The very idea behind starting this blog was to share my collection of antiques with antique lovers all over the world and to somehow re-ignite the spark for preserving and cherishing antiques that were once part of our daily lives. We came up with articles and all of you encouraged the initiative by subscribing to the blog, liking the YK Antiques page on Facebook, and by sharing the links with your friends and family. We received a lot of encouraging messages, queries, words of appreciation and phone calls too.
Written material or text is best complemented by video. Though both mediums are powerful in their own ways, a combination of both can actually work wonders. Keeping that in mind, we wanted to experiment with blog posts + videos. This video that you see is a result of that. This is an attempt to write, talk,, and video document the story behind each antique that I have acquired over the years.
Do take a look at the video and let us know where we can improve and what we can do differently.
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Attar is an Indian name for the traditional perfumes made in India by ancient technique of distillation using copper vessels.This beautifully shaped copper vessel called ‘Bhapka’ is used in the traditional method of distillation of attar. The very mention of attar gives a romantic feeling of lingering fragrance that is unique to Indian culture. Mughal emperors, Indian Maharajas, their queens and harems, the noble families of bygone era, all used delicately scented traditional attars for lifting their souls to new levels of ecstasy and make themselves more inviting. Each royalty patronised their own favourite attar and their arrival was significantly felt by the kind of attar associated with them and the gentle perfumed wind heralded their arrival into the royal durbars, courts and to their ladies.
The traditional attars are made with rare and exotic variety of flowers, herbs, roots and spices. The base oil for the attar is Sandalwood oil. It has the inherent quality of absorbing the scents of the other oils by subsiding its own scent.
The Dwindling Effect
The once famous and most adored traditional attars of Hindustan are no more available in their sublime purity. The pervading adulteration has also penetrated into these traditional scents. The reasons could be the rarity and the high cost of sandalwood oil, insensitivity to fine taste and quality and most importantly the greed to make money by dubious methods.
The competition from the poor chemically made scents (called foreign scents) that invaded the Indian markets with their abundant side-effects could be one of the reasons for the lack of buyers for the authentic, pure agro-based and environment friendly (eco-friendly) attars. The so called sprays of foreign scents that produce more gas and side-effects than perfume with their low price have virtually killed the traditional attars that gave the divine and delicate fragrances to the connoisseurs.
A Memory from My Childhood
When I was about 12 or 13, there was an attar vendor whose name was Sayeeb. He used to come to our house often and sell a variety of attars. He was a middle aged Muslim man, dressed in a traditional white kurta and pyjama along with a turban with its tail end hanging till his hips. He sported a pepper-salt beard, had an assorted colored beads necklace hanging around his neck and walked barefoot. He carried a beautiful wooden box with brass trims, lined inside with maroon coloured mukhmal (velvet) cloth containing different bottles of attar. Each bottle was securely placed in the square slots resembling pigeon holes. The box was hung on his shoulder with the help of a thick cotton tape secured to the brass handles of the box.
Whenever he used to visit our house, he used to unlock the box and open it for us to have a glimpse of the beautiful bottles with divine fragrances. He would ask us to stretch our hands and then would dab tiny amount of attar on the back of our palms and ask us to experience the fragrance. Once we were convinced and our selection made, he would dexterously pour the ordered quantity into our tiny glass bottles taken out from our own little attar daan. Attar daan is a small box with brass trims having slots inside to place each attar bottle which has a mini lock. Locking the attar daan was very much required since the costly and rare attars had to be protected from misuse. The attar daan was always kept in a cupboard with other valuable items like silk sarees, gold ornaments, silver items etc.
The Making Of Traditional Attar
The process of making traditional attars takes a minimum of ten days.The flowers are soaked in water and heated in large copper pots . The automatic vapours are then transferred to a receptacle copper vessel through bamboo pipes containing pure Sandalwood oil which is the base oil for attar. Attar is also made from aromatic spices, herbs, roots etc.
The distillation unit consists of three parts.
Part one is a large copper vessel called ‘Deg’ in which water and fragrant flowers to be distilled are placed.
Part two is a copper vessel with a large belly and narrow long neck called ‘Bhapka’. Bhapka means ‘steam’ in Hindi language and that is why the vessel that captures the fragrance filled steam from the deg is called bhapka.
Part three is a ‘Chonga’, a hallow bamboo pipe that connects the deg and bhapka. The bamboo pipe is wrapped with rope made from local grasses and serves as an insulator to the pipe.
The simple distillation unit extracts the inherent delicate essence of the fragrant flower. The deg is filled with pure water and then the fresh fragrant flowers are placed inside it. Its lid is then sealed by a clay ribbon of approximately three inches and tightly held by a spring called ‘Kamani’ which makes a vapor tight sealing system between the deg and its lid.
There will be a hole on the lid to insert a bamboo pipe to extract the vapors from the deg. The receiving copper vessel i.e. bhapka is filled with pure sandalwood oil. Bamboo pipe is inserted into its mouth and sealed with clay and cotton. The sealed bhapka with the bamboo pipe is lowered and allowed to settle down into the waters of a cooling tank known as ‘gachchi’ that eventually converts the sweet vapors into molecules of fragrant attar.
The other end of the bamboo pipe is inserted into the hole in the lid of the deg and sealed tightly by the combination of cotton and clay. The deg containing flowers in water is heated with wood or cow-dung fire and the fragrant vapors produced rise up from the deg and pass through the bamboo pipes into the bhapka immersed in the cooling tank. The vapors get condensed in the bhapka and after distillation the water and oil get separated and the aromatic oil molecules get absorbed by the sandalwood oil. Then the water is taken off or decanted through the hole in the bhapka and mixed with the water in the deg for the next process of distillation.
The distillation process is repeated several times for 15 days till the sandalwood oil in the bhapka is fully saturated and achieves the desired fragrant perfume of that flower. The sandalwood oil completely gives up its own fragrance and acquires the fragrance of the flower that is used in distillation process.
A Little Something about the Marvellous Antique Bhapka
This bhapka is handmade with copper metal sheet of thick gauge. You will observe beautiful hammer marks throughout its body. It was initially made into few parts and later joined together to make a perfectly shaped bhapka with a nice big belly and a neat long neck. At a glance, it gives an impression of a huge copper flower vase made perfectly. This is how I looked at it when I first saw it in the warehouse of an antique dealer in Ahmedabad way back in the year 1986. During one of my usual rounds to antique shops in Ahmedabad, I saw this odd looking copper vessel and I inquired about it with the shop owner. He had no idea about it. I liked its shape and the pattern of the hammer marks. I also saw that there were inscriptions on the body and I was confident that I could decode the inscriptions and find out the true nature and purpose for which it was made. I struck a bargain and brought it along with me to Mumbai where I used to stay back then. After cleaning, it was so beautiful and shiny with pinkish brown color. Its flower vase type of shape gave me an idea that it would make an exquisite floor lamp base. I bought a large size lamp shade made out of gold color silk cloth and fixed it on the top of its long neck. It was perfect! Later it became a center of attraction in our drawing room and conversation piece when guests would arrive.
The old classic literature on attars say that the floral variety that are primarily used for making attar are rose, jasmine, bele, molesari, champa and tuberose. Coming to root variety, vetiver and ginger are mainly used for making attar. Barks of trees like cinnamon, sandalwood and aloe bark are also used. Musk, ambergris (a wax-like substance that originates as a secretion in the intestines of the sperm whale, found floating in tropical seas and used in perfume manufacture) and myrrh (a fragrant gum resin obtained from certain trees) are also used.
For all these ingredients, sandalwood oil is used as the base oil since the natural fragrance of the oil vanishes and it imbibes the aroma of the flower.
The Right Way To Apply Attar
It is mentioned in our ancient texts as to which part of the body should be anointed with attar for the maximum benefits in terms of aroma and health to the body and mind. Attars are applied on ‘pulse points’ which emanate the aroma most effectively. The blood vessels are nearest to the skin at the pulse points giving off much heat thus serving as mini pumps of fragrance. The warmth generated from the pulse points diffuses the aroma of the attar into the air. The continuous diffusion function of the body helps the wearer to enjoy the aroma through the day.
The sensitive pulse points are located behind the ears, between the breasts, on the neck and on the ankles, elbows and knees. Attar is to be applied on the heart centre, over the points of wrist pulse, back portion of the ears and on the subtle energetic pathways called marma points known as ajna or sthapani on the middle of forehead area. These points are conducive for the aromatic oils and they can be fully absorbed into the skin and the release of fragrance is gentle and subtle around the body. These aromatic attars regulate the breathing rhythm, stabilize the heartbeat, soothe the nervous system and calm the brain. These gentle aromatic attars lift your spirits to a higher level of consciousness, regulate prana and circulate the vital energy throughout.
A Brief About Sandalwood Oil
Sandalwood oil is distilled from the matured tree heartwood and the roots of the tree. The oil is extracted by water or steam distillation method. A mature sandalwood tree yields up to 60 kilograms of perfumed oil. Most of the oil produced is used by the perfume and toiletries industry. The world famous Sandalwood soap is manufactured from the oil extracted from the trees grown in the forests of Karnataka around Mysore.
The advantage with perfume manufacturing using the distillation process is that the fragrance improves with the age of attar. The sandalwood oil is a fantastic fixative and an excellent preservative. If the attars are carefully preserved,the quality improves with age like in a vintage wine.
An Interesting Anecdote About Mysore Sandal Soap
There is a very interesting story on how the Mysore Sandal Soap came into existence. During the British rule in India, the Maharaja of Mysore used to harvest the sandalwood oil and export the same to England. It so happened that for some reason or the other, one shipment of sandalwood oil was rejected and the Maharaja did not know what to do with such huge precious cargo. One of his advisers advised the Maharaja to use the aromatic oil in his own production of soaps. The Maharaja immediately commissioned a soap-making plant to manufacture high class sandalwood soaps. Thus, the Maharaja stopped all export of sandalwood oil and the produce was used in the production of sandalwood soaps and in other related perfumery and toiletries industry. Till India attained independence, the Maharaja Soap factory was run by the Kingdom of Mysore.
You never must have given a thought about how attar is made till now. But behind it is an elaborate process and the vessels used were made for a purpose. With the advent of technology, traditional methods are slowly taking a hit along with all things associated with it. By now I guess you know that every time you apply a drop of attar, thousands of flowers go into making the perfume along with the hard manual labor of artisans who take it upon themselves to keep alive the tradition of the dwindling craft of making attar. The attar is natural and made from nature’s most delicate creation known as flowers and aromatic produce. It is gentle on the skin and has no side effects. It is absolutely divine!
The antique brass and bronze pots shown here are exclusively used for cooking Andhra Curries. In traditional Andhra meal there will be five items invariably – Muddapappu, curry, chutney, pulusu, rasam and curds or butter milk with lots of accompaniments like pickles, powders, appadam, vadiyalu, ooramirapakayalu etc. Out of all Andhra meal items curry, known as koora takes an important position. It is the main dish. So the success of the meal depends on the success of the curry. Hence dedicated vessels are used to prepare this important dish. I have collected four curry pots and out of them two are from Andhra and two are from Tamil Nadu.The curry pots from Andhra are made with brass metal and called kooraginny and the ones from Tamil Nadu are made with bronze metal and called vengalapannai. Both the varieties have different shape though the utility and the functionality are same. In Hindi language curry pot is called handi.
The Andhra Brass curry pots have beautiful shape that serve both for functional purpose and aesthetic value.The” U” shaped coking vessel has a thick body so that the heat is distributed uniformly and the curry is cooked evenly.The brass pot has wide open mouth to facilitate easy movement of the ladle that is used for stirring the contents for uniform cooking.There is a wide rim at the mouth of the vessel so that the vessel is not slipped at the time of handling and to have a firm grip.The wide mouth with the rim also helps in sealing the mouth with a metal plate to prevent the spicy vapors going out of the pot and preserve the moisture.
The Tamil Nadu counterparts have a lovely bowl like shape with narrow base and wide mouth.There is a grove between the main body of the cooking pot and the opening.This groove is designed for the hand grip and gives excellent aesthetic sense.The narrow base allows the flames of the fire stretch up to the full length of the pot giving the pot uniform heat for excellent cooking results.I have acquired these enchanting pieces from an antique dealer in Madras, now called as Chennai, the capital city of Tamil Nadu state.
The Andhra pots are the family inheritance. These pots were used by my mother and she used to turn out very delicious curries from these beauties. I also understand that my grandfather’s mother-in-law, KavammaGaru (garu is a respectable way of addressing elders), alsoused these wonderful pots for cooking mouth-watering curries. Her special dish was Vankaya karampettina koora. I understand that in our village Someswaram, the neighbours of our house used to plead with KavammaGaru to prepare this special dish and she used to prepare and distribute to them and enjoy such service as a gesture of good will. Even after her death, whenever they think of Kavammagaru, they used to praise her Vankaya karampettina koora. I am presenting the recipe of this wonderful dish passed on from Kavammagaru to my mother and there upon from my mother to my sisters and later to my wife. This antique brass curry pot and the recipe of Vankaya karampettina koora are more than 100 years old .The recipe is preserved and practiced by my wife so that we do not lose touch of this rare delicious dish.
How to cook Vankaya Kharampettina koora in Antique brass curry pot
The recipe for Vankaya Kharampettina koora
The speciality of the vankaya karampettina koora is that it is stuffed with a spicy powder of lentils, fenugreek seeds and redchillies. The fine taste of Indian lentils combined with the flavour of fenugreek seeds and the hot taste of red roasted chillies gives this dish a rare combination of taste that is to be experienced. The name Vankaya karampettina koora means the brinjal stuffed with hot spices. The brinjal is also called as aubergine or eggplant.
12 fresh tender purple brinjals of round shape.
2 table spoons of Sanagapappu (Bengal gram)
2 table spoons of Minapapappu (Black gram)
Menthulu: 1/2 table spoon of Menthulu (fenugreek seeds)
10to12 Medium sized red dry chillies.
Wash thoroughly the brinjals with the stalks. Trim the stalk ends.
To prepare the stuffing powder:
Take the antique brass curry cooking pot and heat it moderately on fire.Add ½ a table spoon of oil. When the oil is on medium heat add fenugreek seeds first followed by Bengal gram, black gram and red chillies cut into pieces.Fry till the grams take a golden brown colour and the red chillies take a darker shade of colour.Remove from the heat and cool the mixture in a plate.Put the mixture in a grinder and grind to a granular powder.Powder should not be too fine.It should be granular.
Prepare the brinjal for stuffing:
Take each brinjal and slit the bottom end upwards towards the stem till you reach the ¾ length of the brinjal .Make another similar slit from the bottom of the brinjal this time at right angles to the previous slit thus slitting the brinjalinto 4 sections. Now the brinjal is ready for stuffing. Now stuff the powder into the slit sections of each brinjal till it holds. Stuff all brinjals.
Cooking the stuffed brinjal:
Heat 2 table spoons full of oil in the antique brass cooking pot .Add the stuffed brinjals one by one. Stir the brinjals in the vessel so that the oil is smeared to each brinjal. Scatter the remaining powder over the brinjals. Sprinkle ¼ cup of water on the brinjals in the curry pot and cover with a thick plate as a lid on the pot, pour ¼ a cup of water in the plate, keep the fire in low and let the contents simmer on a low fire for 20 minutes.The water in the cover plate gets heated and there is heat surrounding the entire curry pot. This gives uniform heat to the brinjals for excellent cooking and seals the juices and flavors inside the pot. Keep tossing the brinjals occasionally by tilting the curry pot with jerks by holding the rim of the pot with a dry cloth. Stirring by ladle may damage the shape of the brinjal. Cook for another 20 minutes or till the brinjals are well cooked to a tender soft condition. When you take them into serving dish hold each brinjal by stem or use a flat spoon like atlakada or dosa ladle.
This vintage brass 5-tier tiffin box was used by me during my school days to carry lunch to my school. I was born in the year 1940. My grandfather who was a head master for the only elementary school we had in our village Someswaram, in the East Godavari District of Andhra Pradesh, India, had admitted me into the school when I was five years old after doing proper pooja and ceremonial Akharabhyasam (writing OM first time on the slate). I started going to school along with my grandfather Sri Yenugu Krishna Murthy carrying a palaka and balapam (stone slate and stone pencil) in a cotton bag. This was all my school kit. I graduated from 5th standard when I was 10 years old and that was the maximum education my school could offer. The nearest high school was 5 kilometres away and the only way to reach there was by a bicycle. Since I was considered as too young to go alone on a bicycle, my grandfather decided I should stay with my uncle Sri Rajupanthlu garu in the town Peddapuram.
I was admitted in the ULCM High School, Peddapuramin the 1st form (now equivalent of 6th standard) and I successfully completed my 3rd form when I was 13 years old. By then, I was considered eligible to ride a bicycle. So I was shifted back to our village Someswaram and got admitted in a high school in a village named Rayavaram about 5 kilometres from my village. I got a new cycle and a tiffin carrier with 5 boxes in the year 1953. I do not know if I got a brand new lunch box or an already old one by then. Let us consider that as new at that time. That brings us to the age of this 5-tier brass tiffin box set at 60 years old.
This 13 inches tall lunch carrier has an assembly of five containers- a large one with 3 inches height, three medium sized ones with 2 inches height and a one small one (5th one) with one inch height. All the round boxes are 4.5 inches wide (diameter). All the five containers are held tight by a brass strap frame resembling an inverted “U”shape that has a bent at the top. The two parallel sections have grooves that fit snugly into the knobs on the lower container. The upper most box tightly fits into the bent part of the “U”. The top part of the “U” is used as a handle to carry the tiffin carrier assembly. There is an aluminium spoon that holds the boxes and the frame together. The brass frame has two holes at the bent, and the top vessel lid has a knob with one hole. When the frame is pushed on to the five container assembly, the two holes in the frame and the hole at the top box lid come in a single straight line and the aluminium spoon is inserted through the 3 holes. That seals the assembly tight.
The lunch carrier has a stamping on the top vessel cover reading as ” 41/2“meaning there are four and half containers in the assembly.The top box which is of 1 inch height is considered as half box. There is also another stamping giving the patent details reading as “Patent1937 HK22729”. This reveals that this design was patented in the year 1937. I do not know who the manufacturer is but with the help of patent number maybe we can find the manufacturer. All the vessels are coated with tin coating, locally known as tagarampoota. This coating is given to prevent the contact of the food with brass metal since brass reacts chemically with certain types of food materials, particularly Tamarind juice, which is profusely used in Andhra food preparations, and also with lime juice.That is precisely the reason as to why an Aluminium spoon is used instead of a brass spoon.The spoon is used for locking purpose and also as a spoon for serving and eating purpose.You cannot eat food with brass spoon for the reason of chemical reaction. Hence aluminium spoon is used which serves both the purpose.
I used to start from home at 9 a.m. every day to school and my mother used to keep my lunch carrier, which she used to call it dabba, ready by the same time packed with hot food for my mid-day meal. She used to pack rice in the big dabba at the bottom, the second one with the pulusu or pappu, the third one with vegetable curry, the fourth one with curd and the top one with pickle. The pickle will be either Aavakaya with badda ( mango slice) or Maagaya with juicy tenka (mango seed). I used to keep the hot brass tiffin box into a cotton bag with handles and hang the bag on the left side of the handle bar of the cycle. My school books were pushed into another similar bag and it was hung on the right side of the handlebar. This was how my journey to school started. If there was an item of interest, it was the carrier. My mind would always be on the carrier instead of on the class subject and I would wait impatiently for the lunch time bell. The children of our village used to sit together and eat our lunch and most of the times we used to share our lunch. Our school used to be at the far end of the village amidst paddy fields.There used to be small canals (bodikalva) to irrigate the paddy fields. We would sit on the banks of these canals under a mango tree and eat lunch with a picnic atmosphere. After that we would wash our tiffin carrier in the canals, reassemble them and put it back in the cotton bag.
I was using this vintage brass lunch carrier for three years during my studies for 4th,5th forms and SSLC (Secondary School Leaving Certificate) which is equivalent to present day 10th. After my SSLC, I had gone to Kakinada to study my Intermediate in PR College. Thus, my cycle journey and my dear lunchbox carrier were given rest. While my cycle was disposed, I retained the brass lunch carrier, my companion for 3 years. It is now an integral part of my antiques collection. This fabulous 5-tier tiffin box is my goddess Annapoorna which fed me for three years in my life.
I do hope you enjoyed reading this posting on Vintage Tiffin Carrier as much as I did writing it. I love to receive your comments.
UPDATE – Jun 28, 2017
Take a look at the video that we’ve recently uploaded. Hope you like it.
Do you know how ladies used to dry their hair after a head bath in those good old days when electric hair driers were not available? Yes! They had a traditional style of drying the hair with perfumed hot air. Sounds romantic and feels cosy doesn’t it? In the old days, when modern gadgets had not yet invaded the lives of humans, drying wet hair after the bath was a cosmetic ritual. Ladies used Sambrani dhoop, the incense smoke that is generated by burning sambrani powder on the charcoal fire for the purpose. The sambrani powder has an inherent sweet aroma and the smoke that comes out of burning charcoal is warm. Thus, the hair is pampered with hot and sweet scented smoke. The perfumed warm smoke can penetrate into the deep spaces inside tresses from the roots to the ends. For this purpose, the craftsmen of those days designed brass pots that are used to hold burning charcoal with necessary ventilation for oxygen supply required for the burning process. Here is one such antique beautifully designed sambrani burning incense pot made out of brass.
Design of the Sambrani Incense Pot
The pot is made up of two parts joined together. There is a cup to hold the charcoal fire and below the cup is the hollow base that serves as an air gap to supply the oxygen that fuels the fire. The height of the air gap base is 1.5 inches and the height of the charcoal cup is 2.5 inches. The bottom of the charcoal cup has three holes that supply air to the burning charcoal and also serve as drain holes to discharge the charcoal ash. This pot is meant to be kept on a plate for practical reasons. It is not possible to hold the hot brass pot with bare hands and hence it is carried by keeping it on a plate.
Traditionally, sambrani pots are kept on a round plate with a rim around it along with the sambrani powder next to the pot for convenience. Sambrani powder, when it touches the fire, gives a spurt of instant thick smoke and subsides very soon. So, one has to sprinkle another dose of the powder into the charcoal to get the next billow of incense smoke. Hence, it is essential that the charcoal pot and the sambrani powder are together at the same place always and the plate serves as the common ground. The plate is also required to hold the ash coming out from the drain holes. There are intricate designs on the surface of the charcoal pot. There are circular lines designed on the base of the pot. The residue of the burnt sambrani settles on the surface of the charcoal fire which hampers the burning of the charcoal. Hence, it is necessary to fan the fire periodically or reshuffle the charcoal pieces to keep the charcoal fire live.
What is Sambrani?
Sambrani is a term used by traditional medical science Ayurveda for the yellow resin, a gum like substance that comes from perfumed sap of Sal tree. The sap is extracted from the tree by making an incision in the bark of the tree. This herbal resin is then collected and processed in the form of minute granules that are pressed hard to form crystals or bars of sambrani. It is also called as Jhuna.
The botanical name for sambrani is Benzoin resin. It is produced out of the bark of tree species like Genus Styrax. The main component in the resin is Benzoic acid, generally called Benzoin resin.
Benzoin resin is mainly produced by the countries Cambodia, Thailand, Vietnam, Laos, and Sumatra since Styrax species of trees are grown in these countries. Benzoin gum is also used in the orthodox churches of Russia as church incense. In Arab countries of Middle East and in India, Benzoin is burnt over charcoal fire as incense. It is also used in Japan and China in the manufacture of incense sticks.
How is Sambrani Used?
Sambrani is used for multiple purposes like drying the hair of ladies and children, in the temple poojas as incense, as a germicide, as a mosquito repellent, as a sweet fragrance, to create divine atmosphere etc. It is also used as a perfume in the perfume industry, to manufacture incense sticks and cones, as a flavouring substance, and in medicines like Tincture of Benzoin.
Traditionally, sambrani is used to dry the hair by holding hair over the sambrani pot and letting the smoke in. If the hair is really long and thick, another person or a family member could assist by holding the hair over the smoke for effective drying. In instances where there is no one to assist, the ladies devised a method to effectively spread the smoke in the hair and evenly dry it out. This was done by placing a straw basket over the sambrani pot and then holding the hair over the straw basket. This served two purposes. One, it evenly distributed the smoke from the gaps in the straw basket. Two, it reduced dependency and risk of hair burning due to contact with the charcoal.
Since thousands of years, Indian temples have been using incense. It also used in Buddhist and Hindu temple for religious ceremonies as a purifier of atmosphere near the temple areas. It is also used in the pooja rooms in private houses and in domestic shrines during pooja to bring in a meditative ambiance to the religious ceremony. It is also believed that the smoke generated by sambrani wards off evil spirits and cleanses the air. That is one of the reasons why it is mainly used in temples, churches, and in religious ceremonies.
The Medicinal Benefits of Sambrani
The smoky aroma that is generated by roasting the sambrani powder on burning charcoal is therapeutic, antibacterial, and curative. It helps in enhancing sensorial perception and mental clarity. According to Ayurveda and spiritual concepts, it induces serenity, calms the nervous system, revokes negative thoughts, and fosters a quiet mental state. It helps in spiritual practices by enhancing the consciousness and inner awareness.
The amazing uplifting aroma of sambrani is conducive to create soothing ambiance and calm serenity.
Sambrani oil is extracted from exotic resins and several other elements obtained from tropical forests like wood, roots, bark of Genus Styrax species of trees. The oil is extracted by the traditional distillation process using earthen pots. In India, sambrani oil is prepared in the state of Madhya Pradesh. This oil is used in perfumery industry, manufacture of incense, and for medical purpose.
I had sourced this sambrani incense brass pot approximately 35 years ago from an antique dealer in Chennai, Tamil Nadu. We have actively been using the same in our house ever since for pooja, religious ceremonies, and of course drying the hair. If you haven’t experienced using sambrani first-hand, I encourage you to do so. It is soothing, has a great fragrance, and is beneficial. If you are unable to source a brass pot for the purpose, you could go for a much more economical and convenient earthen pot with a similar design and ventilation outlets which are widely available across the country.
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 loftthere 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.
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.