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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

 

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Antique Mobile Wash Basin

Antique Mobile Wash Basin From YK’s Collection
When you go to a good restaurant, you are usually provided with a napkin, and after completing the meal a finger bowl to wash your fingers. This is a courtesy and comfort they provide you and save you from going to the wash room to wash your fingers or hands.

As far as a fine dining restaurant is concerned, a finger bowl would suffice, as you have your entire cutlery (knife, fork, spoon etc.) to eat the food. So, the possibility of dirtying your hands is minimal. But imagine, you are at a typical Indian feast, where guests are seated on a cotton or woollen laden floor; in some traditional houses guests are seated on low level square wooden platforms. And in a typical traditional Indian feast, food is consumed with one’s own fingers and palms, and there shall be no use of cutlery. In this scenario, a finger bowl would definitely not suffice for washing your entire palm, and the hosts would not want to be discourteous by asking their guests to make use of a washroom (which may be located at a fair distance from the dining area). 

Antique Basin
Antique Pitcher with a Snout


The hosts extend their hospitality by arranging a mobile wash basin thus, enabling the guests to wash off their hands in their very seats. While one bearer carries the mobile wash basin, another carries a metal container with water, followed by another who would provide with the napkin(s) for drying the hands. In houses where a dining table is used, the mobile wash basin is brought to the table carried by the servants along with a water jug. Table napkins are placed on the table so that guests can use them for drying their hands.

Antique mobile wash basin and pitcher -Top view
Antique mobile wash basin and pitcher -Front view


A mobile wash basin, also referred to as a ‘Salfachi’ in Urdu, ‘Chilamachi’ in Hindi or a ‘Lavabo’ is not a new concept, and has been in use for several centuries now. A mobile wash basin generally consists of 2 major components, viz. the basin and a vessel (with a snout). While the basin is what you wash your hands in, the vessel, an Indian version of a pitcher, stores the water used for cleaning.

Top View of the Basin with the Filter
Top View of the Basin with the Filter Removed
Top View of the Filter Alone


The antique wash basin shown in the picture along with the matching water jug with a snout to pour water gently is made out of copper. The water jug shown in the picture looks similar to the pitcher without handle but with a snout or an Indian lota with a snout.  The wash basin has a big basin where hand washing is done and underneath the basin is a bowl attached to collect the water. There is perforated filter disk that lies between the basin and the bowl. Any food particles while washing will be filtered by the perforated filter disk allowing only the water to reach the bowl. The second purpose of the filter disk is to prevent the unclean water from surfacing. This filter disk is detachable. When the water is to be emptied from the bowl, the filter is removed and the water is thrown out. The wash basin also has a handle to carry the wash basin. There is an intricate metal carving work on the wash basin as well as on the water jug. This set, I have collected 20 years back from an antique shop in Chennai in the the state of Tamil Nadu, India. The set is now available in my house in Hyderabad city, Andhra Pradesh, India.

Gallery :

Brass hand washing basin
Hand hammered in Fez Size: D: 14″ H:18″
Consits in 3 brass pieces, basin, basin cover and kettle
Exquisite Vintage Royal Blue Washbasin & Pitcher with Dutch Farm Scenes and Windmills
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Antique Betel Boxes

 

Betel Box From Yk’s Collection
Betel boxes are used to store and carry paan and the various ingredients that go into making a chewing paan. Paan is basically a preparation made out of of betel leaf (piper betle),areca nut, quicklime (slaked lime) paste (Calcium Hydroxide) and a brown powder paste of katha (or Kaatha).
Betel Box in Peacock Shape- From Yk’s Collection
Betel Box in Peacock Shape Showing container

Firstly, slaked lime paste is applied to the leaf followed by the Katha paste and fine pieces or slices of areca nut are placed on the leaf, and the leaf along with the contents is rolled into a chewable shape. Paan is mostly consumed in India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, South-East Asian countries and in other parts of the world by the Asian emigrants. Chewing paan gives a good red colour and pleasant aroma to the lips and mouth. The nut of the areca palm is mistakenly called betel nut, which in fact is a wrong notion. Betel refers to the leaves of the betel wine, and this wine does not bear fruit or nut. So, it is the areca nut and not the betel nut that is used in a paan.

Betel Tray Containing  Paan leafs and Accessories
Cuttings of the Areca Nut and Paan Rolls
Though there are so many variations and varieties of paan, the following three varieties are commonly used.

Sada or Simple Paan –

This is prepared out of basic ingredients like paan leaves, slaked lime, katha and areca nut slices. A simple paan can be consumed after it is chewed.

Sweet Paan –

In this, firstly, basic paan is prepared and then ingredients like clove, cardamom, desiccated coconut, peppermint balls, candied Gulkand (rose petals in sugar syrup), fennel, saffron and other ingredients are added as per the choice of the consumer for an added special taste and aroma. A sweet paan can be swallowed after it is chewed.

Paan with Tobacco – 

In this variation of the paan, flavoured and treated tobacco is added to the basic paan. This paan is chewed and then kept in the mouth for some time to get the heady feeling and the high of the tobacco, and is later spit out. Spittoons are used for this purpose.

Paan is an integral part of the Indian Culture. Not only is it a product of consumption but is used in various religious and social functions as well. The following are some of the ways a paan is used:
  • Whenever money is given to the priests or elders, it is placed in the paan and only then is money offered as a token of respect.
  • The idol of a god is placed only on a paan leaf and never directly on the ground or on any other surface.
  • In some parts of India like in Bengal, the bride enters the marriage dais with her face hidden behind the paan leaves, and these leave removed at an auspicious time to exchange first glances with the groom.
  • In all auspicious occasions including Indian marriages, a tray full of well decorated paan leaves is an essential part of the ceremony.
  • On all holy occasions, paan is offered along with a coconut or a fruit as an expression of hospitality to the guests.
  • Betel leaves are used as mouth fresheners, as antiseptic and are also used in the treatment of coughs and colds.
  • Any offerings to god, like coconut, fruits or flowers are offered only after being kept on paan leaves.
  • Paan is a part of wedding feasts and receptions and is served at the end of the feast. Paan is believed to aid in the digestion of a heavy meal, and it also acts like a mouth freshener.
Betel Box in Betel Leaf Shape- From Yk’s Collection.
Compartmental View of Betel Leaf  Shape Betel Box.

 

Betel Boxes :

Betel Box in Heptagonal Shape-From Yk’s Collection
Compartmental view of Heptagonal Shaped Betel Box

Paan leaves and the ingredients are stored in compartmentalized boxes to make it convenient to prepare the paan. Users can carry these boxes along with them. These boxes are also called  ‘paandan’ in India, as they hold the paan. These boxes are made of brass, copper, silver and even gold. A traditional betel box would have individual compartments to store betel leaves, betel nut slices, lime and various other spices used in the paan. Depending on the family, society and tradition, the variety of the box that is used changes.

Betel Box With Decorated Handle and Borders-From Yk’s Collection
Compartmental view of  the Box at the left

To show hospitality to the visiting guests it is customary to keep the betel boxes fully stored when offering a paan to them. These boxes come in various shapes and sizes. The status and position of the family is revealed through these boxes. The style and decoration of these boxes depends on the culture of the society, location and the owner’s wealth.



Gallery :

Betel Box with Perforations-From Yk’s Collection
Spittoon
Lime Box-From Yk’s Collection
Lime Box Open View
 


 

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Katar –The Dagger

From YK’s Collection
Katar is a dagger with a hilt comprising two parallel bars connected by two or more cross-pieces to provide grip. One of the cross pieces is located at the end of the parallel bars and is fixed to the blade. The rest of the cross pieces are fixed at the center of the parallel bars which serves as the handle. Katar is basically a punching dagger and was mostly used by the Rajput, Sikh and Mughal warriors of India. Katar is a very powerful dagger and can even penetrate through the armor of the enemy.

Yk’s Collection

What is unique about Katar dagger–

Its unique design with thickened tip and powerful central rib to prevent the blade from breaking or bending can pierce the type of armor used by Indian warriors. When Katar is gripped properly in the clenched fist, the blade automatically takes position in line with the fore arm that it thrusts forward giving a straight punch. The entire forearm force is behind the dagger punch along with the weight of the body creating powerful force to attack the opponent. The Katar is more of an offensive type of weapon and has little scope for defense. The opponents attack could be blocked only with the sides of the handle.

The design of Katar dagger-

Katar is purely of Indian design and origin. Katar is a dagger with a hilt comprising two parallel bars connected by two or more cross-pieces to provide grip forming a “H”shaped design.. One of the cross pieces is located at the end of the parallel bars and is fixed to the blade. The rest of the cross pieces are fixed at the center of the parallel bars which serves as the handle for grip.The advantageous aspect of the Katar is its handle with the blade directly in front of the holder’s knuckles which is congenial to give a powerful punch to the enemy. Jamadhar Katars are distinguished with their multiple blades that create psychological impact on the enemy and have additional penetrating power. It is a formidable weapon that can give punching stabs to the enemy with speed and penetrating power. In subsequent modern design of  Katar single-shot pistols were incorporated along with the parallel side bars of  the handle to give a killing blow to the opponent.

History of Katar dagger

Katar is derived from the Tamil word kattari  the native language of Dravidians from Tamil Nadu,a state in south  India.The word Kattari  became Kataar in Punjabi and when pronounce by the North Indians it became Katara and subsequently with usage by multi-cultural ethnic groups of north india became Katar. History traces its first use by then flourishing Vijayanagara empire of  south India.In 17th century Maratha rulers adopted this design and developed a form of gauntlet sword known or otherwise called  Pata.  Subsequently when Katar dagger became popular throughout India it acquired a status symbol similar to “Kris” of  South east Asia and   “Katana “ of Japan.   Since short blades are used for making Katar even broken swords are used for making Katar .After colonization of India by Britishers,Ueropean collectors have started collecting Katars for their private collection.

Gold Katar

Katar as status symbol-

In the later stages , Katar was used by the Indian nobility as a status symbol. Katar handles are covered with enamel work, silver and gold foils with decorative designs and are exhibited prominently in front or sides of their waist. The nobles of Moghal empire even used Katar dagger to hunt tigers to exhibit their velour and courage by killing a tiger at close range using a hand held dagger.


Note : 

“Gold ‘katar’ in the figure above is called circa(1970) belongs to Rajputana, it has a Blade of steel with two single barreled flint lock pistols forming the wrist guards. We can see the beauty of kundan work on its grip. It was the personal weapon of Sawai Pratap Singh(Private collection).”

 

YK’s Collection

I have collected the Katar dagger shown in the picture above(Yk’s collection) from an antique shop in Mumbai, India. The Katar is made out of iron with a single mould casting. The blade is joined to the handle in a “V” shape to have more of jointing area for maximum strength. The handles are curved as against the traditional parallel handles thus giving the Katar a decorative aspect and protective functionality.
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Antique Torch

YK’s collection of torches-  

From YK’s Collection

The torches shown in the picture are made out of carved brass. I have collected them from an antique shop in the city of Karaikudi located in the Chettinadu area of Tamil Nadu, India. Chettinadu is an area which is mostly occupied by Chettiars (trading community) and this is a very prosperous community. They lived in huge houses and they practiced elaborate and rich social and religious rituals. These torches were used by them for their religious rituals. As a tradition these torches are also used when the temple deity is taken on procession around the city on important days.

 

 

Oil can for torches- Oil is required to fuel the flame of the torch. The torch head contains a cotton tape wrapped around and is made into a ball like shape and this cotton ball is dipped in oil and lit.

The oil can be castor oil, gingili oil or peanut oil and any kind of locally available oil that promotes flame. When the oil in the flames is consumed it has to be re-filled to provide continuous supply of flame. For this purpose an oil can has to be kept ready near the torches.

The oil can shown in this article is procured from the city of Ahmadabad in Gujarat state, India. The four supports attached to the base of oil can are the round antique coins of that period. I have to get the expertise to seek of which dynasty these coins belong so that we can determine the age of the oil can. Before paper currency was introduced in India, the coins were mostly made of brass, copper, silver and gold. For these coins the intrinsic value and the exchange value are the same. For example paper currency has only exchange value but no intrinsic value whereas brass coin has both exchange value and the same intrinsic value. Hence the coins are used for purposes other than exchange value,i.e. buying and selling. They were melted and articles were made out of the metals or used for commercial or ornamental purposes.


The craftsman who made this oil can chose to use the coins for base since if he has to buy brass and make them into round shape suitable for the base, it will cost him the same. The coins can be seen in the photograph provided in this article.

 

 

From YK’s Collection – Torch

About the torch- A traditional torch will have fire or flame at one end of a rod that can be of wood or metal with rag immersed in inflammable material like oils or pitch is tied at the end and lit.

Torches used as light source-In the castles, forts or in mansions ,torches are mounted on the walls with the help of brackets. These are lit whenever light is required. They illuminate the corridors, halls and the living rooms .Torches also provide warmth apart from light.

 

 

Olympic torch- To light the Olympic flame which is kept burning throughout the duration of the Olympic Games, the cross country runners will carry the torch in relay and light the Olympic Flame. This tradition is to reenact the ancient Olympic that took place in Olympia where the sacred flame burns inside of the temple of Hira.

 

 

 

 

YK’s Collection

Water proof torch- If the mixture of sulfur and lime is used as a fuel for the torch, the flame will not get extinguished even when it is immersed in water. The ancient Romans used to make such torches to protect the flame from contact of water or moisture. 

 

 

 

 

Procession torches-Procession torches are the ones used to carry the torch along with a procession, parade or as a source of light at night celebrations. These torches are made by immersing coarse hessian material in wax, rolling them into the shape of a cylinder and tying them at the end of a torch rod normally made out of wood. There will be a protective color made out of paper inserted in between the light and the handle so that the melting wax do not fall on the torch bearers hand and hurt him.

 

 

Juggling torches- Juggling torches are used by professional jugglers to entertain the audience. Juggling is done the same way as they do with knives or clubs. Juggling torches creates a magical impact on the auditions due to formation of patters while juggling and the sound produced due to the speed of the movement of the flame. The danger of playing with the fire creates additional thrill to the audience though a skilled juggler can play it safe.

 

 


Fire breathing torch- Fire breathers use flaming torches to display the splendor of the flame by creating different shapes of the huge fire with their blowing skills.

 

 

 

 

Symbolism of a torch- A torch signifies hope and enlightenment like the torch shown in the statue of liberty in New York City depicting “liberty enlightening the world”.

 

 

 

 

Wedding torches-In ancient Greece fire is regarded as a sacred witness to the marriage. Fire sanctifies the wedding. The use of torches is spiritual and functional. Darkness is associated with evil spirits and torches chase away the darkness and the evil spirits. They also purify the air and the surroundings. It is a tradition in ancient Rome and Greece to take the new bride to the wedding ceremony and subsequently to her new home with torches. White thorns are used as a torch to chase away the evil spirits and influences.

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Antique Ink-pot

The Origin of ink-pot as per Indian Mythology :
From Yk’s Collection
According to Hindu scriptures the souls of all dead beings go to Yamapuri. Here the god of death Yama Dharmaraja punishes or rewards them as per the evil deeds or good deeds they have done in their life. The souls who have done more of evil deeds will go to hell where the soul receives punishment and the souls who have done predominantly good deeds go to heaven where they will be rewarded with good life. It is the duty of Yama Dharmaraja to keep a record of the deeds done by the souls and judge them after their death. 
From Yk’s Collection
According to Yamasamhita, the ninth chapter of the ancient literature dealing with the Hindu Law Ahilya Kamdhenu, Yama Dharmaraja approached Lord Brahma and narrated to him about his difficulty in keeping a record of the deeds of so many souls for judgment and sought his help. Hence, Lord Brahma deeply meditated for a long time and with the power of his meditation, he created a person who appeared with an ink pot and a pen in his hands and had a sword belted to his waist. That is how the first ink pot came into existence. The person was named Chitragupta because he was conceived in Lord Brahma’s mind (Chitra) in secrecy (Gupta).Then Lord Brahma declared that Chitragupta will help Yama Dharmaraja in maintaining the records of evil and good deeds done by the souls.
The Origin of ink-pot as per recorded history
It is generally believed that the art of making ink-pots started in ancient Egypt. From Egypt the art of making ink pots reached orient particularly China

and spread to Japan. With the invention of paper in Europe in around 14th century and use of refined ink material and writing instruments, ink-pots were liberally used and were available in variety.

 

 

Selection of ink pots- 

Ink pots are available in various shapes, sizes, colors , light, heavy, different material of construction ,portable,

stationary, of different times etc. While selecting an antique ink pot one should look at these criteria based on which the value of the ink pot is adjudged. One should see there are no cracks or ledges inside or outside of the ink pot. Aesthetics play an important role in the selection of ink pot since this piece is going to be a proud display at work table or space decoration.

 

Pot and cap Separated
Calligraphy and ink pots –

Chinese mastered the art of calligraphy with their artistic way of writing their characters. They adored the instruments they used for calligraphy and thus they have given a religious status to the ink pots used for calligraphy.
From Yk’s Collection -Top view

Yk’s Collection of ink-pot

From Yk’s Collection – Bottom View

 

The ink pot shown in the picture is made out of brass hand molding in the shape of the orient pagoda. I have seen this art master piece in an antique shop in the city of Ahmedabad in the state of Gujarat, India and purchased immediately in the year 1991and ever since it is in my possession. The ink pot is made in two parts i.e. the actual ink pot and the lid for the pot.Both the ink pot and the lid are chained together with brass chain so that they are not separated by chance and the lid is always available nearby when the user wants to close the pot. The craftsman who made this ink pot has also inscribed the name of the master who had ordered him to make it

 

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Samovar – An Unique Antique Piece

Samovar basically is a metal container used to boil water. The heated water is mostly used for making tea and hence Samovar is generally associated as tea maker. Samovar is used in and around Russia, Central Asia, Eastern Europe, Middle East and in Kashmir. Traditionally charcoal is used to heat the water. Antique samovars are known for their beautiful workmanship. Samovars come in variety of shapes and sizes like cylindrical, spherical, barrel, urn shaped or combination of these shapes.

Description of Samovar-A traditional samovar has a large metallic container in which there is a faucet near the bottom and a metallic pipe which runs vertically through the middle. It has main body of metal container to hold water, a base to stand upon, chimney to hold charcoal fire, a cover with a steam vent, handles to hold and move, faucet for hot water outlet, crown and ring to hold the teapot, chimney extension cap, drip-bowl, and teapot. There will be a tray to keep the samovar, drip-bowl and teapot and if necessary a bowl with charcoal that has become to be appreciated as an art object today.

How Samovar is used-Traditionally samovars are crafted out of bronze, brass or copper. However some samovars are also made with silver, tin, nickel or even with gold. Solid fuel like charcoal fire is used to fill the pipe which heats up the water present in the container. The richness and the aroma of the tea are obtained by preparing a strong concentrate of tea in the teapot over a low temperature. Then as per the personal taste the concentrated tea is diluted with boiled water from the main container before being served.

History of Samovar- In Russia in the mid of 1700’s the first samovar was introduced from Mongolia. When tea was introduced samovars gained popularity as they became accessible source of hot water and for heat from the chilly winters in Russia, Most significantly samovars were the core of cultural Life. In Russia, in the year 1778, the first samovar-making factory was registered by Nazar Lisitsyn. The first documented samovar-makers were the Russians although they were not the inventors of samovar. The various and beautiful samovar designs used by them played a very influential role in the history of samovar-making.

Since the 18th century, the samovars are produced in the city of Tula which has been the main center of production of Russian samovars in Russia. Samovars became the common aspect of the Russian tea culture by the 19th century. There was a large production of Samovars in Russia and they were also exported to different countries. Bullets and arms were made by melting down samovars during periods of war. In times of peace, samovars were made by melting down the swords, bullets, guns and cannons.

Samovar As an art Piece : As each Samovar exhibits the splendid artistic quality of its maker, So does each samovar have a different personality – elegance, cordiality and an inviting friendliness. It can be imagined easily why these attractive Samovars were the prized asserts of so many immigrant families.  A key feature of a Russian household was the samovar. In the present era, the samovar is typically related with Russian exotica. In Iran, the samovar culture is very common and emigrants maintain it everywhere. For at least two centuries, samovars have been used in Iran. Presently you can find oil-burning or natural gas-consuming or electrical samovars being used in all places. The art samovars are considered as a part of Iranian art and they are often shown in museums of Iran and Western countries.

How to brew perfect tea by using Samovar :

  1. Fill the body of the Samovar with water. Make sure to use soft water. Hard water will have mineral particles and they will get deposited in the inner side of the samovar body.
  2. Once the water gets boiled, place the required quantity of tea leaves into the filter of the teapot.
  3. Then the teapot should be placed under the Samovar tap and hot water should be poured into the teapot.
  4. Now the teapot should be placed on top of the Samovar making the pot sit on the ring. Let the tea brew in the simmer of the heat till you get the required concentration.
  5. Take little quantity of the tea, concentrate in a cup and add required quantity of hot water to get the desired strength of the tea.

 

 

YK’s Collection-The Samovar shown in the main picture(At top Left) and bottom right (shown in this paragraph) is from my personal collections. When I was in Iraq in the year 1981, I visited the ancient site of Babylon famous for the hanging gardens, one of the seven wonders of the ancient civilization. Babylon is on the banks of the river Euphrates about 85 kilometers from Baghdad, the capital of present day Iraq. Near the Babylon site there was a small museum and I found the samovar there -only one piece available. After talking to the museum in charge I managed to procure this Samovar with a brass tray, tea pot, and a drain bowl and all can be conveniently placed in the tray. Subsequently I brought the Samovar set to India and is presently available in my house in Hyderabad. It is evident that this samovar was much used and the inside part of the main body where the water is boiled contains hard coating of water scales deposited by hard water.