchased this piece from Tanjavur city, a great cultural centre in Tamil Nadu state. I think this pot was not used ever since they purchased it. We have also not used this pot since we want to keep a sample of an unused pot. This must be around 35 years old but unused.

Stone cooking pot gifted by mr.Prasad
The third pot (shown in picture-5) measures 13 cm in height and 18 cm in diameter. It is dark in color indicating it has been used for a long time and is quite old. Even the wall of this stone pot is thin indicating that it took a lot of rubbing by way of cleaning. Here again we have an interesting story as to how we got this wonderful stone cooking pot.
Stone Cooking Pot Gifted by Mr. Prasad
My wife Ramana does social service for needy people. She did some help for one couple, the husband’s name is Prasad and his wife’s name is Ratnam. They used to come to our house whenever they needed some service and watch our antique collection. One day they saw our stone cooking pot collection and they told us they also have two pieces of old stone pots. Since they were not using, they kept them in the attic (loft) with other junk and soon they will locate them for us. One fine morning, Mr. Prasad came home with these two beauties and declared that they should be added to our collection as a gift from him. On enquiry, they told us they did not purchase these items, but they were given to them by their parents and have been present in their family for three generations. This must be around 60 to 70 years old.
Stone cooking pot gifted by mr.Prasad 
The 4th pot ( shown in picture-6) measures 7 cm. in height and 13 cm. in diameter. The story here is same as the story of pot 3 since they came from the same source and at the same time.
Stone Cooking Pot Gifted by Mr. Prasad
This pot is smaller in size but from the appearance we can make out that it is used very extensively.
Stone cooking pot from Puri  This pot (shown in picture 9) measures 4.d cm. in height and 9 cm. in diameter. This is a relatively new stone pot which we acquired near Lord Jagannath temple during our trip to Puri, a temple town in the state of Odisha, India.
Stone Cooking Pot from Puri (Jagannath Temple)
This small pot is ideally suited to serve pickles or chutneys on the table. It is an age-old wisdom that any food item preserved in the stone pot will not perish even for months. The stone pots of larger size are used for storing pickles to serve for one year for the entire family and they remain fresh throughout the year.
Stone Cooking Pot from Puri (Jagannath Temple) – With Mango Prickle
Stone Cooking Pot from Puri (Jagannath Temple) – With Coconut Chutney

Seasoning of the stone cooking pots

The soap stone cooking pots are soft, fragile and porous. They have to be seasoned before you put them on fire for cooking. If you put them on fire without seasoning they may break or crack. For seasoning keep the salt water in it for a few hours and then wash the entire pot with the same water. Subsequently pour and store to the full some starchy water like the water you get after washing the rice or the starchy water you get when you drain the excess water after the rice is cooked. This starchy water is called Kanji. Subsequently wash the entire pot with the same starchy water.
New Stone Cooking Pot to be Seasoned
Repeat this process for six or seven days. Now the new stone pot is ready to be kept on the fire for cooking purpose. Once the pot is seasoned and the pores of the stone get sealed and the surface gets less absorbent and denser. Also the colour of the stone pot turns darker.
How to handle stone pot:


By nature the soap stone pots are gentle and fragile and hence have to be handled with care. Do not handle them by the rim of the pot. Always hold them with both hands and have a grip with the fingers around the body of the pot.

Picture Showing how to Carry Stone Cooking Pot
The pot will be hot for many hours after cooking. If you want to take the hot pot to the dining table, place the pot on a strong plate (preferably wood or brass) and carry by holding the plate. Keep the pot along with the plate on the dining table for serving purpose.

Picture Showing how to Carry Hot Stone Cooking pot
Important points on stone pot cooking
Soap stone take a longer time to get heated and in the same way it also takes longer to get cooler. Since the stone retains the heat you should know that the food will continue to get cooked even after you remove the pot from the heat source. There is a chance of the food getting over-cooked. So, you should properly manage the cooking time and stop the heat source in time giving allowance for the off-the-fire cooking time.

Soap stone pots serve the purpose of cooking the food as a serving dish. The food will be hot on the table for a long time. Stone vessels can withstand temperatures up to 1,000 F and can be safely used also for oven cooking.

Do not keep an empty stone vessel on the fire. Always keep something in the pot and then only keep it on the fire. There is always a chance of their breaking if you expose them to dry heat.
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Antique Coconut Scraper


In our modern competitive life style we are in a constant race to be the most successful person in life. We want everything to be done quickly since we are always in a hurry. We acquire more and more time saving and comfort giving gadgets which are only functional and devoid of any art and fun. In our day to day life we have no time for the finer aspects of life such as aesthetics, fine arts and culture. If you want to see the art we have to go to art exhibitions and museums. Thus we lead a segmented life with separate time for work and separate time for fine arts. In the olden days our ancestors lived a life where art was a part of daily life. For those people work and art went together and life and creativity were inseparable. Daily tasks were not mundane and routine but coupled with the aesthetics and fine arts. They lived life in its fullness rather than compartmentalized. Their articles of day to day use were artistic and at the same time functional. Here I am presenting you an antique coconut grater that is a common household item but with lots of art and functionality .This item will give you a glimpse of the lifestyle they lead and how they converted a regular and routine task into art, beauty and fun.

About the antique Coconut scraper
The antique coconut scraper shown in the picture is beautifully carved out of a single block of wood.
Full view of antique coconut scraper from YK’s Collection

It has two main aspects. A wooden seating arrangement with one side ending with a bowl scooped out of the same wood. The wooden seating arrangement looks like a raised platform resembling a long and slightly raised stool.

Antique coconut scraper peeta with wood carvings from YK’s collection

The pedestal for the raised platform is also carved out of the same single wood. This device is called peetha in Sanskrit or peeta locally in India. To this peeta, an iron rod in the shape of a serpent with raised hood is attached. The hood part is the actual scraper and is positioned in such a way that the coconut scrapings fall in the wooden bowl located directly underneath.

Antique Coconut Scraper showing the iron rod coming out of circular carvings and two parrots on either side

The scraper is in the shape of a circular disk with serrated edges. The robust wooden plank is full of carvings and resembles a wooden sculpture.

Antique Coconut Scraper resembling the shape of a serpent with raised hood

There are two circular carvings and one half circular carvings on the peeta. The snake like scraper iron rod emerges from a circular carving giving an idea of raised hood coming out of coiled serpent.There are two beautifully carved parrots on either side of the peeta at a location where peeta starts taking the shape of the bowl. There is another pair of parrots sculptured at the top end of the wooden bowl.

Antique coconut scraper showing two beautifully carved parrots on the top of the bowl
How to grate the coconut
To grate the coconut first it must be broken into two equal parts. For breaking the coconut, hit the coconut at the mid-section ( around the equator ) on a sharp edge of a flat stone or a heavy metal edge like that of a cleaver. With a little practice you will get the correct hit pressure to break the coconut to open up into two equal parts.
Full Coconut and broken coconut in two equal parts

To grate the coconut the operator sits on the peeta and by holding one section of the coconut from the hard shell side in her hand, places the meat side of the coconut on the grater disk and gives rotating motions on the grater disk.

Antique coconut grater sitting position on the peeta

 The grating process takes out the fresh white coconut meat directly from the brown hard coconut shell using the sharp metal teeth of the  grater.

Antique coconut scraper showing positioning of the coconut with grater disk

 The gratings of the coconut directly fall into the built in wooden bowl .The brown shell protects the hands, but care must be taken not to come in contact with the sharp teeth of the metal blade. The constant and rhythmic pressure movements of the wrist will give uniform gratings.

Antique coconut scraper showing grating movements with gratings falling into bowl below

The coconut gratings are used to extract coconut milk, prepare sweets, make chutneys and curries and used as dressings on many preparations. The wooden coconut grater can be carried and used anywhere in the house or garden. The rotating movement of the wrist makes the joints lubricated and gives good exercise to the hand.

How I collected the antique coconut scraper and the cultural background of the place and the people

 I have collected this beautiful coconut grater from an antique shop in Karakudi ,the main city of Chetinadu and is estimated to be more than 150 years old. Chettinadu is the land of Nattukottai Chettiars a prosperous business community. They are known as Nattukottai chettiars because of their huge houses resembling palaces (natu-native, kottai-palace in Tamil language). Chettinadu is a region in Tamil Nadu state, India. These houses are regal and huge covering two streets. The entrance to the house will be in one street and the rear end will be in another street.The houses in Chettinad are mostly large with three to four courtyards and these are aligned in a straight line giving full view of the entrance door and the exit door.
 
A model Chettinad house

They invariably have high ceiling with elaborate carvings. The main attraction in a Chettinad house is the front door which is always carved elaborately depicting Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth and prosperity. Another striking feature of a Chettinad house is the pillared corridors surrounding the courtyards and these corridors lead to the rooms inside. The courtyards are open to the sky and provide plenty of light and air. The flooring is made with Italian marble or the locally available Athangudi tiles but invariably with brightly colored and intricate patterns. Chettinadu food is so famous and most of the good restaurants include Chettinadu chicken in their menu card.

The coconut scraper from Cettinadu brings before us a bygone era of gracious living and represents a slice of chettiars’ rich cultural heritage, remarkable taste for good food , regal lifestyle, art and architecture.

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Tulsi Pooja Oil Diyas

Tulsi Pooja with special Diya arrangement from YK’s Collection

Light is life.Without light there is no life on earth. Hence any source of light is considered as divine in Hinduism. Sun is a god known as Surya Bhagavan and moon is a demi god known as Somadeva. All man made sources of light like, oil diyas are sacred objects and are used in temples, prayer rooms and religious ceremonies. At the time of pooja (prayers) along with offerings to god like flowers,fruits,special food items,water,light from oil diya is also given as an offering to god. We can say that Hinduism is a religion of lights and fire. You can not think of a religious ceremony or ritual celebration without the traditional oil lamp. There is a dedicated festival for celebration of lights known as Deepawali. Artisans started preparing a special variety of lamps for special poojas, thus bringing in art, festivity and the spirit of celebration into a religious ritual. Here is an unique oil Diya set specially made for Tulsi Pooja also known as Ksheerabdi Dwadasi Pooja.

 

Tulsi Pooja Diyas

Tulsi Pooja diyas arrangement shown in this picture is exclusively made for Tulsi pooja. Almost all Hindu houses will have a Tulsi plant in their house. Those who live in cities in an apartment will have a pot in the balcony with a small Tulsi plant in the pot. Those who stay in individual houses will have special structure called Tulsi kota (known as altar which means castle for Tulsi) on the ground in which soil is filled and a Tulsi plant is planted. This light arrangement is made to have lighting in three sides of the Tulsi kota that is front side, left side and right side of the Tulsi kota.

According to Hindu faith, Tulsi plant is considered as an incarnation of Goddess Laksmi in the form of a plant and hence Tulsi plant is a very holy plant and the ladies in the house do pooja for Tulsi plant every day by lighting a lamp,pouring some water to the plant and do pradashin(going around the Tulsi Kota 3 times).Yearly once they do a special and elaborate pooja on the day known as Ksheerabdi Dwadasi which falls according to Hindu calendar on the 12th day during the Shukla Paksha (waxing phase of moon) in Kartik Month (the month of November).

 

Tulsi Pooja Oil Diyas arrangement without lighting

Lord Vishnu vowed that on Karthika Shukla Dwadasi, after sunset, He, along with Devi Lakshmi will rise from the Ocean of Milk (Pala Samudram), and reside in Tulsi Kota (Brindavanam). With him, will reside all gods and sages.

 

Tulsi plant in a Tulsi Kota

On that day, anyone who comes to Brindavanam, does pooja wholeheartedly to Lakshmi, Tulsi and Shree Vishnu, read or listen to Tulsi’s story and give deepam danam will get rid of “all previous birth wrong doings, and wards off any ill luck and attain moksha (the Lord’s sanctity) forever. On that day the Tulsi kota is regarded as Brindavanam and the platform surrounding the Brindavanam is called Brindavan mantapam. Special lighting arrangements are made in Brindavanam and on Brindavan Mantapam for Tulsi pooja or Ksheerabdi Dwadasi pooja.

 

Tulsi Pooja – Krishna avataar of Vishnu and Lakshmi in Brindavanam

 

It is stated in puranas that Lord Vishnu loves Amla (the Indian Gooseberry) and on that day they place a branch of Amla tree with Amla berries in the Brindavanam along with the Tulsi plant symbolizing that Vishnu and Lakshmi are together side by side.It is on the very same day of Ksheerabdi Dwadasi, Vishnu marries Lakshmi. On this day Lakshmi emerged from the ocean of milk when Devatas and Asuras churned the ocean of milk for getting Amrut, the nectar that gives eternal life. When Laksmi emerged from the milky ocean, Vishnu married her and the marriage took place on the same day. The other name for Lakshmi is Ksheerabdi (Ksheera-milk, abdi-emerged) meaning the one who emerged from the milk of the ocean. Thus this pooja is also known as Ksheerabdi Dwadasi Pooja.

 

Tulsi Pooja Oil Diyas showing individual parts

 

Assembling the diya set
Tulsi diya system has to be arranged by joining three components:the pillars,the strip of diyas and the bolt with a big diya.The components are shown in the picture.

 

Tulsi Pooja Oil Diya showing the joining of pillar, strip of diyas and bolt with diya

 

To ensure the right diya srip end sits on the right pillar end and the right bolt holds them together, all the assembling ends are numbered in the Devanagari numbers.This Devanagari numbering system also says the antiquity of the Diya set.

 

Tulsi Pooja Oil Diya showing Devanagari numbers on pillar, diya strip and bolt diya

To interpret the significance of this pooja for the modern times, Tulsi is an herb (Ocinum Tenuiflorum) that has lot of medicinal properties that cures ailments related to cough,cold and any breathing related ailments.Indian Gooseberry (Phyllanthus Emblica) is full of Vitamin-C and it also cures all ailments related to the winter season. Ksheerabdi dwadasi falls in a period that rainy season ends and winter season starts. Thus doing this pooja for Tulsi and Indian Gooseberry plant on this day and eating the leaves of Tulsi and Indian Gooseberries as a Prasad helps the person to prepare with stamina to face the onsetting winter.
For lighting the lamps cotton wicks are soaked in oil and to keep the flame burning oil is poured in the diya. On the Ksheerabdi Dwadasi Vratam day, cow ghee is used as it is considered as pious and holy.If cow ghee is not available, the next best alternate oil is sesame oil.

 

Wicks used (Puvvu Vathulu) for lighting Tulsi Pooja Oil Diyas


Special wicks for Tulsi pooja diyas.

Diyas in this arrangement are round shaped and have no snout protruding. Hence we cannot keep the traditional kada vathulu(long thread like wicks).Instead special wicks called Puvvu Vathulu(resembling an inverted flower) are used.The wick will stand on its own when dipped in oil and placed on the diya.This wick is kept in the center of the diya cup and oil is poured to immerse the flower side of the wick. Only the stem side of the flower wick is lighted.

 

Single Puvvu Vathi positioned in the Diya

How I acquired this Tulsi Pooja Oil Diyas ?

I got this diya set from a very authentic source. This Ksheerabdi Dwadasi oil lamps arrangement is gifted to me by my brother-in-law Vakkalanka Venkateswara Rao and his wife,my sister Suryakantham.This lamps arrangement is in their family since 5 generations.My brother in-law’s father Vakkalanka Krishnamurthy garu and their ancestors were in the service of the Maharaja of Pithapuram and they were in-charge of management of temples in Pithapuram.I was told by my syster that the family will take out this arrangement few days before Ksheerabdi Dwadasi, clean the whole arrangement and use it on the pooja day. After completing pooja the entire set is cleaned up, repacked and put in the family storage room.This is how the the lamp system is kept safe and handed over from generation to generation. Knowing my passion for antiques my brother–in –law and my sister have gifted this precious item to me.

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Antique Brass Oil Lamps (Diya)

Life in India is colorful, spiritual, beautiful and at the same time simple and mundane. The objects or things used in daily life are combined with functionality and beauty. The spirit behind this is most probably the Hindu faith that there is only one ultimate reality that is called God or Super soul and the entire universe is the manifestation of God. It is this strong faith that makes a Hindu see divinity in everything that exists in this universe. This is the reason for the strange practices we see that some pray to stones, trees and a snake. According to the holy scriptures of Hindu religion the attributes of God are Satyam (eternal truth), Shivam (goodness, universal welfare, auspicious) and Sundaram (beautiful, aesthetic, inner bliss). For a spiritual Hindu, these are the guiding principles of life.This philosophy is most visible in the religious ceremonies,marriages,temple construction and in daily utility articles that are a combination of utility and beauty.This philosophy is also applicable for creation of  antique oil lamps of India.I am going to present to you some of the oil lamps I have collected. I always enjoyed admiring their beauty and I hope you do too.

Vishnu Diya from YK’s Collection
This beautifully shaped antique oil diya is known as Vishnu oil lamp(Vishnu diya) and is used in the temples belonging to Vaishnavism that is Lord Vishnu followers. This can be observed by the design, the symbols and figures sculptured on this lamp. The base of this brass oil lamp is round shaped with a protruding snout to keep the wick of the lamp that gives the flame .The shallow cup of the Vishnu diya is to store oil that serves as a fuel to the wick. The back side of the oil diya has symbols and figures that actually describe the purpose for which it is made and the place it belongs.

 

Vishnu Symbol- Forehead mark
In the center of Vishnu diya, you will find The Mark of Vishnu represented by three lines, the outer two lines curved and joined at the bottom and the middle line straight.Vishnu followers will wear this mark on their foreheads.This symbol or mark is called Sricharanam(Sri-auspicious, Charanam-feet).Members of the Sri Vaishnava tradition form a tilak with two lines representing the feet of Narayana with a red line in the middle which represents Lakshmidevi.A small line under the Sricharanam represents that the wearer belongs to the Thenkalai subsect of Vaishnavism.

Back panel depicting Symbols(from Left to Right) : Flames of Fire, Snake, Sun, Vishnu, Moon , Another Snake, Flames of Fire

Surya symbol
Surya is the god of light and fire. There is no life without light of the sun. In the trinity, the role of Vishnu is described as life sustainer and preserver of the universe .It is believed that the Sun god is an incarnation of Lord Vishnu. In the form of Surya, Lord Vishnu is usually worshipped on the festival of Ratha Saptami that falls on the seventh day (saptami) of the bright half of Hindu month of Magha. A Surya symbol is also carved on the brass oil lamp to indicate that this lamp also gives the light the way Surya gives. This light dispels darkness ignorance and illuminates the area (enlightenment)

Antique Oil Diya showing Surya symbol from YK’s Collection

The Moon symbol
You will find the moon symbol to the right side of Tilak mark. The equivalent word for moon in Sanskrit language is Chandra. The meaning of Chandra in Sanskrit is “bright and shining”. In Hindu mythology, the moon god is known as Chandra. When the gods and demons churned the Ocean of Milk (Chandra was born in this ocean) for Amrita (nectar), the gods were nearly blinded with his lustrous body. Hence the gods sent him into the cosmos to provide light to the creation with his glowing body. Goddess Lakshmi was also born from the same ocean of milk and hence Chandra is considered as her brother. Lakshmi is married to Vishnu .Thus Chandra becomes the brother -in-law of Vishnu. Vishnu in his avatar as Rama takes the name of Rama Chandra signifying his relationship with moon god. This is the reason for moon to appear in the Vishnu diya.

Brass Oil Lamp showing the Moon symbol from YK’s Collection

The fire symbol
The flames of fire surrounding the back side of the antique oil diya depict Vishnu as the embodiment of the ever burning, shining and gleaming cosmic fire. He fills the whole universe. He is surrounded by the glowing and flickering groups of galaxies. The entire aspect is to be visualized as dynamism, radiance and glow of the cosmic fire around Lord Vishnu and the same thing is depicted on the outer ring of the brass oil lamp. In his Vishwaroopam, Vishnu is depicted showing the entire universe within him.

A lighted Vishnu Diya showing the Fire symbol from YK’s Collection

Parrot figures
The Vishnu diya has 4 figures of the bird parrot. Two parrots joining the base with the back panel and two parrots joining the flames with Garuda figure. The reason for giving such a prominence to parrot is that it is the vehicle of Kamadeva, who is the son of Lakshmi and Vishnu. Kamadeva is also known as Manmadha,Ananga, Madana and Kāma.Thus, parrot or suka (in Sanskrit) has very strong romantic connotations. The beak of the parrot is red indicating desire and passion and its wings and body in green color indicating satisfied desire and full of joy. The red beak and green body are also related to fertility and prosperity. The red indicating the earth before the rains and green indicating the green earth after the rains. Thus the symbol of parrot is very closely associated with Vishnu and Vaishnavism.

Detailed view of the parrots on Antique Oil Diya from YK’s Collection

Garuda figure
You will see prominently the Garuda image at the top of the back panel of this antique oil diya. Garuda is the carrier or vahana of Vishnu and the king of birds. Garuda is with the head and wings of eagle and his body is like that of a man.Surya’s charioteer is Aruna(the red one),who is the wise elder brother of Garuda, and is also the deity of dawn.In all vaishnavait temples, the deity is taken on procession seated on Garuda vahana.In the famous Tirupati temple, Lord Venkateshwara(Vishnu avatar) is taken on procession on Garuda vahanam during Bramhostavam auspicious days and thousands of devotees gather on that day at the temple to have the Darshan of Venkateswara seated on Garuda.

The Garuda Symbol at the top of the back panel in Vishnu Diya

The Snake symbol
You will also notice two snake like symbols running on the edges of the back panel and enclosing the Sun symbol, Vishnu Sricharanam symbol and Moon symbol.This symbol is the representation of Ananta Shesha,the divine serpent.Lord Vishnu rests on the coils of this divine serpent Shesha, also known as Ananta.The resting Vishnu is depicted as Ananthpadmanabhan resting on the coils of Anantha floating in the ocean of the changing world with Laksmi at his feet.He is also known as Adishesha(the foremost of snakes) and Anantashesha or just Ananta(endless, as he is known to remain in existence even after the end of the Kalpa, when the whole world is destroyed). The thousand heads of Shesha swing to and fro over Vishnu’s body, creating a shelter and divan for the Lord.

 Notice the Snake symbol bracketing Sun, Vishnu Mark and the Moon Symbol in the Brass Oil Lamp

From the above depiction and description of the various symbols and figures on the brass oil lamp,you will see the concept,depth of imagination and construction of this lamp that depicts in a single form the entire Vishnu mythology and vaishnava philosophy.

I am also showing here one more antique oil diya of Vishnu cult.This diya is simple in the form and depicts only the Vishnu tilak Sricharanam. On the top of the back panel is shown a figure that resembles the tip of a crown or Mukut. May be the craftsman wants to show only the tip of a Vishnu crown which is the top most aspect of Vishnu image.

A lighted Antique Oil Diya from YK’s Collection
Another view of the  lighted Antique Oil Diya from YK’s Collection

Vishnu diya – The source
I have acquired this antique oil lamp from a family of Indian antique collectors. During one of my visits to Vijayawada, where my father-in-law Machraju Bhaskar Rao and his family resides, my nephew Bhaskar Machiraju( we lovingly call him Babi) informed me one day that his friend’s family are  having some antique oil lamps and they are prepared to sell part of their collections. Babi is aware of my passion for antiques. Immediately we rushed to their house and I managed to pick up these two antique brass oil lamps.

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Ganga Water Lota

 

I had been to Varanasi several times and whenever I go, I make it a point to spend as much time as possible on the banks of Ganges river at its various ghats with beautiful steps and colorful people and mysterious ceremonies which take place on the ghats and in the Ganges river. The most inspiring sight to watch is the ceremonial bath that millions of Hindu religion followers take in the Ganges. After the bath they carry the sacred water of Ganga river to their homes to keep the water in their puja(worship) rooms for using the same for several ceremonies and to gift the precious holy water to near and dear people back at their homes and places.

During my recent visit I have noticed that the holy Ganges water is collected and carried in plastic bottles and cans that I felt it is treated like any other water we normally collect. Before the invention of plastic, the holy Ganges water is collected in beautiful copper or brass vessels normally called Chambu in South India and Lota in North India and these vessels come in various shapes and sizes.
Holy Dip in river Ganga at Dashaswamedh Ghat in Varanasi

Even now the staunch Hindu believers collect and carry the sacred Ganges water in the copper or brass vessels that are sold at the ghats of Ganga river or near the markets leading to the Lord Vishwanath temple, the name which signifies the lord of the universe. As an antiques lover, I have collected these Ganga water lotas and I take immense pleasure in presenting these items in this blog for the viewers to get a glimpse of the tradition and style these containers reveal.

Significance of Ganges Water
It always remained a curious thought in my mind as to why invariably all the pilgrims to holy Benares take a dip in the Ganges river and carry the sacred waters of Ganga to their homes. My research shows the following reasons for this spiritual ritual.

Water has been an object of worship from ancient times in India. Water is sacred, life giver and life preserver; it has purifying power and destroys evil. Essentially water is the building element of life and the entire creation depends on the mercy of god for the water. Hence water is divine and more so the water from the sacred river of Ganga.In Hindu religion there is a great importance of this holy water. No Hindu religious ceremony or practice takes place without holy water of Ganga river.

The Ganga river water is considered as sacred and many Hindu scriptures say that the touch of this holy water destroys all the sins of many past births. Most Hindu families keep the holy water of Ganges because it is sacred to keep the holy water of Ganges in the house and if someone is dying then that person will be able to drink this holy water. It is believed that drinking holy water from the Ganga with one’s last breath takes the person’s soul to heaven.

People preserve the holy water of Ganga in copper or brass  lota. It is believed that if this water is kept in the copper lota in homes then it produces holy vibrations which fight away bad luck and evil. It endows material prosperity and spiritual growth. Part of the holy water taken to their homes is poured into the well or other water bodies to get continuous pure and holy water from these water sources.

Offerings to Ganga at Dasaswamedh Ghat in Varanasi

The river Ganges is considered as sacred and is worshipped as a deity in Hinduism. It is also called as ‘Ganga Maiya’ (Mother Ganga) or ‘Gangaji’. The holiness of Ganges water can be measured from the fact that any Hindu who holds this water in hand can never cheat or speak a lie. The ancient Hindu scriptures say that the touch, name and sight of Ganga cleanse all the sins of a person and taking a dip in the holy Ganga river bestows heavenly blessings.

Ganga water plays a very important role even in the death of a Hindu.It is said that one who dies around this river becomes free from all the sins and the person reaches the heavenly abode. When a Hindu dead body is cremated at the banks of Ganga or even its ashes are immersed in its water then it is believed that the departed soul attains salvation. For Hindus, the  ghats of Ganga river at Banaras are the holiest funeral detestation and this will liberate the soul from the cycle of life and death and attain nirvana, the ultimate goal of each soul.

According to Merriam Webster Dictionary “A Lota is a small, usually spherical water vessel of brass or copper used in India.” It is commonly used for storing or transferring small amounts of liquids such as water or milk. It is also widely used in various religious ceremonies.

American designer Charles Eames in his The India Report expressed a great admiration for the lota, saying about its design:

“Of all the objects we have seen and admired during our visit to India, the Lota, that simple vessel of everyday use, stands out as perhaps the greatest, the most beautiful.” I am now going to present you some of the most beautiful lotas designed and used to store and transport the sacred Ganga water.

The long neck Ganga Lota: The design and construction of this lota is an engineering marvel for its time and purpose. The wide circular collar below the water pot is meant to provide stability and grip to the lota even if placed on an uneven surface that prevents the lota from tilting and losing the precious Ganga water. The whole body of the lota is made out of thick brass metal and cannot be broken or cracked even at a severe accident. Maximum it can be dented. The long narrow neck prevents water spilling out fast even in a rare case of accident. In those days where travel to reach their destination took months, it is common that people became sick and in a few cases people would die on the way. In such cases the long and narrow neck of this lota is designed to have a good grip by the hand and pour  few drops of water in the mouth of the sick or about to die individuals which will either cure the person or take them to heaven if dead. The cap of the lota is screwed to the neck and the screw systems is hand-made and fits at ease, is tight and gap less to prevent any leakage of the sacred water. There is a handle attached to the cap and the handle is flexible so that it goes with the rhythm of the body or hand movement .This helps to keep the lota always straight and maintains equilibrium in spite of the movement of the hand while walking. The whole design is based on high principles of practicality and functionality with beautiful shape and aesthetic appeal.

             Long Neck Ganga Chambu Lota from YK’s Collection

 

                 Long Neck Ganga Chambu Lota with cap and lota shown separately

 

Hand made Screw with rivet for handle

Ganga Jamuna Lota : This lota acquires its name due to the combination of brass and copper separately in its fabrication. The waters of Ganga river are in the color of golden yellow represented by brass and the waters of Jamuna river are in reddish tinge represented by copper. In the holy confluence of Ganga river and Jamuna river at the holy place of Prayag now known as Allahabad, one can see the distinct colors of these rivers. This lota is relatively big in size with a handle.

Ganga Jamuna Chambu Lota from YK’s Collection

 

My grandfather, Yenugu Krishna Murthy, whose name was given to me, brought the sacred waters of Ganga in this lota when he visited Kashi (present Varanasi) in the year 1937.This lota is around 75 years old. I understand from my mother (her name is Subba Laksmi) that he has celebrated his safe return from Kashi Yatra by serving food to all the known people in his village called Someswaram in East Godavari district of Andhra Pradesh and distributed holy water to most of the near and dear in small copper pots brought from Kashi for this purpose. My mother kept our share of the sacred water in a small copper vessel and got it sealed with tin foil to prevent evaporation of the sacred water and used to keep this Gangajal near our puja(worship)area next to family deities. Later the Ganga Jamuna lota was used to store Bellam Pakam (a honey like liquid taken out when Jaggery is prepared from sugarcane juice).My mother used to serve this bellam pakam as an accompaniment when she serves Dosa,  Vada or Dibbarotti. Some times we used to carry water in this lota when we were on tour by placing a small brass tumbler in the neck to prevent spillage of water and the tumbler was used for drinking water.

Top view of Ganga Jamuna Lota from YK’s Collection

Gundu Lota (Round belly Lota):

This lota is known as Gundu Lota (Gundu in telugu means round ) and it acquires this name because of its round shaped belly. It does not have a handle and it is picked up by placing five fingers around its rim. It has very intricately carved designs around its body and has great aesthetic appeal. This lota is collected from a known family  with an exchange .This lota must be over 90 years old as told by the family and can be corroborated by the smoothening of the design on it due to usage and frequent cleaning process. The designs on the latest lotas will be sharp and deep.

Gundu Chambu Lota from YK’s Collection
Details of intricately carved designs on Gundu Lota
Another view of beautifully carved designs on Gundu Lota
Traditional Lota-1: This is a typical Ganga lota shape with a wide base and narrow mouth. It slowly tapers towards the neck with a strong neck ring. The strong neck ismeant to withstand and hold the welding or riveting of a tin plate to seal the precious water inside to prevent spillage and evaporation. This item is brought from an antique dealer in Delhi.
A typical Ganga Chambu Lota with tapering to the top with a robust rim
Top view of the typical Ganga lotafrom YK’s Collection
Traditional Lota-2:This is exactly the same type of lota, the twin of traditional lota -1 but small in size and acquired from the same antique dealer in Delhi. You can see the sealing marks on the rim of this lota caused by peeling of the tin plate riveted to it.

A typical Ganga Lota with sealing marks on the rim

Copper Lota: This lota is made out of copper having the typical traditional shape of Ganga lota. This lota is engraved with design. This was gifted to my grandfather with Gangajal in it by another person from his village Someswaram who had gone to Kashi and returned safely.

A traditional copper lota with carvings

 

Another view of the copper lota
 Dasha Mukha Lota:This lota is shaped out of ten facets or faces and hence known as Dasha Mukha lota. This is made out of bronze metal and has a fine and smooth surface.
Dasha Mukha Lota from YK’s Collection
Top view of the Dasa Mukha Lotafrom YK’s Collection

Copper Gundu Lota: This is round shaped lota with intricate carvings. This again is a lota gifted to my grand father filled with Gangajal by one of our relatives who has gone to Kashi and returned safely. The water in the lota is used for several occasions in our family and has come to my collection once the entire water was used. When it is filled with water it is kept in the puja area.

Copper Gundu Lota with intricate carvings
Top view of the Copper Gundu Lota from YK’s Collection