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Antique Coin Toning And Why You Should Know About It

A lot of antique collectors start off with an interest in old coins. Coin toning is a term used to describe the discolouring of coins which happens due to the oxygen in the air and its effects on the metal of the coin.The word of the day today for the budding numismatist is toning. I’m sure the antiquer in you is eager to figure out how toning applies to you and your love for antiquing.If you have a conversation with someone interested in coins, they will give you varied opinions about toning. For some of them, they think that toning is a good idea; it not only reflects age, but it also can add beauty to the coin itself. But some are of the opinion that all toning does it take away from what the coin is supposed to look like.

More than 400 years old antique coin with green colour toning
More than 400 years old antique coin with green color toning

A Bit More About Coin Toning

Basically, coin toning is a process in which the metal that the coin is made of corrodes over time. But before you start worrying about how it affects your collection, it happens really slowly over years and that too only if it’s not packed in vacuum. Natural toning in fact is very pretty in most cases as it changes colour gradually, but sometimes really old coins can turn very ugly as well. You want to keep an eye out for the coins you pick up or buy.

Things You Should Know

There are a few things here to consider though, if you do like the look of toned coins.There is natural toning that happens over the years, but there is also artificial toning that is done by experts in the field, they are known as coin doctors. So the real question here then becomes “What is the value of a toned coin?(be it artificial or natural toning).

When a coin starts tarnishing naturally, it can turn rather ugly, especially if it an old coin. An old coin definitely has more chances of being sold if it presented better after being cleaned and toned and made to look good, shiny and attractive. But on the flip side, considering numismatists are not crows and don’t look for shiny stuff only, there’s always a chance it won’t be popular with them. It comes down to which side of the fence you fall on, on this.

Should you find yourself on the tarnished side of this fence, considering you are a newbie here, what should you be looking for? Coins turn different colours when toned based on the metal that they are made of. Different metals turn different colours.

1912 year coin with black toning
1912 year coin with black toning

Silver coins – Silver, before it tarnishes to a complete dark black, can take on a very beautiful rainbow colours. Sterling silver also corrodes over time, but definitely presents with a completely different set of colours and tones. This difference is most noticeable in the way ancient British and American silver coins looks different even if they belong to the same age.

In the case of silver, the coins turn colours because of the metals that it has been alloyed with. Ancient silver coins are black because of the sulphides the metal reacts with. Sometimes in the case when they are alloyed with copper, they can turn green.

Gold coins – The same way, gold being one of the most inactive metals to make coins with, can end up with a reddish orange colour. By virtue of being gold, it turns dull before any other reactions appear on it.

Year 1908 copper coin with multi-colour toning
Year 1908 copper coin with multi-colour toning

Copper and aluminium coins – Copper can go from the typical orange-brown to a reddish colour to nearly all brown. And Aluminium, one of the most used metals for coin making around the world becomes a dull grey.

In all these cases, if it is a natural tone, it can add value to the coin.

Artificial Toning

The problem with artificially toning a coin is that when the instant colour is applied to a coin in whatever manner; the coin’s value automatically decreases. So, since recognizing a coin that is artificially toned is pretty hard to identify, you want to be careful about buying it for a lot of money.

There are several kinds of artificial toning:

  • Monster toning (wild toning)
  • Target toning (colours that change from the edge of the coin to the centre)
  • Toning in rainbow colours
  • Iridescent toning

This can sometimes make it make a higher grade based on what it looks like.

Figuring Out The Value Of A Coin

It is not very hard actually. All you really need is a coin catalogue to begin with. Most coin catalogues will not just give you information about the coin, but will even give you the value of the coin. Since they are subject to change every year, just make sure that you consult a current catalogue. ‘The Standard Catalogue of World Coins’ is a good place to start if you are an amateur.

If you have the time and the means to do it, try contacting a certified appraiser. An appraiser is someone who is trained to evaluate coins based on their condition. You can contact an appraiser by talking to your local coin dealer.

Last but not least, here is what a numismatist says about buying coins (both ancient and modern) for amateurs:

  • Buy them only from reputed dealers. That way, you won’t get cheated and won’t end up with fake coins.
  • Make sure you keep the bills and receipts and invoices related to the coins you buy along with their history.
  • If you are getting them imported, make sure they are declared and their history checks out.
Very old coin with beautiful bluish green toning
Very old coin with beautiful bluish green toning


Vineetha Rao Suravajjala
Vineetha Rao Suravajjala

Final Thoughts

Just because you see a coin does not mean you have to get it. Make sure you have a full appreciation of what the coin is before you get it.

You are all set then, you are good to go! Happy hunting!

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Kidaram – Large Brass Water Storage Pot

Kidaram, the huge brass water storage pot on pedestal

















This large brass storage pot is known as Kidaram in Tamil language. Kidaram is used for storage of water in the area known as Chettinadu in the state of Tamil Nadu, India. Chettinadu is a dry area and in the olden days where corporation water supply was not available through the running pipelines, people used to depend on rain water for drinking purpose. Rain water used to be collected in a large vessel with wide open mouth placed directly under the sky to capture as much water as possible and then the collected water would be transferred to kidaram for storage.

Usage Of Kidaram For Fetching And Storage Of Water

There is another method for collection of rain water for drinking purpose. Chettinadu houses are designed to have large courtyards open to sky within their huge houses. The openings have a sloping roof from all four sides and rain water would pour down into the floor of the courtyards. By this design of the house, the Chettinadu people used to have rain water pouring down into their own houses. The flowing water from the roof used to be collected into the kidaram directly after filtering the water through clean white veshti (dhoti or pancha) or white saree traditionally worn by elderly widows. The old photo albums of Chettiyar’s marriage functions reveal the use of these large kidarams mounted on the traditional bullock carts to bring water from the local temple tank called ‘Oorani for cooking feast for the guests.

The circumference of the huge brass pot is 8 feet 4 inches

















The Design Of Kidaram

The storage pot has a huge belly to enable preserving large quantity of water with a narrow neck to prevent spillage or evaporation of the water. This pot shown in the picture has belly circumference (perimeter) of 8.4 feet and looks really huge. The height is 3 feet 10 inches with pedestal and 3 feet 4 inches without pedestal. The bottom circumference is 6 feet 7 inches. The base of the neck is 11 inches in diameter and the opening of the neck is 1 feet 2 inches in diameter. The rings of both sides of the neck are 5 and ½ inches each. The height of the lid is 6 inches. The huge pot weighs 40 kilos without the pedestal. It has to be carried by two people at least and is normally transported by inserting a long bamboo pole through the two rings and each person shouldering the each end of the pole.

The height of the huge water pot is 3 feet 10 inches

















The kidaram is the largest of all variety of vessels used in Chettinadu homes. This huge vessel matches with the gigantic scale of the architecture of the houses. Kidaram is used as a water harvesting device along with the sloping roof and open courtyards which facilitate the rain water to flow into the house. An excellent and ingenious design invented by Nagarathar to harvest water in the drought prone Chettinadu. These beautiful kidarams would normally decorate the four corners of the ‘Mutram,’ another name for open courtyard. If not four, at least one kidaram will be in one corner containing drinking water. The height of the kidarams varies between 3 to 7 feet. The kidarams are made out of either copper or brass. Though copper kidarams are costly, they preserve the purity of water for more than 6 months. That is the magic of the copper. It is interesting to note that the lid to this giant vessel comes in the shape of a roof of a hut.

Kidaram without pedestal

















An angled view of kidaram with large belly, narrow neck and a lid

















Top view of the kidaram

















Admire the hand made ring of 5.4 inches diameter riveted to the neck

















Lid of the kidaram in the shape of the roof of a hut

















The Colour Of The Kidaram

The colour of the vessel looks brownish green because of  formation of patina on the surface of the brass vessel due to age. According to my estimate it should be 150 years to 200 years old  belonging to early 1860s. It is natural that a thin protective layer forms on the surface of aged brass or copper items and this layer is called ‘patina’ which will be brownish green initially and turns into beautiful green colour as per the age of the exposed metal.

The best example of patina is the famous Statue of Liberty, the colossal sculpture on Liberty Island in New York Harbor in New York City, in the United States which is made out of copper. Instead of the original copper colour of pinkish brown, it looks greenish due to formation of patina over the 130 years of exposure to nature. It was commissioned in the year  1886 and is nearly 130 years old.

Statue of Liberty, made with copper metal, appearing in green colour due to formation of patina












What is patina?

According to Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia, Patina (/ˈpætɨnə/ or /pəˈtiːnə/) is a thin layer that variously forms on the surface of stone; on copper, bronze and similar metals (tarnish produced by oxidation or other chemical processes); on wooden furniture (sheen produced by age, wear, and polishing); or any such acquired change of a surface through age and exposure. Patinas can provide a protective covering to materials that would otherwise be damaged by corrosion or weathering. They may also be aesthetically appealing.”

Antique lovers, particularly from the west, love their antiques with the original patina formation. Patina gives a beautiful brownish green colour to the metallic objects and is aesthetically appealing. Some people prefer their antiques cleaned thoroughly of the patina to reveal the original color of the object when it was made. Archaeologists find out the age of the object by analyzing the patina.

How I Collected This Wonderful Brass Pot

During one of my trips in search of antiques, I happened to see this beauty in an antique shop in Karaikudi town in Chettinadu. It looked stunningly beautiful and my instinct prompted me to possess it. After the initial inquiries with the shop owner, I realized it is beyond my reach to buy the piece. I kept on dreaming about it. In one of my conversations, I mentioned to my friend Mr Jana Balasubramaniam, an investor by profession and Co-founder and Director in a company, whom we affectionately call Jana, about my visit to Karaikudi and my interest in antiques. He told me to inform him if I visit Karaikudi again and that he would make arrangements for my antique hunting. I did so when I planned to have a second visit.

 Jana introduced me to Mr Muralidharan, a native of Karaikudi and a well-known professional. Here I must say that Mr Muralidharan is an excellent host and he personally accompanied me to the antique shops. I confessed to him my desire to own the huge brass water storage pot if I get it within my budget. It was a pleasant surprise to me that the shop owner greeted Mr Muralidharan with respect in the local Tamil language and enquired about the purpose of his visit to his shop. I later realized that being a local professional, most of the shop owners in the locality know him and he was well regarded. Mr Muralidharan managed to finalize the price within my budget including a stone pedestal to mount the huge pot (if the brass pot is not mounted on a stone or a wooden pedestal, there are chances of the base of the pot getting damaged),  packing, forwarding and transporting the vessel by road to reach Hyderabad where I reside. The pot was delivered to me in an excellent condition and now it occupies a prominent place in my house with every visitor admiring its regal elegance.

Mr Muralidharan with tha kidaram in the antique shop at Karaikudi

















I am grateful to Jana for his wonderful gesture of introducing me to Mr Muralidharan and for making excellent arrangements for my visit to Karaikudi. I am indebted to Mr Muralidharan for taking care of me so well and making it possible for me to own this grand vessel.

The Unique Architecture Of Chettiar Houses

Here I must say something about Chettinadu and Chettiar’s houses. Chettinadu is a hot and semi-arid region. The Chettinadu houses were designed  taking into consideration  the climate of the region. The materials for construction were selected accordingly to insulate and ventilate the houses. The central point of the houses were the courtyards facing east/west and the houses are built around the courtyards that bring in  light, sun, shade, air and rain to the house. Chetti is a short form of Chettiars, also known as Nagarathar, the trading  and finance business community in Tamil Nadu. Chettinadu means the region where Chettiars live. They are also called as ‘Nattu Kotai Chettiars’ meaning the Chettiars who live in the houses resembling mini forts or local forts. This entrepreneurial community developed their own architecture and town planning and their houses are unique in their size and design. The houses are huge mansions normally extending from one road to next parallel road. The front entrance door will start in one road and the backend exit door will be in the next parallel road.

A Chettinadu house with intricate wooden work on the roof

















The general design is that there will be a central courtyard with a high decorated roof surrounded on four sides by corridors supported by huge wooden pillars. From the corridors will be the entrance to the array of rooms for the family. There will be two or three courtyards in a typical house. The striking part of the houses is the highly carved wooden doors and windows .The houses are generally finished with special plaster made out of lime and the white of the egg, stucco work, terracotta tiled roofs, marble floors and Athangudi tiles that come in a myriad of colors and patterns, and stain glassed windows. The entrances of the houses are adorned with the icons of Gajalakhmi, Parvathi Parameswar and Meenakshi Sundereswar. The belief is that Gajalaksmi brings in wealth and prosperity and Shiva Parvathi couple brings in happy family life to the residents.

Top view of the kidaram without the lid
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Vintage Attar Distillation Vessel – Copper ‘Bhapka’

Distillation vessel ”Bhapka” with large belly and narrow neck

















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.

Collection of rare attars – Display from a shop in Hyderabad

















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.

Attar distillation process showing brick batti-fire, boiling pot, bamboo pipe connecting receiving pot bhapka, copper bhapka, bhapka immersed in cooling tank













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.

Attar batti showing big copper boiling pots ‘Deg’ fired by dry cow dung cakes


Bhapka connected to boiling pot with bamboo pipe and lowered into cooling tank































Bhapka immersed in cooling tank for condensing the attar vapors

















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.

Bhapka hand made with thick gauge copper sheet
Bhapka hand made with thick gauge copper sheet


Bhapka shown in the inclined position


Beautiful jointing of the copper sheet parts to make a perfectly shaped Bhapka


Inscription on the body of Bhapka (I will be grateful if anybody can read and tell me what it means)


Another inscription on the body of Bhapka









































































Rooh Gulab attar is made with roses




















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.


Mysore Sandal soap













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!





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Thondi – The Copper Pot For Water


Thondi is a copper or brass pot that is used for drawing water from the well. The Thondi shown in the picture is hand made out of copper. Few decades ago when the expanding cities and towns did not have running water through pipe lines and there were no overhead water tanks to collect water by opening few valves., the main source for collecting water are wells.To collect and store water,people were using various vesselsmade out of mostly clay, brass and copper. They used to have different sizes and shapes for various utility functions of fetching and storing water. In order to stand the rugged usage of drawing water from the well, Thondi is invariably made out of copper or brass. The Thondi is used only by the orthodox Brahmins in south India who would use it from the dedicated wells meant to be used only by orthodox Brahmins.

In order to draw water from the well, one end of the rope is tied to the narrow neck of the Thondi, and lowered into the water and with dexterous movements of the rope with the hand the Thondi is coaxed to get immersed in the water. The water filled Thondi is pulled out using the other end of the rope. The water filled Thondi is then carried home by women by tucking one side of the Thondi between the hip and waist and the other side by the firm grip of the arm around the body. There is to be separate timings for men and women to draw water. The men chant their prayers while drawing the water and other holy chanting like Mantrapushpam. The men used to carry the Thondi on their head held in position by the hands or on shoulder with one arm gripping the Thondi. Thondi is a Tamil word and in Telugu it is known as Koojabindi. “Todi” in Tamil means drawing water. The vessel used for Todi is called Thondi.


Copper Thondi – with large belly, narrow neck and tapering mouth


Copper Thondi shown in inclined position


Copper Thondi top view


This particular copper Thondi shown in the picture has a story.That was the year 1948.The backdrop is Kotthurpuram suburb near Adyar in Madras,the present day Chennai. My father- in-law Machiraju Bhaskar Rao garu got a job as Sub-Divisional officer in PWD (Public Works Department) of Madras State, which included the present day state of Andhra Pradesh also. My father-law- is a core Andhra Brahmin from konaseema area of Andhra Pradesh. With the appointment orders in hand ,he shifted to Madras, with his wife, 3 kids and his orthodox mother, Pallammagaru, and taken a rented house in Kotthurpuram. The Kotthurpuram those days is a typical Brahmin Agraharam where most of the staunch Tamil Brahmins live. Kotthurpuram did not have Madras corporation supply of piped water and the locals depend on the wells for water. Kotthurpuram used to have common wells one for each group of 5 or 6 houses. The families draw the water from the wells and carry them to store in their home in large brass vessels. There used to be dedicated wells for Brahmin community where the water is allowed to draw by using Thondi only. The buckets are considered unhygienic and were not allowed to use for drawing water. Washing and cleaning the vessels are not allowed at these wells. The other wells dedicated to other communities water can be drawn bysteel buckets or by using other devices. Washing cloths and cleaning vessels are also allowed at these wells.The orthodox Brahmin families patronise a particular well and will not allow other communities to draw water for the same well. There is also the dictum that the people should use only Thondi for drawing water and other devices like buckets are not allowed.


A priest drawing water from the temple well with Thondi for abhishekam


A priest drawing water from the temple well with rope and pulley arrangement.


Thondi with water-drawing out of a house well with a rope


On the day of arrival to Kotthurpuram, Pallammagaru went to the community well meant for orthodox Brahmins equipped with a bucket and a rope made out of dry coconut husk. She was a widow and as per the custom in those days she had a shaven head and used to wear a plain white cotton sari covering her shaved head and tucked in the two earlobes. The Brahmin community welcomed the orthodox looking new lady in to their community but refused to allow her to draw water with the bucket. Pallammagaru returned home and insisted that my father-in-law to get her a copper Thondi immediately. My father-in-law applied for a half a day leave and rushed to the market and returned with this beautifully looking copper Thondi. This Thondi is used there after by pallammagaru to fetch MadiNeellu(the water fetched after observing thorough hygiene like taking head bath and wearing clothes that are washed and untouched by others). MadiNeellu are used for pooja purpose and for cooking.I was told that Pallammagaru once corrected the Mantrapushpam recital of a Tamil Brahmine and the well community were surprised at the knowledge of the Telugu widow and there after her image and prestige in the community got elevated. For the general purpose water, Pallammagaru used to draw the water from the well and Satyavathigaru used to carry the water to the house. The Thondi is 66 years old. After Pallammagaru demise, the Thondi has come into the custody of my mother-in-law, Machiraju Satyavathi garu and after her passing away in the year 1993,this lovely Thondi was inherited by my wife, Ramana and is there in our house ever since.Now it is a proud piece of antique in my collection.


Copper Thondi- jointing done by hand in a beautiful design around the belly


Copper Thondi- bottom plate joint hand made with artistic circular design


The design of the Thondi is unique. It has a large belly to hold the water and a narrow neck to regulate out flow of water. The neck flares up to a wide mouth with a rim around the mouth. The narrow neck is also useful to tie the rope around the neck and the slippage is prevented by the belly at one side and the wide mouth opening on the other side. The rounded belly shape snuggly fits into the curve of the female waist. The whole Thondi is handmade and the joints are made so beautiful to look like a design. It has a curvy bottom so that it can be smoothly tilted to pour water into a tumbler for drinking purpose. The entire Thondi is conveniently designed to draw water, carry water and to store water. A real multipurpose grand vessel.

The dug well: The hand dug wells are known to have existed since ancient times.Wells are the basic source of water in most of the towns and villages. Most of the wealthy families have their own private wells and the others use the community wells. Most of these wells are hand dug dig a well, soil is excavated in round shape like a tunnel into the earth till the water source is found and further 6to 7 feet deep down from the water table.The entire surface of the tunnel will be lined with stones or bricks so that the soil around the tunnel do not slip into the water. After invention of cement,it became a practice to line the tunnel with pre-casted well rings made out of cement which are lowered into the well one over the other. The lining will be extended above the surface up to 3o 4 feet to form a wall around the well to prevent animals and humans from falling into the well by accident.This will also prevents from surrounding  water entering the well from the land around. Some of the hand dug wells have a pulley system to draw water with comfort.


Step well- admire the intricate pattern of the steps leading to water









The step wells: Step wells are large intricately designed structures with convenient steps from the upper level of the ground sloping down till the level of the water body. These are architectural marvels.People with water pots can step down till the water source and climb back with the water.The step wells are more prevalent in the western part of Indian states like Gujarat and Rajastan. I have also seen a beautiful step well in Mathura, the birth place of Lord Krishna and also in the heritage site of Hampi, the once upon capital of the great Vijayanagara empire. In summer hot days, people go and sit near the water body on the steps for cool ambience. Step wells are centres for social gathering where people meet in the evenings and exchange local news and gossip. The step wells were known to have existed since Neolithic period. There are step wells discovered in Cyprus belonging to 7,500 BC andin Israel belonging to 6,500 BC.

For further reading on copper pots for water please click on the below link:

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Antique Brass Kindi: Lota With A Spout





Kindi is a type of Indian lota or chambu with a spout mostly used in kerala state, India, as a multipurpose vessel.It is used as a water dispenser for various pooja rituals and daily ablutions. Kindi like vessel with spout is also used in Andhra Pradesh and is called KommuChambu. Similar kindis are used in north India with a handle and is called kamandalam. The kindi is said to have existed since the dawn of the civilisation to store and carry water from place to place. The primitive kindi is made with clay and as the civilisation progressed, kindis are made with metals like brass, bronze, copper, silver and even gold and in various sizes. The smallest size one normally made either with silver or gold is used for ritual pooja and the larger ones generally made out of brass or bronze are used for daily ablutions.

I have collected 2 beautiful kindis as shown in the picture. The large kindi is made with brass and the small one with copper.

Brass kindi showing base, big belly, curved neck, wide mouth and a spout



The antique brass Kindi: This kindi has a wonderful shape with a bottom rim for support, a large bellyto hold water, a smoothly curved neck and a wide mouth on the top of the neck to receivethe water. There is a concave curved spout attached to the belly with a ring around the hole of the spout to protect the whole from accidental damage.The wide mouth has a sloping grip ring which is designed to carry the kindi with the five fingers. There is embossed ring around the base of the neck. There are parallel line designs around the large belly that arehandmade. The belly is filled up with water poured from the open mouth and water is dispensed through the hole of the spout. I have purchased this lovely kindi from RASI silk house, a reputed shop near Kapaleswara temple, Mylapore, Chennai, in the year 1994who used to sell rare antiques along with classical silk saris and dress material.


Copper kindi showing the base, small belly, straight neck, tapered mouth and the spout


The antique copper Kindi: This cute copper kindi has different design. It has a larger straight neck than the belly.The neck opening is flared at the top.There is a grip ring just below the flared neck opening. The  spout has a convex curve.There is an embossed ring joining the belly and the neck. This pretty copper kindi is gifted to me by my colleague from Kerala by name Subramani in the year 1984.I was told that his grandfather was using this kindi for pooja and abhishekam purpose.

The design of Kindi: The shape of the kindi is designed to minimise the wastage of water.The narrow spout opening will dispense water that is just required for the purpose like washing feet, hand and drinking without any spillage or loss. Its design is such that water will not get contaminated as the fingers will never touch the water when the kindi is used.

Brass kindi showing slip ring attached to the mouth and embossed ring joining belly and neck


The multiple uses of Kndi

VellaKindi:  VellaKindi is used for storing and drinking water. It is a common practice in traditional south Indian families few decades ago to keep a kindi filled with water at the entrance of the house on the first step. The traditional houses used to have in the front an elevated plat form on both sides of the steps leading to the entrance called Arugu in Telugu and Arukkanchatti in Malayalam. VellaKindi is placed on the first stepand the guest is expected to wash his feet, hands and face with the water from the kindi. Thereafter the guest would sit on the Arugu and drink the water from the protruding spout  of the same kindi. In certain communities like south Indian Brahmins, they practice a hygienic tradition called yengily in Telugu and Echai in Tamil in which the person while drinking water should not touch the vessel with his lips. If it touches the lips, the content of the vessel becomes impure for consumption by other person. Kindi is designed to beat this practice since the spout helps to take water from the vessel without touching the lips. Thus it is convenient to have multiple people have the water from the same kindi. Kindi is also used to clean the hands after taking the meals.


Copper kindi in inclined position


Copper kindi with top view


Pooja kindi: Pooja kindi is used for Hindu ceremonial prayer known as pooja. Kindi is a must in most of the communities in Kerala particularly in Namboodri and Nair communities. The kindi is used to perform abhishekam to idols by pouring water or milk on the deities through the spout of the kindi. The same kindi is used for giving theertam to devotees after the pooja. For achamanam ritual (drinking small quantities of water during pooja) people in the other regions use uddarini and panchapatram for using small quantity of water but kindi is used in place of Uddarini in kerala. Udharani is also used in the pooja ritual of Arghyam, and Sandhya. Uddarini is also used to distribute holy water as prasadam to devotees.

In Kerala, Kindi is an integral part of any religious ritual. It is a tradition in Nair families that the bride should bring one kindi along with the utensils she brings to her new family after the marriage. It is a traditional practice to gift the new bride with a set of seven vessels called Ezhupaatram comprising of the inevitable kindi, Kuthuvilakku (oil lamp), Thambalam, Kolambi(spittoon) and assorted plates in brass or bronze.


Brass kindi with rear side view notice the parallel line design on the belly


Brass kindi showing spout and spout hole


Brass kindi with top view- notice the wide mouth to pour in water and spout hole to dispense water out


The oil Kindi: Herbal oil is used during the Ayurvedic treatment for oil massages. Kindi is invariably used to pour the oil on the massaged body.The quantity of the oil required can be controlled by the movement of the wrist when pouring oil through the spout of the Kindi. Kindi is so convenient that the poring can be handled by one hand with precision while the second is used to spread the oil on the body.

Kindi for ceremonies: The Hindu marriage ceremony is actually called Kanyadanam, meaning gifting a virgin girl.The bride groom is considered as Maha Vishnu and the father of the bride gifts his daughter to the groom by washing his feet with water and giving a coconut to the groom as a symbol of giving his daughter.For washing the feet of the groom kindi is used as a tradition. In annual death ceremonies of the departed elders known as Shraddha, it is a tradition to use Kindi for washing the Brahmin’s feet that are considered as Devas and Pitrs.

The story of Sukracharya and kindi: There is a famous story in puranas depicting how Sukracharya, the guru of asuras, lost his eye due to blocking the hole of a kindi. Bali is a great asura king and he has conquered both the earth and the heavens and thrown Indra out from his kingdom of Devas. Indra prays to lord Vishnu to restore his kingdom. Lord Vishnu visits Bali in the form of a dwarf Brahmin called Vamana, asks for a boon of tripada (three feet lengh) of land and Bali grants the boon to Vishnu. It is a tradition that any boon granted should be accompanied with water as a witness to the granting. Sukracharya is against Bali granting boon to Vamana and hides himself in the hole of the spout of the Kindi to prevent water flowing out thus hampering the boon. Vamana takes a dharba grass and pierces the hole to dislodge Sukrachrya and in the process Sukracharya becomes blind in one eye. For complete story on Vamana and Bali and how Sukracharya lost his eye please read the article by clicking on the following link.

The evolution of Kindi: According to Vedic knowledge, the entire universe is the manifestation of panchabhuta in varying combinations dictated by cosmic laws. The panchabhuta, the five elements, are -earth, water, fire, air and ether. The panchabhuta are the basic elements that form the life force.Thus Hindus consider water as a basic life giving and sustaining force. Any element that is a life giving force should be pure and hence water is considered as pure and purifier.Water as a purifier has taken the vital role in all Hindu rituals and daily life. In India water is called Ganga devi elevating water to the divine status of goddess. Man from times immemorial has been creating vessels to carry the life giving water along with him to quench his thirst and to use for religious ceremonies. Starting from the earthen vessel, kindi has taken various forms of evolution and taken a central place in many of the houses few decades ago made out of Bell metal, brass, copper, silver and even gold.

Some attribute the origin of present Kindi to the cultural invasion by Arabs to the coast of Kerala in South India. They came to Kerala via sea route for trade and gradually settled in Kerala coast by marrying the locals.Now there exists a community called Mapalai literally meaning son-in-law who resemble Arabs and blended themselves into Malayali culture. It is a practice in Arab culture that they share food from common plate and drink water from a single jug. Indians use each separate plate for food coand separate vessel to drink water. One school of thought believes that it is Arabs who invented the Kindi. This vessel with a spout satisfied the cultural element of both societies in a way that water can be shared by all from the single vessel and at the same time the lips are not in contact with the water.