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An Antique Bonding – My Association With YK Antiques

I am Bala Gopal, a UI designer by profession and an artist by passion. It’s no wonder that I am a big fan of the place and the person who is moulding and resurrecting the antique world – YK sir, as I fondly call him. I am not fluent and knowledgeable about the antique world, but I am a big fan of art and design. So, this blog post isn’t about the technicalities of antiques but my connection and feel with the place I so cherish. Read on…

From left to right: Ganga, Yamuna, YK sir, Bala

A House Full of Surprises – First Impressions!!

A chance meeting with my friend Vinay landed me at the gates of YK Antiques. The moment I entered the place I knew things were waiting to meet me – so many antiques at one place!! It looked like a one-stop place for antique hunters and lovers. I formally met the place and my dearest YK sir. At our first meeting, the beauty of the place overtook the pleasantries we both exchanged. I could hardly keep up with formalities. My eyes were racing through each object that was displayed. I was already mentally creating background colors for the walls on which they were displayed.

As if YK sir was telepathizing with me, he asked my two cents on the colour palette to make the place a little sunny-side-up. Incidentally, the place was going through renovation. I jump-started and put forward all my cents (as if I was waiting for YK sir to ask me) on what colours to use to make the place look contemporary yet preserving the antiqueness. I suggested deep yellow as the background color and white for the shelves. I was able to convince them.

YK sir toured us around the house. Every antique has a story woven around it. More than YK sir’s collection, it’s his stories of each antique that made them more interesting. It’s a collection of a man dedicated to collecting antiques that reflect our culture and tradition over the period of 30+ years for future generations. The uniqueness of the place is the freedom to interact with each antique. There’s no ‘Do Not Touch’ board and there are no do’s and don’ts. You can simply go around the house and feel the ancient beat in each antique.

While we were simply absorbing the quaint beauty of the place, the great finds of YK sir, his stories, YK sir offered us steaming filter coffee in a brass filter. To our astonishment, the dining table on which we were served coffee happens to be a huge gangalam with a glass top. It really is the place that deserves all eyes because it’s not everyday that you come across such home-antiques to share with future generations that reaffirms and strengthens that the future of our ancient culture is indeed in safe hands. This visit had a profound impact on me and took me down the memory lane when I used to play with wooden toys and brass vessels. 

Second Visit and My Maiden Project with YK Antiques

Antique collection can take many forms and they speak volumes about the collector if displayed properly. I am grateful to YK sir that he incorporated my suggestion on the wall and shelf colours. On our second visit, the place only looked more beautiful, brighter, and warmer. 

Besides being aesthetically stunning, the place needed some rearrangement of big plates on the walls, which were otherwise lying scattered on the floor. We took it as our first project. I did a couple of sketches on how we can hang those plates on the walls and showed it to YK sir. He liked the idea and we started working on it. I used curtain rods and knob edges to rest the plates on either side. With all the tools handy, ideas brimming, freedom to try out what I want to, and YK sir’s exuberant smile, my first project with YK Antiques was very successful. Here’s a look at our work:

Rearranged Plates Mounted on the Wall
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Our Consequent Visits and The Wall Art

Our regular visits to YK Antiques created a deep sense of attachment with the place and YK sir. We were so grateful that YK sir let us be ourselves and literally made us feel at home. One day, I took Ganga and Yamuna to have a first-hand experience with the place and they too were thrilled to see the place. Ganga is my wife and Yamuna is Ganga’s twin sister. Sir toured us around the house, and we all shared stories on antiques with each other. At the end of the visit, all three of us were left inspired and attached to the place wanting to contribute to the place. By the way, while Ganga is an artist, Yamuna is a writer. With this combination of art, design, and writing, we satisfied our creative sides through YK Antiques.  

The Wall Art

YK sir suggested we paint the wall in the lawn area. We were so excited and started off with brainstorming, followed by sketches and exploration of color palette. The sheer beauty of our brush strokes and the subtle emotions in our color choices were at full display. We wanted the wall to breathe Indian-ness, so we chose to paint the kathakali face with elephant and peacock as accompaniments. It added a dash of warmth, subtlety, and exclusivity to an otherwise plain wall. This project is close to our hearts for many reasons. Here are some pics:

Wall Art
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To read more about our Wall Art Project, click here.

Memories of Moments at YK Antiques

All our work at YK Antiques is a natural extension of the spirit of family we began to feel for YK sir. We didn’t count on time spent or the heat of travelling very often. Personally, I have been enriched with experiences, stories, and expertise of YK sir. One such experience was redoing the lawn area with stones and grass. We were very new to the kind of hard work that goes into the picture-perfect green lawns we sometimes see in pictures. My great experience was spending time with YK sir, driving through the lanes of old Alwal on a two-wheeler to buy stuff required for the green lawn, listening to the stories of old buildings from YK sir and the list goes on.

From buying shabad stones and garden soil to buying lawn grass, each moment was a treasure. As we were all new to this and the gardener we hired refused to lay the grass on the lawn, we decided to dirty our hands. While Vinay and I cut the grass to the size we need, sir helped us do it. The lawn was ready – beautiful and green. We thoroughly enjoyed the entire process. Some pictures of our work:

The Lawn
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Hum-Sab-ki-Wali – Diwali 

We celebrated some special moments at YK Antiques. We celebrated Diwali with bright diyas, colourful Rangoli by Ganga and Yamuna, flower decorations, lights, and the beautiful antiques cheering up the spirit of festivity and our happiness. Some pictures for you:

Diwali
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The Go-to Place on Weekends

Be it for work, listening to the stories of antiques, staying overnight, or just to meet and have conversations, YK sir and this place were always welcoming. It soon became our go-to place on weekends. Some of our work on display at YK Antiques and work in progress pictures:

Work Snaps
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YK Logo Design and Some Design Surprises

YK sir once mentioned  that he would like to have a logo designed for YK Antiques that reflects his passion for antiques. We took this as an opportunity to give back to the place that has been a second home for us. Ganga and I designed a logo with intricate patterns which is now used for YKA’s online and print presence. Here’s the logo we designed:

Logo Sketch – YK Antiques
Lined Logo – YK Antiques

We also made tiny foldable visiting cards for YK sir as he travels a lot and these cards would be handy to introduce YK Antiques as the go-to place for antique lovers. Here’s how they look:

Visiting Card – YK Antiques

Now, bookmarks & pocket calendar! As a return gift for people who visit YK Antiques, we created some bookmarks with notes penned by Yamuna and a calendar behind. This has been a popular pick and we always go out of stock. Have a look:

Bookmarks & Calendar 2020 for YK Antiques

The Name Plate – Indeed a Surprise for YK Sir

We decided to surprise YK sir by making a nameplate for YK Antiques. As we have been branding the place as a home museum, we needed to have a nameplate. We pooled in all the contacts, got it carved with the logo we made, painted suitable colors to reflect antiques and home museum. We fixed brass knobs on either sides and that’s how things created out of pure love look like:

The Name Plate
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Most of our work at YK Antiques was never planned. We always jumped into doing something and then fine-tuned our ideas. YK sir has always been generous and encouraged us.

A Day to Remember

We were thrilled when YK sir asked us to assist and host a group of visitors from Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS Mumbai), organized by Hyderabad Urban Lab (HUL). We were nervous but at the same time full of energy and enthu to go for it.

We spent days and nights making posters on YK Antiques – its past and present. While Yamuna handled researching and writing about YK Antiques, I was handling creating layouts, printing and framing. On the big day, we arrived early and looked after arrangements for poster display, snacks and chai, and a surprise calendar as a takeaway for the visitors. When the students arrived, we welcomed them and introduced ourselves. The awe of the students was evident as soon as they entered through the main door. If you have ever been to YK Antiques, you would by now realise that the main entrance door is an antique in itself.

YK sir walked them through each of his collectables so gently preserved over the years, narrated beautiful stories about them and left everyone spellbound. Though we heard the stories a lot of times by then, we were as amazed as we had been in our first meeting with YK Antiques. That’s the beauty of the place. The students were delighted that they could touch those antiques. 

Overall, it was a great experience for us. The student-visitors liked the place very much. As a token of appreciation, TISS wrote a cheque for YK Antiques. It was the first-ever honor for YK Antiques and YK sir still treasures it as the most memorable visit.

A Day to Remember
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The Dream Team

Now about the team that loves YK Antiques as much as they love their own homes.

The Captain of the ship, YK sir: A man in his 80s with a spirit of 20s. I bet you wouldn’t know he is an 80-year young guy if you are a first timer to YK Antiques. That’s how well he keeps his spirits high and shows us that age is just a number. He has a genuine affection and respect for everyone. More than anything, he is a fantastic listener.

Me: You have had enough introduction by now and you will get to know me better at the end of my blog.

Vinay: A great friend with an impeccable sense of humor. He is the one who introduced us to YK sir. He has been a key role player in shaping YK’s online presence and making it a home museum.

Satya: The Video Man! He is the one responsible for all the videos of YK Antiques. A guy with infinite patience.

Karthik: The go-to person for all things tech. He’s extremely resourceful with his knowledge on blog-posting, hosting of the website and all other tech aspects. He also happens to be our common friend.

Ganga and Yamuna: The ‘twin’ artists. While Ganga is a practising artist, Yamuna is a passionate writer and photographer. The wall art by Ganga and team continues to draw appreciation from every visitor even now. Yamuna has taken some of the best photographs that are displayed in social media posts on YK Antiques. She continues to contribute to YK Antiques.

There are many more friends like us who contributed to YK Antiques for what it is today.

From left to right: Yamuna, Ganga, YK sir, Vinay, Bala, Satya

My Ranting Never Ends about YK

When I started writing this blog, I was overwhelmed by too many stories I have in my memory on YK Antiques. I couldn’t pick up one and leave out others. But I shared the most important ones in this blog to let you feel the beauty of the place. 

While I continue to keep in touch with YK sir and YK Antiques, I always reflect on how wonderfully the place has transformed me into the person I am. I met some great people, had great conversations on art and design, and contributed to the place in my capacity as an artist and a designer. It made me realise that I can do things beyond my capabilities. This is my ongoing story with YK Antiques, and I am sure whoever has visited YK Antiques will have a story to share. If you are willing to share, I would love to read them.

I also feel we have the responsibility to access and make places like these accessible to everyone. I encourage you to visit this place to explore our rich culture and heritage reflected in the craft and use of each antique. I strongly feel this place should be made as one of the must-visit places in Hyderabad for the kind of cultural renaissance it’s bringing about. Let’s all make it a cultural hub!

Look at what I do in my daily life… 

I love the world of art and design, it allows me to learn, solve, share and appreciate every day. I engage with people/activities that allow me to explore possibilities, provide solutions to keep the design geek in me alive. I enjoy trying my hands at crafting things in everyday life. 

Behance: https://www.behance.net/balagopal

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/balagopal_bg/

Thank you Sandhya for patiently editing my article and helping me put this together.

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Back to Basics-Antique Stone Cooking and Storage Pots

Human civilization has passed through different eras and epochs resulting in the inventions that shaped our history and culture. Amongst the many ages that we have evolved through Stone Age is definitely one of them. Stone Age was the time when our entire race depended on stones. They used tools and weapons made out of stone. Everything from household items to kitchen utensils were made out of stones. Stone was the most abundantly found natural resource at that point in time. People use to break big boulders, give it a shape and make it look like an object or carve small stones to turn it into something handy.

beautifully shaped antique Granit storage pots
beautifully shaped antique Granit storage pots

After inventing fire, the next breakthrough that our race experienced was stone utensils. When people realized that food tasted good when it was cooked they also felt the need to make utensils that could hold, cook and serve their food. This process gave birth to stone pots which were extensively used by every nomadic group. However with advancement in technology and state of the art inventions these stone pots are being over shadowed and they are on the verge of extinction. These pots now have become artifacts that can be traced mostly in museums or in an antique collector’s house.
 

 

Handmade stone pot created with simple tools of a chisel and hammer
Handmade stone pot created with simple tools of a chisel and hammer

I wasn’t surprised when I went to YK sir’s (his full name is Y. Krishna Murthy) and he is popularly known as YK) house and saw some wonderfully crafted stone cookware and storage pots amongst all the other items that he has collected over the years. He has aesthetically placed stone cookware in his house making sure each of them embraces history and culture. These pots also scream out simplicity and effervescence. The most intriguing thing about this stone cookware is- it is still in use in some districts of Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh. I was under the impression that the only stone appliance that people use today are those grinding stones which have been made popular by celebrity chefs, thanks to them, they have managed to keep some bit of culture alive. YK sir told that these cooking and storage pots are called Kalchetti (kal-stone, chatti- pot) in Tamil and Ratichippa(rati-stone, chippa- pot) in Telugu. He further explained that some of the traditional families in Tamil Nadu,Kerala and Andhra Pradesh still cook their traditional food items in stone pots. Tamarind juice and cooking in stone pot is a winning combination as you don’t have to worry about the acid in tamarind reacting with stone. Additionally it also helps in retaining the original taste of all the spices used in your cooking.

 

Granite storage pot- top view
Granite storage pot

I personally feel cooking and storing food in stone pots is a healthy choice as it is chemical free. Stone pots take time to get heated and once heated the heat is distributed evenly which makes your food tastier. When food is cooked in the stone pots, the natural minerals that are inherent in the stone are passed on to the food by making the food nutritious and healthy. They take time to cool hence keeps the cooked food warm and tasty for a longer period of time. People who have realized the importance of cooking in stone pots now have an option to buy stone cookware. To know more about stone cooking pots, you will find an article on “Antiques Stone Cooking Pots” in this website. Here is the link.http://ykantiques.com/2012/05/antique-stone-cooking-pots.html

YK sir went on to explain that since time immemorial these pots have been used to store items like tamarind, dry chilies, dry spices, chilli powder, salt, turmeric powder and pickles. Other benefits about these containers are it is environment friendly, doesn’t create any hazard when disposed out in the open. There is no fear of eroding of the layers or corrosion which is quite common in present day non-stick cookware that are Teflon coated or anodized. Apart from cooking vessels the stone storage vessels were extensively used to store food items. It is a known fact that there were no plastic and stainless steel containers hundred years before and those days most of the items are stored in earthen pots, stone pots ,brass and copper containers. Certain items like pickles, salt and tamarind cannot be stored in brass or copper vessels and the choice left was clay pots or stone pots.
Talking about how these pots were made he said those pots were made with two different categories of stones. These pots were always differentiated into cooking pots and storage pots. Cooking pots were made of soft stone which was lighter and small in size making these pots mobile, meaning it could be moved and carried around easily. On the other hand the storage pots were made of granite stone, making them comparatively large and heavy. The stone pots are handmade. The stone is chiseled into a shape of a pot and then storage space is carved out forming a vacant space inside the pot. It is a very skilled job.The artisans who have created these beautiful stone pots have now left their profession since there are no more buyers for their products. Slowly we lost this fine art of carving storage pots out of a single piece of stone with a bare minimum tools like a hammer and a chisel.

 

Storage pot carved out of single piece of granite stone
Storage pot carved out of single piece of granite stone

By nature, stone and clay storage pots do not allow bacteria, fungus and worms to form and survive in the items stored in them. Items like ghee, tamarind, pickles, pulses and other household edible items can be stored even for an year without getting spoiled. Normally these stone containers do not have lids on the top to cover the pot. Stone covers may not seal the top and there is a chance of moist air entering the empty space in the pot. Most of the items get spoiled because of the air which may contain air born bacteria. To prevent moist air entering the stone pot, the opening of the pot is tied with dry clean cotton cloth and tied around with a string. The cloth will absorb any moister contained in the air and also filter any bacteria entering into the pot. As an extra precaution the cotton cloth is dipped into water mixed with turmeric powder and dried in the sun before covering the pot opening.
Turmeric is antioxidant meaning that it has a substance that inhibits oxidation and counteract the deterioration of stored food products. Turmeric is also antiviral, antibacterial, anti-fungal, properties. Turmeric is a great pesticide. If water containing turmeric powder is sprinkled near and around the stone pots, it wards of insects, ants, and termites.

YK sir also tells me that the huge stone storage pots called golem are used for storage of water and as cattle feed vessels in the olden days. These stone pots are placed near the wells to store water drawn from the well. This serves the purpose of a mini water tank from which the daily usage of water is drawn out.

 

Exquisitely carved storage pot used for storage of pickles and other food items
Exquisitely carved storage pot used for storage of pickles and other food items

 

His maternal grandfather was a land lord and he was cultivating his own lands. The golem is kept in the entrance to his massive house and those that enter the house would wash their feet and hands from the water stored in the golem using a brass chombu or lota. This is a hygienic practice followed by most of the households in the olden days. His grandfather had a good number of cattle like cows, calves and oxen and they are sheltered in a cattle shed located within the compound wall of the house. Similar large stone pots are also kept in the cattle shed so that cattle can drink water from these golems. The advantage of keeping these strong and heavy stone pots in the cattle shed is that cattle cannot push or break these pots and provide a lifelong service.

Before the invention of present day ready-mix cattle feed, in the olden days cattle feed consisted of green grass and hey and these are kept as small heaps in front of the cattle. They used to eat the two types of grass as and when they fell like having. Apart from this, the cattle are also fed with a liquid food called Kudithi containing ingredients like rice bran, rice husk, boiled cereal and pulses of two or three varieties like horse gram, all mixed in water. This Kudithi used to be prepared in the stone pots and served to the cattle.

Stone is an integral part of our lives since time immemorial and even now. I am sure you must have had some experience with stone cooking or storage pots used in your mother’s house or grandmother’s house. We love it, if you can share such experiences.

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My Experience With Using Antique Vessels For Cooking And Drinking Water

Here’s a new guest post. Sushma, is an ardent follower of ykantiques.com. After realising the benefits of using traditional cooking vessels, she has discarded the modern kitchenware like pressure cookers and non-stick cookware one fine morning and started using only traditional cookware made of brass, bronze, copper, iron and earthen pots. She proudly says that neither she nor her husband visited a doctor since last 2 years and she attributes this gift of health to her traditional way of cooking. Here is her story in her own words.

 

A Bit About Myself

For those of you who might be wondering who I am, my name is Sushma and I am from Vijayawada. After my marriage I relocated to Hyderabad.  The thing is that, even after my marriage I did not know how to cook. The only thing I could cook was noodles. To add to that, I did not even know how to prepare tea back then. It is my husband who taught me most of the recipes which today I make so wonderfully.

Initially, when I was practicing cooking, it was okay. But with every passing day, somehow I was losing interest. I became an expert in cooking non-veg dishes but I don’t know why I felt that the taste factor in vegetarian dishes is not as dominating as that in non-vegetarian dishes. So I always used to wonder as to how to make vegetarian dishes equally tasty.

Some traditional vessels I use everyday
Some traditional vessels I use everyday

When I become completely vegetarian including even egg, I felt I should do something to bring marvelous taste to veg dishes as well. There is a saying that, “What we eat is what we are,” so I thought to live a better life. I personally feel that vegetarian food is the only food to develop spirituality in human beings.

A Snippet From The Past

Back then in the day, me and my husband went on a short visit to my husband’s home town Penugonda.  One fine day, my husband’s cousin invited us for lunch.  We both went there and to my utter amusement I saw different kinds of brass items. I was really excited to see those. Till then, the only brass items I knew about were the lota and big size round shape vessel used to store water called Gangalam.

 

After coming back to Hyderabad I was curious and started searching for what exactly these brass items are/were used for. Luckily, I stumbled upon  www.ykantiques.com and I was astonished looking at the items and the descriptions given by Krishna Murthy garu for each item. Then, I asked my mother as to why we are not using these brass vessels anymore. She told me that day by day, as convenient and modern methods came into existence, everybody began to shift from old to new without having prior knowledge.

 

My Take On Non-Stick Cookware

I feel that cooking in non-stick vessels will deteriorate the value of food.  That’s why most people are inclined to non-vegetarian food. Even cooking in a microwave oven has a bad effect on the food and one’s health. Also, after cooking, storing food in plastic boxes is also not good.

Indian cooking methods were very ancient and mainly concerned with seasons and temperature prevalent in our country. There are so many scientific reasons why we used to follow certain rituals and traditions. Today, we are not aware of these scientific reasons and are blindly following the west.

Non-stick cookware is coated with a material called Teflon, which causes cancer. This Teflon coating reacts with the food we cook and it abrades and contaminates our food.

 

Aluminium utensils were not so prominent until Britishers came to India.  They used these aluminium vessels in jails for cooking food so that it acts as a slow poison on freedom fighters.  Aluminium pressure cookers are also not good for health. When anything is cooked under pressure, food loses it protein value. In food cooked in aluminium pressure cookers, the protein percentage is 7 to 13 per cent. By cooking food in these vessels, risk diabetes, early signs of old age, stomach problems etc.

 

The vessels which are good for cooking are:

Earthen bowls: 100% proteinis retained

Brass vessels: 97% protein is retained

Bronze vessels: 93% protein is retained

The vessel I use for cooking rice
The vessel I use for cooking rice

 

The vessel coated inside with tin layer, I use to cook Sambar and Andhra pulusu
The vessel coated inside with tin layer, I use to cook Sambar and Andhra pulusu

Even stainless steel contains nickel which is not good for Indian recipes.  That’s why since 20 years there is a drastic increase in the number of diseases at early stages.

 

Storing Drinking Water

Another major thing is drinking water and also storing in plastic containers.  We are de-energizing water as firstly it travels through metal pipelines over long distances. For purification purpose, we add chemicals like bleaching powder etc. thinking that we will get purified water.  Day by day if we follow these type of techniques, ill effects would be visibly seen.

After knowing all these things, I have made many changes to my lifestyle. I will first start with water. Drinking water should be stored in opaque, porous and earthen medium.

Since 80 per cent of our body is water, our ancestors used to store water in mud pots and they lived in sync with the five elements of nature. In order to get energized and purified, they used mud pots.

Drinking water in glasses and any plastic medium is not good for health. Our traditional method of drinking water is by using lota. Water has a property, it cleanses the internal organs. If you observe a lota, the surface area is less, when surface area is less, surface tension is also less. So drinking water in lota is a good habit. Water should never be drunk by in standing position.  In order to avoid joint pains sit and drink sip by sip. To give more energy to water, I started using Himalayan energy crystal. According to literature by crystal experts, the Himalayan crystal amplifies energy and possesses a high energy vibration.

Himalayan energy crystal
Himalayan energy crystal

Crystals, in particular, were used to increase and harmonise energy levels which in turn helped to equip and strengthen the body.  Now-a-days we buy water which is processed and stored for a long period of time. While travelling, we buy bottles.  In early days, to carry water, people used a container which has round body and a narrow neck. In Telugu, we call it as marachombu. This looks like lota, but it has a lid.

Marachombu with lid that is used to carry water during journey
Marachombu with lid that is used to carry water during journey

 

I personally wanted to stop buying water in plastic containers and start using this marachombu. If in case you happen to buy water, pour the water in marachombu and place a Himalayan crystal in it. Now a days, these  processes may look inferior to chemical based and technology based medicines and antibiotics.

While an increase in diseases and illness in this modern worlds has created a necessity for modern medicine and techniques. We should always remember the healing power of the earth.

I will try and write about other aspects that I have learned about and those which I’m currently practicing in my day to day life. If you have something to share or add to this, I would love to hear from you.

 

Sushma
Sushma

 

 

 

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Mystical Copper vessel

Mystical copper vessel with 3 white metal strips, dragon embellishments and the lid with the knob
Mystical copper vessel with 3 white metal strips, dragon embellishments and the lid with the knob

Copper has played an important role in human civilization. It is one such element that has been extensively used in shaping up the history and culture of Asian countries and the world at large.Copper holds the significance of being an essential mineral required by our body to finding a place in the temples and monasteries as a vessel of prime importance on which food is offered to the Gods.

As the saying goes “beauty lies in the eyes of the beholder”, people who value aesthetic taste and sense will any day opt for items that look unique and rare and that are made up of copper or brass. A midst all antique and vintage items, one such rare collectible is the “Mystical Copper Vessel”.

What makes this container unique and valuable is the embellishment it has on its body. This container is primarily made up of copper with white metal embossment. A closer look at the container reveals carved white metal dragons and a mythical face making it obvious that this container originated in Tibet and became popular amongst the Buddhist monks or people of some prominence.The mythical face later discovered as Kirthimukha after a detailed research.

Mystical copper vessel with 3 white metal strips, dragon embellishments and the lid with the knob –an angle view
Mystical copper vessel with 3 white metal strips, dragon embellishments and the lid with the knob –an angle view

About the mystical copper vessel:

This vessel is hand made of pure copper in a cylindrical shape with a decorative lid. There are three white metal strips embedded around the vessel,one at the bottom,one at the top and one at the middle.The gap in these strips are filled with white metal carved embellishments of single dragons surrounded by intricate design forming a round shape,pair of dragons intertwined forming a rectangular design and a Kirtimukha

Talking about the physical appearance of this mystical vessel, it looks like a cylinder and features all the properties of a cylinder; it has a flat base that can stand or slide and a curved body that can roll. This container comes with the lid that is detachable and has a handy knob on the top and three dragon motifs in white metal surrounding the knob.The white metal knob has a shape of two cones tapering smoothly to opposite sides from a central round base.One tip of the cone is embedded into the center of the lid surrounded by intricate circular white metal design. There are three white metal dragon around the circular design.

Once the lid is placed over the container, it gets securely sealed making the lid look like an extended version of the vessel. It also has white metal holders attached on the sides; the holders are round in shape and resemble rings that are capable of moving around. The purpose of the holder is to make it easy in lifting the vessel and maneuvering it around. The other advantage of having those holders is to have a tight grip on the vessel and stop it from slipping from your hands while lifting or moving. The exact use of the vessel is unknown. However, we assume that it must have been used to store some items related to Buddhist religious ritual.

The embellishment of single dragon surrounded by intricate design forming a round shape
The embellishment of single dragon surrounded by intricate design forming a round shape

The embellishment twin dragons intertwined forming a rectangular design
The embellishment twin dragons intertwined forming a rectangular design

The dragon in Buddhist Mythology.

According to the Buddhist mythology, dragon is depicted as a creature withcreative power and positive energy; it is also associated with change and wealth.They also depict courage, strength, passion, creativity and mastery. Dragons are also considered ashaving magical and balancing powers. They make us to get into our deep psyche and visualize the world through wonder and mystery.The dragon is the supreme being of the basic elements of wind,water,earth and fire.Dragons are considered as controlling guide and guardians.

Representation of twin dragons.

The depiction of twine dragons represents that whatever the power the single dragon possesses are doubled in the depiction of twin dragons.Buddhists believe seeing the images of twin dragons in any form ,even in dream,indicate the good luck and fructification of their wish in double force.

Though dragons are imaginary creatures but you will find some signs depicting their existence in most Buddhist monasteries and Gumpas making it real. Dragons are also worshipped as the protectors of Buddhism. Like in Hinduism,‘snake’ is regarded as holy and worshipped in different forms, dragons are considered sacred in countries like Bhutan, Japan, China, Nepal and Tibet where the major religion is Buddhism.

Kirtimukha in Buddhist mythology.

Kirtimukha is also known as Zibaor, Zeeba, Zipak

In Sanskrit, the word mukha means the “face”and kīrti means “glory “. Thus Kirtimukha means the face of glory. The origin of “Kirtimukha” goes back to a legend from the SkandaPurana which says that an all-devouring monster created from Shiva’s third eye willingly ate his body starting by its tail till only his face is left with as per Lord Shiva’s order.Lord Shiva, pleased with the act of the monster gave the face the name of Kirtimukha, face of glory. Lord Shiva also blessed him that Kirtimukha will remain always at the entrance of the temples. Buddhists have adopted some of the mythological motifs of Hinduism into the construction of Buddhistcaitya, stupa and viharas and Kirtimukha became one of the prominent Buddhist motifs on the gateways of these Buddhist religious places.

Kirtimukha with demonic mask of great ferocity, protruding eye balls, stout horns and tongue protruding out clutching the wheel of samsara
Kirtimukha with demonic mask of great ferocity, protruding eye balls, stout horns and tongue protruding out clutching the wheel of Samsara

The main features of the Kirtimukha are depicted as having a demonic mask of great ferocity with protruding eyeballs, stout horns, and a gaping maw with prominent fangs or canine teeth and the tongue protruding out.  Kirtimukha is depicted as issuing garlands or festoons from the mouth. Festoon is a decorative chain of flowers, ribbons, etc, suspended in loops as in garland.  In Buddhist mythology the mouth of Keertimukha is depicted as clutching the wheel of samsara-depicting the impermanence of the life.

Kirtimukhas often appear above archways, dormer windows and gates, of the religious places. Kirtimukha is also the main feature in the cloth door hanging in the Buddhist temples called as a toran. The Tibitan Buddhist traditional banners and hangings that adore temples and shrine rooms are intricately embroidered with Kirtimukha. Most of the Buddhists regards Kirtimukha as a magical power that wards off evil spirits and hence an auspicious motif.

The story of Kitimukha

Jalandara was a powerful Asura king and he conquered all the three worlds. Lord Shiva’s marriage with Parvathi was to take place at that time. The proud Jalandara sends a word with his messenger Rahu,that Shiva should leave Parvathi alone since he plans to marry Parvathi as he is the right person for her hand. Lord Shiva becomes so angry that a dreadful being shoots out from his third eye.The dreadful being rushed ahead to eat away Rahu.Rahu pleads mercy with Lord Shiva and then Lord Shiva commands the dreadful being to leave alone Rahu.But the Dreadful being was so hungry and asks Shiva to give it food to eat.Shiva commands the being to eat its own body flesh and satiate its hunger.The being eats its own body starting from the tail leaving its own face.Pleased with the behavior of the dreadful being since it saved his honor by not eating Rahu for whom he has given protection,he blesses the face that hence forth it will be known as Kirtimukha and will decorate the gate ways of the temples.

Copper vessel-top view- showing 3 dragon motifs on the lid
Copper vessel-top view- showing 3 dragon motifs on the lid

Mystical copper vessel with 3 white metal strips, dragon embellishments and the lid with the knob
Mystical copper vessel with 3 white metal strips, dragon embellishments and the lid with the knob

The story behind why it is called Mystical vessel.

I have enquired with Mr. Y. Krishnamurthy, known as YK, as to how he collected this wonderful piece. He said when he was in Madras (now Chennai) in the year 1983,he saw an advertisement in Hindu newspaper that a family was shifting to USA and their household items were for sale. Immediately after he saw the ad, Mr. YK rushed to the address given and he surveyed all the items they have for sale. This copper vessel immediately attracted his attention and he fell in love at the first sight. He said, he does not know what for it is used and he does not know the meaning and the significance of the mythological embellishments on the copper vessel. The beautifully shaped copper vessel with the unknown magical motifs had casted a spell on him and the mystical charm of the vessel pulled him to buy the vessel. From then on words the vessel is referred to as mystical vessel.

The vessel is there with Mr. YK since last 33 years, but he does not know since how long the previous owners had it with them. He was told that the mystical copper vessel is from Tibet.

The cylindrical shaped Mystical copper vessel and the lid shown separately
The cylindrical shaped Mystical copper vessel and the lid shown separately

The intricate design work on the knob and the base of the knob
The intricate design work on the knob and the base of the knob

Antiquity and Mystical copper vessel

This particular item may not have been a household item as it looks grand, mystic and holds some kind of religious significance. It is definitely an antique masterpiece handed down over the years that has been successfully screaming the Buddhist culture.This mystical vessel is placed prominently in the hall of Mr. YK’s house and is a head turner.

It is not surprising to find statues and idols made of copper being worshiped by the Hindus and Buddhists all over the world. We have seen different types of idols, tools and utensils made of copper used as household items or items holding religious significance throughout the history. Copper utensils and vessels were widely used in the past, however, the trend is in a declining mode as people have changed with changing times and are getting used to using stuff made up of cheap plastic. Copper utensils and vessels are regarded as one of the finest items showcasing the culture and heritage of a particular era or a country.

The best thing about antiques is it always comes with a story that enlightens us with history, value, morals and culture. So this vessel is one of them. If you have any insights about this vessel, feel free to share the same with us. We would be glad to hear more about this vessel.

Mystical copper vessel with 3 white metal strips, dragon embellishments and the lid with the knob –an angle view
Mystical copper vessel with 3 white metal strips, dragon embellishments and the lid with the knob –an angle view

 

Wonderful Article by

Srizna Nasme
Srizna Nasme

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A Door into the Past

             

Antique main door with carved frame,projected canopy,brass handle, locking chain and turmeric yellow threshold
Antique main door with carved frame,projected canopy,brass handle, locking chain and turmeric yellow threshold

 

Update: Here’s a video we’ve recently done. Do check it out and read the article for detailed information.

Gather around on the rug, its story time!

The sun is beginning to rise with its rays just beginning to filter in through the windows of the house. It wakes up a small boy, all of his seven years apparent in the curiosity his eyes held. He looks out of the window to see the bright green of the fields, and he hears the chirping of the birds and the tinkling of the flowing water nearby.

He wakes up to this every day of his life for the longest time. The house is as much a part of him as is the air he breathes; to have the privilege of living forever in the cradle of beauty and comfort of his home is something that appeals to him very much. It is a thought that stays with him, even later, when he no longer lives there as an adult and wakes to the hustle and bustle of the city.

Years go on by in this fashion, the yearning to go back to this house is strong and pulls with strength like never before. When the time for the move back to this house finally does arrive, alas, it is no longer feasible! The thought of the house, with its thick carved wood doors and windows, spacious halls and timeless splendor lying empty in wait for him disappoints him. A revolutionary idea hits him that if he can’t go to the house, he would bring the house to him. Against everyone’s seemingly sane advice, he brings back bit of his house back, the carved doors that kept him warm at night and the little windows that gave him perspective along with a view.

The wide-eyed curious boy of the story is an antiquities expert who is teaching me the ropes of the business. When I first met him, I figured that I might have trouble finding his house, but it was apparent from the first sight of his home, that it couldn’t have been anyone’s. The front door of the house is one that he painstakingly carefully brought back from his village, complete with the frame that it sits in; and not to mention the windows that only add to the authenticity of the whole look.

Full view of the door and the matching window seated with Ganesh idol
Full view of the door and the matching window seated with Ganesh idol

 

Close view of the door showing the details on the canopy
Close view of the door showing the details on the canopy

 

If you take a look at the picture of the door, you will see it is rather heavy. The solid-ness of the door is off-set by the patterns that are in the individual squares which form a rather delicate geometric pattern on the door. What makes this door as unique is, among other things, it is made of a single piece of wood! Let me now draw your attention to the lovely canopy that frames the door. Isn’t the hand carved detail on the frame a sight to behold?

There are a details on this door, that make it as special as the 140 year ancestral home it comes from, rather uncommon on the opulent doors of the present. The knocker on the door that you see is made of brass, which also serves as a handle. The shape of the knocker and the design of base is almost delicate in its flower like pattern.

The truly most significant aspect of the door, I have to admit, is the carving on the frame, I am not just talking about the pretty canopy on the top but the intricate design at the bottom. The sides of the frame, with the rising cone styled carving, is very typical of the older artists. The bottom of the pattern is a running band that almost gives it a lace-like finish and the actual pattern with its delicate leaves and twirls is a perfect contrast with the geometric pattern on the door itself.

Handmade intricate design and wood work done on the canopy panel
Handmade intricate design and wood work done on the canopy panel

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Closer view of the wood work done on the sides of the canopy panel
Closer view of the wood work done on the sides of the canopy panel

  For me, what makes this door as memorable as it is, is the fact that it is not one door that opens to one side, but two doors that throw their arms open to welcome you into the house. If you have had the opportunity to visit your own or anyone’s ancestral home in a village, you will see that is rather characteristic of that day and age.

Though, just because it looks like a fancy door, does not mean that the artist skimped on the security aspect. It may not be as fancy as the peepholes-security-camera of today, but it has a pretty heavy chain that allows you to open the door partially, to peek out of. It locks from the inside with a wooden plank that fits across the door, effectively barring anyone’s entry into the house.

The beauty of the door and its frame is only enhanced by the turmeric yellow with the vermillion dots that adorn the base of the frame. It is a rather common practice of staining the entrance with the yellow of turmeric, indicating a pious threshold.

For me, what completes the look is the window frame that you see in the picture. It originally started off being a window that has now been re-purposed to a frame to house Ganesha, the God of good beginnings. It almost feels like it is indeed a window, with God himself on the other side, smiling indulgently at you. It is this frame that just ameliorates the beauty of the door, taking you to a simpler time in history.

Back side view of the door with wooden plank across the door and heavy chain
Back side view of the door with wooden plank across the door and heavy chain

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Now to the present builders of houses, it would seem that preserving the past was a great idea, and it definitely is, there is nothing quite like the workmanship of the years gone by. So, if you are redecorating and have access to antique woods and woodwork, incorporating it into your home isn’t the hardest thing to do.The doors I speak of today have the ability to teleport you into the past, where times were simpler, the air was cleaner and the sound of chirping was all the alarm you needed. This young boy in the story did eventually end up living happily, surrounded by all the things which made his childhood special.

 

Article by

Vineetha Rao Suravajjala
Vineetha Rao Suravajjala

 

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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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Antiques – A Class Apart!

Antiques are rare collectible items that have survived the test of time and lived a lineage. It is a matter of pride to own such mystic pieces of art belonging to an era where we didn’t even live. A piece of antique takes us back in time giving an insight into the culture, values and beliefs of people who lived in that particular time period. An antique item could be anything belonging to an era; it could be anything ranging from utensils to weapons to drawings to coins. The best part about any piece of antique in present day is that it holds a lot more value and small things like a copper coin from your great great grandfather could make you a millionaire.

Antique Brass Massage Oil Cups
Antique Brass Massage Oil Cups

Antiques in modern day have been associated with the rich and famous; the ones that are available in the market cost a fortune and rest are in the museums are government property. More often than not, antiques have been smuggled and traded far and wide. Having said that, it is not so difficult to own a piece of art either. There are people who become art and antique dealers as they genuinely are mesmerized by the beauty of it and there are others who collect these rare collectibles and sell them for money. No matter which category you fall into, you have to have a flair to find a jewel in a heap of rubble. People sell replicas in the name of antiques and you have to be watchful about that. Trust a person who has in-depth understanding of antiques, before laying your hands on that item which you want to purchase or acquire.

Articles that are termed antiques are very special. Every item has a story attached to it and it portrays the efficiency and craftsmanship of the person who made it. Some artifacts have inscriptions on them and it gives us an idea about the culture of a bygone era. If you are lucky, there might be a piece of art that holds a hidden message to be deciphered. In olden days, people used to encrypt messages on various objects, as there was no way to protect it with a password. Artifacts with inscription make these objects all the more valuable. By looking at the inscriptions, you can tell which era the object belonged to and how old could that particular object be. Some objects do not even have to be so old; even things that were used a couple of decades ago can be termed antique now. And the things that we use today might be rare and valuable a couple of generations after.

However, there are a certain things that have gone missing from the face of the earth as they are replaced by a more advanced version or due to the advancement in techn aboutology. For example, when I was a kid, I had seen brass oil lamps that my grandmother use to light before it got dark. These lamps needed kerosene and a wick to do the job; there was no electricity in the villages those days. That particular lamp has become a thing of the past now; you can’t even find them in normal shops. People who have been born and brought up in cities can’t even imagine how it would look like. I would love to own one of those lamps as a showpiece for the wall in my sitting room and narrate the story behind it as to how my grandparents used it as a means of light when their village had known nothing electricity.

Sambrani Incense Brass Pot
Sambrani Incense Brass Pot

Buying and selling of antiques these days is on a rising spree. People are realising the value and importance of an old artefact. An ancient piece of artefact can be a perfect decor item; it can up lift the interior of your house to another level altogether. You can be perceived as a historian or an art lover and you never know your house can soon turn into a gallery. A copper lamp belonging to the 1920s or a brass plate from the 1800s can be a perfect decorative item for your sitting room. Most of us might even own these things at home in our store rooms, something that we inherited or something that has been passed down the family lineage. It is time you showered some love and affection on those items, dust them and give them some shine or polish. Wide range of products are available in the market that can heighten the glam quotient of a brass or copper object. You will be surprised when you place these items on the shelves of your living room; it will redefine your living space and it would catch the attention of every guest who visits your house.
Buying antiques is a onetime investment; you can flaunt your taste in antiquity to your circle of friends and family members. You will have an option to pass it down your family tree or you can even sell it at a better price if you get bored with it. Antiques are like wine, they get better with age. I have decided that the next time I visit a new place I am going to pick up a rare item as a souvenir and start my own antique art gallery at home, and who knows it might even bring me a fortune someday.

Antique Copper Water Storage Pot
Antique Copper Water Storage Pot

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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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Conclusion

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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Jaadis – The Ceramic Jars For Pickles

 

 

 

 

These beautiful ceramic jaadis you see in the pictures are used for storing pickles.These are known as pingani jaadi or peengan jaadi in south India meaning that they are made out of porcelain.These double colour beauties mostly in white and brown combination are pride of the kitchen few decades ago.They come in various sizes from huge jaadis for storing pickles for the entire year consumption for those large combined families to small ones to store ghee and curds for daily consumption. These marvellous jaadis come in different shapes but invariably in double colours of brown and white. The standard shape is a tall and cylindrical called kola jaadi. They come in the shape of yellow pumpkin called gummadikaya jaadi or Parangi jaadi. They also come with big belly with narrow base and opening and these are called gundrapujaadi. While in entire south they are called Jaadi (singular) in Kerala state alone they are called Bharani. In plural, they are called jaadis or jaadeelu.

With declining of combined families and increasing mini families in tiny apartments, the concept of storing anything for a long time has given way to use and throw culture. With the onset of such culture the large jaadis have given way to plastic small bottles that meant for use and throw. These lovely jaadis have disappeared from the households and became the rare items for antique collectors. I am fortunate enough to inherit and collect some of these enchanting pickle jars. Some of the families who still value the traditional way of living and who knew the value of storing items in porcelain containers still consider old is gold and use these jaadis. Our elders believed that the health depends on not only what we eat but also what vessels we use for cooking, storing and serving what we eat and drink. They used Brass and bronze vessels for cooking, copper vessels for water storage and jaadis for storing items like pickles, and many other food items and they believed that the properties of the vessel mixed with the food enhance the nutritional value of the food and keep them healthy and happy. Our experience shows our elders were immune to the several diseases that the present generation is suffering. The traditionalists claim that the vessels used for cooking in the bygone days made the fundamental difference.They lived much healthier and happier than our present generation which discarded our traditional cooking and eating style and diverged to fast food and micro woven grade plastics.

 

Jadeelu in a row

 

I have grown in Jaadi culture. We used to have these handsome jaadis of all sizes in our house in my village Someswaram. We were having large jaadis for storingdifferent varieties of mango pickleslike aavakaya, menthikaya, maagaya and tokkudupachadi for the entire year. The smaller sizes of the jaadis were used to take a small portion of the pickles from the large jaadis for a weekly consumption and for daily serving. Once the small jaadis were empty they were recharged with the pickles and this process continued till the large jaadis were empty. Normally the mango pickle season starts from the months of April and May and all the jaadis will be full with pickles. As we start consuming they become empty sometimes by February or March. By then tender raw mangoes start coming in and my mother used to prepare temporary pickles out of these mangoes.These temporary mango pickles are not prepared as ceremonially as the annual pickles and there will be some compromise on the quality of ingredients since it is meant to be provisional and has to be consumed in a short time till we make the standard variety of pickles.

 

Cylindrical jaadis- kola jaddelu

 

The Pickle season is a busy time in our house. The jaadis are cleaned and sun dried.There should not be any iota of moisture in the jaadis since moister spoils the pickle.They were sun dried at least three consecutive days. After that they are covered with lid and a cloth and kept them in the corner of the kitchen where nobody will enter.Then there will be exchange of notes with relatives and neighbours as to what varietyof mangoes,chillies and mustard seeds they would be buying and from where and their relative merits and demerits.There will be discussion on what they purchased last year and how good or bad the results were.The next major ingredient is oil and the success of the annual pickle depends on the quality of the oil. Only nuvvulanoone (oil extracted from sesame seeds also known as gingili seeds) is used for preparing aavakaaya and other pickles. My maternal grandfather used to cultivate gingili oil seeds and he used to send us for our annual consumption of gingili oil. For aavakaaya season we used to take the  sun dried sesame seeds to our local oil man known as telukuliwadu who has a native oil crusher comprising wooden drum with a log like crushing pestle powered by a bullock and the entire crushing devise is called ganugu. The Telukuliwadu would keep the gingili seeds and a little bit of jaggery into the wooden drum, keep the wooden crusher in the position, make few adjustments and give command to the bullock to move.The bullock will move in circular motion and the crusher will move around the inside of the wooden drum crushing the oil seeds. After 2 hours of slow and constant crushing the oil will form in the basin of the drum which will be collected. I used to sit on the wooden plank connecting the crusher and the bullock and have a circular ride. The oil is transferred into the brass oil cans and carried to the house.

 

2 litre jaadi with big round belly- gundrapu jaadi with manufacturer “Parrys” name inscription

 

We used to have dedicated mango trees exclusively meant for aavakaaya pickle. People will go to the tree owner and purchase the required quantity from him. Only selected mangoes will be plucked. Fortunately we had our own mango tree in our fields and our requirement of mangoes used to come from this tree.The remaining mangoes will be left on the tree to be plucked latter for mango fruits.

Once all ingredients are in place my mother would consult the panchangam, the Hindu calendar for a good day and time for preparing the aavakaya. Aavakaaya should be prepared when here is no bad time like Varjam, durmuhurtham, Rahukalam and yamagandam, It is a custom in those days to invite   elders to prepare the avakkaya. It is a way of showing respect and honouring the elders.My mother used to invite the wife of my grandfather’s brother; a widow, by name Pullamma for this auspicious ceremony. Aavakaya is prepared with devotion and under strict hygienic conditions. Pullammagaru is to put pasupubottlu(haldi dots )to the jaadis since jaadis are considered as Lakshmi pradam and they are treated with adoration.  Pullammagaru is to wear a madibatta(a cloth washed, dried and untouched by others) after taking a head bath and then only she would start preparing aavakaya. The entire family is to participate actively and the ceremony is to be a fun and great get- together. My paternal uncle, Baapi Raju garu, used to cut the mangos into right size pieces with the special mango chopper called mamidikaya kathipeeta. Great skill is involved in cutting a mango for the purpose of aavakaya since the mango has to be sliced with a single stroke.The mango pulp should not be pressed but sliced.The size of the cut pieces is very important in the preservation of the aavakaya.If the pieces are too small they will lose the crispness and become soggy. If the pieces are too big the essence of the mango juices will not be released into the mixture with the result we do not get the right consistency and taste. The mango should be cut along with the Tenka (seed).Me and my sisters used to clean the cut mango pieces with a clean cloth and take out the Jeedi (kernel) from the Tenka and the thin layer between the tenka and the jeedi. My mother used to help her by providing necessary ingredients, utensils and jaadis timely to make her job easy. Pullammagaru her own recipe and style for preparing aavakaya. 

 

Raw mangoes for aavakaya pickle
Raw mangoes for aavakaya pickle

 

Cutting the raw mangoes with special cutter (maamidi kaya Katti peeta)
Cutting the raw mangoes with special cutter (maamidi kaya Katti peeta)

 

Before starting the process Pullammagaru used  to do a prayer and put pasupubottle (haldi dots )to the jaadis since jaadis are considered as Lakshmi pradam and they are treated with adoration. After preparing the aavakaya ooragaya (pickle) it is stored in jaadilu and it is topped with a layer of oil .The oil prevents any moister coming into contact with the aavakayapachadi. After that the mouth of the jaadi is covered with clean white cloth called vasin iin Telugu and vaedu in Tamil and put the lid over the cloth.The secret behind covering the opening of the jaadi with cotton cloth is that cotton cloth will absorb the moisture around the jaadi and prevent the moisture thus entering into the jar. Even by chance any moisture enters the jaadi, the oil layer will prevent the moister come in contact with the pickle. The aavakaya is allowed to do its magical chemistry for three days and during these 3 days it is not disturbed.After three days my mother will wear madibatta and open the jaadi, stir the contents thoroughly with a ladle .She will transfer a small portion into a small jaadi for us to have a first time taste of the new aavakaya. From the day of preparation of aavakaya till the third day people wait impatiently to taste the first morsel of this red delight. Then starts the process of distribution to kith and kin. The aavakaya is first distributed to the families of sons and daughters. Small quantities of aavakaya packed in small jaadis or glass bottles is distributed to relatives and neighbours as an exchange of good will and  wait for their compliments. Similarly neighbours and relatives would also reciprocate the nice gesture of exchanging aavakaya. This mutual exchange is a part of the aavakaya culture.

After the demise of Pullammagaru, my mother took charge of the annual aavakaya preparation ceremony. Subsequently my wife Ramana got interested in preparation of the special Andhra ooragayalu and she used to prepare the pickles with utmost tradition and devotion. She will personally go and select the red chillies. She will bring two types of chillies. One the traditional hot chillies meant for pickles and second the Kashmiri variety which are not so hot but will give beautiful natural red colour to the aavakaya. Her pickles are a real success and she will invariably get lot of compliments from the friends and relatives. Even while we were in Mumbai, the great metro city, Ramana managed to get the traditional Gujarati women who will hand pound the chillies with the wooden rolu and rokali (large size mortar and pestle).After the decline of hand pounding services, she started using the milled powder.She would personally go to the market and select the mangoes after tasting them for correct pulupu and kanda (sourness and pulp). She is now a veteran in preparing traditional Andhra ooragayalu and her best bet is Menthi kaayapickle.

The favourite pickle of Tamilians “Vadumaangai“ is stored in the large peengan jaadis.Vadumaangai is prepared with tender green mangoes and preserved for a year.Similarly in Kerala “Uppumanga” is prepared with tender mangoes and this pickle is stored in brine in large Bharani.

 

The curd and butter milk is also stored in Jaadilu. During my days in our village, If any guests come to our house and adequate quantity of curds were not available,I used to go to the curd vendors and fetch the curds.The ladies in the farming community in our village used to sell curds stored in small jaadis. You have to pick up the number of jaadis you require and the curd is measured by jaadis. We used to take 3 or 4 jaadis and return the empty jaadis after use. Sometimes my mother used to keep a jaadi full of curds next to the plate and the guests would empty the jaadis. The curds prepared in jaadis taste excellent.

These jaadis are neutral in nature and do not affect or alter the taste,flavour and colour of the contents .The porcelain is a good preservative and keeps germs, bacteria and fungus away and thus the ideal jars to preserve pickles, chutneys and other long stored food items.We should admire the wisdom of our elders in selecting the ceramic jaadis for storage of food items .In our house and in my relatives house the jaadis are used to store jaggery, tamarind, turmeric, red chilli powder, salt, Gongoora chutney, tomato  pickle, usirikai(amla)chutney, drumsticks pickle and Ghee.

Special Red chillies for aavakaya
Special Red chillies for aavakaya

 

Cut mangoes ready for aavakaya pickle

 

Mixing the ingredients of aavakaya

 

 

How to make Andhra Special MamidikayaAavakaya

Ingredients:

Raw mangoes: 8 numbers medium sized (approximately 9 cups of Cut Mango)

Avalapodi (Mustard powder)      : 2 cups
Karampodi ( Chilli powder)          : 2 cups                             

Uppu (salt)   powdered                   : 1.5 cups

Menthulu (Fenugreek Seeds)       : 2 tbsp

Pasupu (Turmeric)                           : 1/2tbsp
Nuvvulanoone (Gingili Oil)           : 3 cups.
Garlic flakes                                         : 1/2 cup (optional)

 

 

 

Procedure

 

  •  Step-1: Clean the mangoes with water and dry them thoroughly with a clean dry cloth.Cut them into 12 pieces along with the seed. Remove jeedi and the thin layer.wipe them with cotton clean cloth.Keep them aside 
  •  Step-2: Take a big bowl that will accommodate all the ingredients. Place mustard powder, salt, turmeric power, garlic flakes and the fenugreek seeds in the bowl and mix them thoroughly.Add little oil to wet them. 
  • Step-3:Put handful of mango pieces into the masala mixture and roll them in the mixture so that the entire surface of the mango pieces are covered with the masala powder.
  •  Step-4: Take a dry Jaadi and pour little oil into the jaadi to wet the bottom. Now place the marinated mango pieces in the jaadi. Put little oil on the top of the mango pieces. Repeat this process till all the cut mangoes are covered with masala powder and placed in the jaadi.
  • Step-4: Put some oil on the top of the pickle and cover the opening of the jaadi with the lid. Then cover the opening with a clean cotton cloth and seal with a rope. This ritual of covering and tying the jadi opening with the cloth is known as  vasini kattadam 
  •  Step-5: The jaadi should be left alone for three consecutive days without disturbing the contents.In these 3 days the mango pieces,the masala powders, the oil and the salt mix and create the magical taste, texture and flavour that is unique to aavakaya. Remove the seal after 3 days and mix the aavakaya with a long dry ladle.Notice the red oil floating on top of the pickle known as oota. Oota is the sour juice of the mango extracted by the salt and mixed with the chilli essence and the oil. 
  • Step-6: Now the Andhra special  fresh maamidi kaiaavakai ooragaya is ready for serving

Aavakaya preparation in progress

 

Mango pieces marinated with pickle masala

 

 

 

 

Varieties in aavakaya

 

In aavakaya itself there are so many verities.The traditional and proper aavakaya is prepared invariably in all Andhra houses and also some few different varieties of the aavakaya are also prepared. I am listing here some of the other varieties of the aavakaya.

  • Bellam Aavakaya: Bellam( jaggery) is added to the aavakaya to get that experience of sweet and hot taste at the same time coupled with the sour taste of mango and spicy taste of mustard powder.
  • Allam Aavakaya: Ginger garlic paste is added to the regular aavakaya for that extra spicy effect.
  • Gutty Aavakaya: The mango is not cut into pieces but sliced to the half way through from the top end and half way through from the bottom end. AAvakaya spices are stuffed into the sliced sections.Rest of the process is same.
  • Pachakaram Aavakaya: Instead of red chilli powder, yellow chilli powder is used. Yellow chillies are grown in the area around Gollaprolu and Pitthapura in East Godavari district of Andhra Pradesh) .The yellow chilies are also known as gollaprolu  mirapakayalu which have a unique taste.
  • Nuvvula aavakaya: powdered sesame is added to the aavakaya.
  • Pulihora aavakaya: Pulihora talimpu or seasoning (known as Chaunk or tadka in Hindi) is added to the regular aavakaya for that special flavour.
  • Menthi aavakaya: Menthi powder (fenugreek powder) is added along with the mustard powder in this variant of aavakaya for that peculiar menthi taste.
  • Vellulli aavakaya: Vellullipayalu (garlic flakes with the skin are added to aavakaya. The oota will enter into the garlic flakes and when chewed gives a heady taste.
  • Yendu aavakaya: The traditional aavakaya is sun dried in the jaadi several times till the entire oota is absorbed by the mango pieces.Yendu aavakaya pieces go very well with curd rice.
  • Usiri aavakaya:In place of green mango pieces, usirikaya (Indian gooseberry) is used as it is without cutting into pieces. The Usiri kaya is pierced with a tooth pick to form small holes to facilitate flow of juices. This aavakaya has medicinal effect according to Ayurveda.
  • Dosa aavakaya: Dosakaya (Yellow cucumber) is cut into pieces and are used in preparing aavakaya in place of mango.
  • Senagal aaavakaya: Sanagalu (Bengal gram, chanaor chickpeas) are added to the regular aavakaya.

Aavakaya ready to be put in the jaadi

 

Prepared aavakaya being transferred into jaadi

 

How aavakaya is consumed

Aavakaya is consumed mainly by Andhra people.Andhra is known as the rice bowl of India and the rice is the staple food of Andhras. They have invented various chutneys, pickles and powders that go excellently with rice.Andhra is also is the place where many varietiesof chillies are grown apart from mangoes, oil seeds like sesame and groundnuts.Ghee is also available plenty in this land. Using all these locally available ingredients, Andhras have since ages are patrons of good food with varieties of side and main dishes that go exceedingly well with rice. For many Andhras, aavakaya is a main dish. They mix aavakaya along with mango pieces, the sauce like pickle along with oota and pour liberal quantity of melted hot ghee with hot rice, make a round ball and consume with relish.For an onlooker fromdifferent region it would like as if they are consuming fire. Aavakaya is also taken as a side dish to enhance the taste of the main dish.The main dish of Mudda pappu with rice and ghee tastes heavenly with the aavakaya pickle as a side dish. Curd rice with aavakaya is a great combination. Aavakaya pickle is also taken as a side dish forIddli,dosa,Dibbarotti,and uppupindi. Aavakaya tastes fabulous within three months of its preparation (during this period it is fondly called Kothavakaya)and after that it slowly loses its zing.

Jaadeelu

 

The story of Jaadi

It is a wonder how jaadis emerged into our life and culture and ultimately settled as containers to our traditional pickles and other food items.In the early days all the pickles, curds, ghee etc are stored in earthen pots.I guess that During the British times they used to import chemicals in the glazed ceramic containers and after the consumption of the chemicals the empty porcelain jars are sold to the public. Because of their neutral nature people found them to be the ideal containers to use in place of earthen pots which are fragile in nature whereas porcelain containers are strong and heavy. The British standardised on the double colour of brown and white only to indicate that they contain chemicals and should be handle with care.With the popularity of these jars as a containers for various Indian food items,t hey are manufactured in India with the same colour combination for use in Indian market. These porcelain containers are subsequently acquired a native flavour and called as jaadis. Most of the jaadis I have seen carry the embossed inscription “Parrys”. Parrys is a famous British company established with its head office in Madras, the present Chennai,and the area near this company’s office even now known as Parrys corner. Subsequently Murugappa group acquired Parry and company. The porcelain division of Murugappa group stopped manufacture of Jaadis and are concentrating on bathroom porcelain utilities under brand name Parryware.

 

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Antique Brass Coffee Filter

Antique brass Coffee filter
Antique brass Coffee filter

 

I am one among those millions world over for whom a cup of freshly brewed hot coffee early in the morning is a heavenly delight. My coffee should be a South Indian filter coffee with fresh decoction taken from well roasted coffee beans with the right blend of chicory powder mixed with fresh hot foaming milk with a balanced mix of sugar. The first coffee in the morning is divine with the pleasant aroma giving a heady feeling.Without this golden brown brew stimulating the taste buds and the rest of the system,the daily routine will never be triggered.

To have that wonderful coffee,you need a thick fresh aromatic coffee decoction .There is a simple device called Coffee filter which gives you that miracle brown liquid called decoction. The decoction mixed with fresh hot milk and sugar makes an excellent south Indian coffee that is normally served in davara set that consists of one saucer like cup with a rim and a tumbler placed inside the davara. The beautiful antique brass coffee filter shown in the picture has served thousands of tumblers of coffee since more than 100 years and must have witnessed the grateful smiles of satisfied coffee lovers. I am really proud of having this most enchanting antique piece in my collection.

 

Complete coffee filter assembly- Lower chamber, upper chamber, lid and plunger.(The stainless steel plunger is not a part of the antique brass filter but shown as a model)
Complete coffee filter assembly- Lower chamber, upper chamber, lid and plunger.(The stainless steel plunger is not a part of the antique brass filter but shown as a model)

 

The Coffee filter set

The traditional South Indian coffee filter has two chambers that sits one over the other, a lid to cover the top chamber and a plunger. The top chamber has the perforations to allow the filtration to happen.The bottom chamber serves as a collection point of the decoction. Coffee powder is put into the perforated chamber, and the plunger is kept on top of the powder and pressed gently. The plunger is basically a convex disk with perforations and a pin that is welded vertically at the centre of the disk. The purpose of the pin is to lower the disk to sit on top of the coffee powder and to take it out when not required. Hot water is poured on the upper chamber and covered with the lid. The plunger ensures that the falling water do not make a hole in the coffee powder when poured from a height. The plunger takes the pressure of the water and distributes uniformly around the plunger. The hot water seeps into the coffee powder through the holes in the plunger. Over the time, the coffee gets brewed and the decoction percolates to the lower chamber drip by drip carrying the essence and the aroma of the coffee powder. The decoction collected from the first drips mixed with fresh thick milk with adequate sugar makes the perfect coffee and I know people who wake up early in the mornings only to sip this wonderful coffee.  Coffee is the motivation for most of the South Indians to get up early in the morning.

The precious gift

Shrimathi Saraswathi garu and Sri Venkatappayya garu
Shrimathi Saraswathi garu and Sri Venkatappayya garu

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This beautiful brass antique coffee filter set was gifted to me by Shrimathi Janaswami Saraswathi garu (“garu” is the respectful way of addressing elders in Andhra Pradesh). Saraswathi garu and her husband Janaswami Venkatappayya garu are closely related to us through our niece Vani. Vani is the daughter of my brother-in-law Machraju Purushothama Rao and his wife Machiraju Parvathi. We used to have frequent mutual visits with Janaswami family   while we were in Mumbai. Saraswathi garu was heading a reputed school in Mumbai and Venkatappayya garu was a general manager of Canara bank. Subsequently we settled in Hyderabad and by a pleasant coincidence they have also shifted to Hyderabad and our frequent visits continued.She used to encourage my antique collection and one fine day she gifted this antique brass coffee filter in the year 2006. I was told that the filter was passed on to  Saraswathi garu by her grandmother and it must be by any means more than100 years old.Those were the days the stainless steel has not yet invaded into domestic utilities and hence this filter is made of pure brass. Moreover, the coffee tastes at its best in brass filter and served in brass davara set. I am always grateful to this noble lady for her gracious gift.

 

Lower chamber, upper chamber with perforations and lid- top view
Lower chamber, upper chamber with perforations and lid- top view

 

My experience with coffee

My first experience with coffee was in the year 1950 prepared by my mother in our village Someswaram. My grandfather Shri Yenugu Krishna Murthy Garu is a connoisseur of coffee and he was one of those privileged people in the village to have coffee in those days .My grandfather used to buy coffee beans in bulk from the nearest town Rajahmundry and store them. My mother is to pick up one week’s consumption, roast them to a dark brown colour and pound them to a fine granular powder.Subsequently he used to buy fresh readymade powder. There were no metallic coffee filters available those days around my village. My mother used to keep coffee powder in a bronze tumbler and pour over it hot boiling water and keep a lid for brewing. Then she used to filter the brew through a fine cloth which would allow the fine decoction to filter down and arresting the residue. We used to call the process Gudda coffee (“gudda” means cloth in Telugu). My next taste of coffee is in Kakinada, Dwaraka Lunch Home in the year 1956. I did not know how it is made but there is nothing special to mention about it.

My first real filter coffee experience was at Madras (present day Chennai)in the year 1961.My sister and brother-in-law used to stay in West Mambalam, Madras, the core area for typical Tamil culture. My sister adapted quickly to Tamil culture, particularly to the early morning filter coffee and I had my first taste of filter coffee in my sister’s home. When I used to go for a stroll in the streets of Mambalam in the morning, the air was filled with aroma of freshly ground coffee and occasionally mixed with fragrance of jasmine flowers from the plaited hair of passing by women, with M.S Subbalakhmi rendering Venkateswara Suprabhatam in her melodious voice, the gents with “Hindu” newspaper sipping hot fresh filtered coffee.I cannot forget this nostalgic experience of my early days at Madras. Subsequently, I stayed in Chennai for 12 years from 1967 to 1973 and from 1983 to 1989. But by then the cultural romance has gone out of daily life.

 

Coffee davara set- saucer and tumbler
Coffee davara set- saucer and tumbler

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

How to prepare good south Indian filter coffee.

The taste and Aroma of the coffee comes from quality seeds like Pea berry, Plantation, Arabica and Robusta. You can also use the combination of these two verities of seeds to get the best out of the both seeds. The seeds have to be roasted to dark brown shade till they emit the deep aroma of the roasted coffee.The roasted seeds are to be grounded to granular powder neither too fine nor too rough.It is ideal to grind coffee powder just before the filtration by using the traditional hand grinding machine. Addition of Chicory is optional.Some people like to add chicory because it gives extra texture and colour to the coffee.Taste of the coffee also depends on the quality of water used and the milk.Ground water with lot of minerals,corporation water with too much of chlorination will spoil the taste of the coffee.Use good potable water for making decoction.The milk should be fresh and thick to get the real zing out of the coffee.In this occasion I should mention about the “Degree Coffee of KumbaKonam” which is very popular for its authentic south Indian filter coffee.In southern states like Tamil Nadu and Karnataka, Coffee is affectionately called as “kaapi”. In Tamil Nadu hotels, restaurants and dairies buy milk from the vendors by testing the quality of the milk with a lactometer and the quality is rated in degrees.Hence any milk that measure up to the degree standard is called degree milk. In Kumbakonam, coffee is prepared with degree standard milk and hence it is called as “Kumbakonam degree coffee”.

 

Roasted coffee powder
Roasted coffee powder

 

Roasted coffee beans
Roasted coffee beans

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 How to prepare a good South Indian Filter coffee

1- Boil pure water(mineral water recommended) in a steel vessel.

2- fill the upper chamber of the coffee filter with fresh coffee powder depending on the size of the coffee filter and the number of coffee tumblers required.Minimum you should keep fourheaped tea spoon full of coffee powderif the filter is small and six if the filter is large. If you keep less,the water will just run away from the upper chamber without percolation. Even for single person there should be a minimum amount required.If the number of tumblers required is more additional coffee powder is to be added.

3- The coffee powder in the upper chamber should not be too loose or too tight. Just press the coffee powder with your fingers gently. If it is too loose hot water will just run through the powder without any percolation. If the powder is too tight the water settles down on top of the powder and will not percolate down and even if it does it takes lot of time.

4- Place the plunger on top of the coffee powder.

5- Place the upper chamber on the top of the lower chamber tightly.

6-Pour the boiling water on top of the plunger and keep the lid.

7- Keep aside the filter for 20 to 30 minutes for brewing. The decoction will be collected in the bottom chamber.

8- Boil the fresh degree milk in a stainless steel vessel.

9- Take the tumbler from the davara set, add 1/2 inch level  of filtered decoction, and add hot milk to the required strength of the coffee.If you want your coffee to be strong add less milk and for lighter coffee add more milk. Add sugar as per the taste. The proportion of milk to the decoction has to be experimented initially till you hit the required taste.

10- Hold the coffee tumbler in your right hand and the davara saucer in your left hand and start whisking the coffee from tumbler to saucer and saucer to tumbler in quick motions repeatedly for three or four times till a nice brown froth is collected by the aerated coffee. Take care not to spill the coffee in the process. By practice you develop the art of whisking the coffee.

11- Keep the coffee tumbler in the davara saucer and serve.

 

Processed green coffee beans
Processed green coffee beans

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The culture of Coffee Serving

The tradition of serving coffee in davara set started with the practice of echai(no contact with saliva) by orthodox Iyer and Iyengar and other Brahmin families of Tamil Nadu. With echai practice the tumbler should not touch the lips and hence they used to drink coffee by pouring directly into the mouth from a respectable distance. To regulate the heat of the coffee to avoid the burning of the mouth, the saucer is used to cool the coffee till right temperature is arrived.Then the coffee is transferred to the tumbler and then to the mouth. The davara saucer is also used to whisk the coffee into the tumbler and vice versa to aerate and achieve the right temperature.

It is a tradition in Tamil Nadu to offer coffee to the guests. The coffee should be a filtered coffee served very hot. It is considered as bad manners if you serve cold or staple coffee and there are chances that the guests will get offended.

In some traditional families the coffee filter should be brass (not stainless steel) and served in brass davaa set. The well maintained brass items shine like gold and brass is considered as Laksmipradam (equivalent to goddess Lakshmi). In some well to do Tamil families, they also use silver coffee filter and silver davara set. As a mark of respect, most Tamil families offer the coffee made out of the first collection of the decoction to the elders of the families.

 

Coffee plant with coffee berries
Coffee plant with coffee berries

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Modern coffee house sand coffee bars.

Time has its own magical effect on people.Things have changed.Now with NRI culture huge coffee mugs have taken the place of good old davara sets. The convenience of instant coffee has taken upper hand over the time consuming filtered coffee.The beautiful coffee filters have become a collector’s items.

Now, the youngsters prefer the modern coffee houses that sprang in all cities and towns.These places are trendy lounges where people can sit leisurely and sip mugs and mugs of coffee with friends or with laptops in front .Drinking coffee in joints like Cafe Coffee Day,Barista,Costa coffee, cafe Mocha and Starbucks is all about cooling with friends and catching up social get-together.Coffee today signifies bonding and great reason to spend time with people you like.Inthese up market cafes you get variety of coffee selections with really magical names.I have tried some of these coffee menu and I am sure you may also would like to try if not already done.

Expresso: Expresso is a strong black coffee made by forcing steam through dark- roast aromatic coffee beans at high pressure. A perfectly brewed expresso will have a thick, golden brown foam on the surface. Adding a dollop of steamed milk completes the drink.

Cappuccino: A Cappuccino is a combination of equal parts espresso, steamed milk and milk froth. This luxurious drink, if made properly, can double up as a desert with its complex flavours and richness.It is common to sprinkle unsweetened cocoa powder or grated dark chocolate.Iced Cappuccino makes a great summer drink.

Americano: An Americano is a single shot of expresso added to a cup of hot water. Many coffee houses have perfected this brew which is a creamy, rich coffee that one can savour.Get the maximum flavour from your Americanoby keeping the amount of milkto a minimum.

Caffe Latte: This is a single shot of expresso mixed with three parts of steamed milk.Pair this with cookies,sponge cakes and even Italian bread for a unique and satisfying breakfast.

Caffe Mocha (Mochachino):This is Cappuccino or Caffe Latte with either chocolate syrup or powdered chocolate.This versatile drink can be made in several ways.Add cocoa powder or grated chocolate for flavour and garnish with whipped cream to make it more delish.

Caramel Macchiato: The most common method of making caramel maccciato is by combining espresso,carameland foamed milk.Steamed milk is usedsometimes and vanilla is often added for extra flavour. You can add sugar as well,but be warned, the drink is already sweet as it is.A caramel sauce topping makes it all the more lip-smacking.

Long Black: As the name suggests,this is a cup of rich-bodied black coffee,and black coffee alone.It is usually made by topping a single shot of espresso with a cup of hot water,with or without sugar.

Flat White: This is ideal for those who enjoy the strength of cappuccino,but not the foam that goes with it.To make a flat white,simply top up an espresso with steamed milk,but make sure that you only add the milk and not the foam.

 

Coffee plantation- Coffee plants grow under the shade of trees
Coffee plantation- Coffee plants grow under the shade of trees

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Coffee plant with flowers
Coffee plant with flowers

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The story  of coffee- How it is discovered

I will not be doing justice to this article if we do not appreciate how this wonderful drink is discovered and passed on to our generation for us to enjoy and admire. I read from Wikipedia that a goat-herder discovered this coffee plant and the story goes like this

“ A 9th-century Ethiopian goat-herder, Kaldi, who, noticing the energizing effects when his flock nibbled on the bright red berries of a certain bush, chewed on the fruit himself. His exhilaration prompted him to bring the berries to a Monk in a nearby monastery. But the monk disapproved of their use and threw them into the fire, from which an enticing aroma billowed and the monks came out to investigate. The roasted beans were quickly raked from the embers, ground up and dissolved in hot water, yielding the world’s first cup of coffee. The story is first known to appear in writing in 1671, and thus may be fanciful.

 

Filter assembly- Lower chamber,upper chamber with perforations and lid
Filter assembly- Lower chamber,upper chamber with perforations and lid