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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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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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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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Thondi – The Copper Pot For Water

 

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

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

 

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

 

Copper Thondi shown in inclined position

 

Copper Thondi top view

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

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

http://ykantiques.com/2013/06/antique-copper-water-storage-pot-pani-ka-ghada.html

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Vintage Burma Teak Wood Trunk Box

Vintage Burma Teak Wood Trunk Box
Vintage Burma Teak Wood Trunk Box

 

The sturdy handsome teak wooden box you see here is made in Burma and shipped to India by the workers at Burma of Indian origin. This enchanting box is made of pure Burma teak wood, famous for its durability,strength and water resistance.The box is known as ‘trunk box’ since it is made out of the timber planks cut out of the trunk of the Burma teak wood tree. The best quality of wood comes from the trunk and wide planks of wood are required to make a large box which can be obtained from the wide trunk only. The main characteristics of a wooden trunk box are:

  • There should not be any joints in the wooden planks
  • It should be a single piece in all six sides of the box

You will observe that this box is made out of solid wood without any joints in the wooden boards.

 

Vintage Burma Teak Wood Trunk Box-top view
Vintage Burma Teak Wood Trunk Box-top view

 

Side view of the box showing the joints of two sides, iron handle
Side view of the box showing the joints of two sides, iron handle

 

Close up of the joints of the box- wooden planks perfectly cut and fitted
close up of the joints of the box- wooden planks perfectly cut and fitted

 

The Design of the Box

The box is designed to keep valuable items like gold and silver items, silk garments and any items that need safety and protection. There is a special compartment with a lid inside the box to hold important documents.

The box is sitting on a 3 inch high solid base frame. This base frame takes the load of the box and reinforces its structure.The lid has a 3 inch high inverted tray structure joined to the main box with rotary brass hinges. There is a beautiful brass latch fixed to the top lid that fits snugly into a ring fixed to the main box which can be locked with a padlock. There is an in-built locking system also but I have misplaced the key.

The wooden boards on four sides are skilfully joined with neat symmetrical inter locking design to form the box. This shows the skill of the carpenter who made this box. There are no adhesive used to strengthen the joints. The strength of the joints is achieved by perfect cutting of the joint grooves and tight fitting of the inter locking of the wooden grooves. It should be noted with admiration that no adhesive is used in the joints for tight fitting.It is purework of precision cutting and fitting.

 

Box sitting on a 3 inch strong wooden base
Box sitting on a 3 inch strong wooden base

 

Box in open condition showing the storage space and the left side document compartment
Box in open condition showing the storage space and the left side document compartment

 

Box showing key hole of the inbuilt lock, latch and ring for pad lock
Box showing key hole of the inbuilt lock, latch and ring for pad lock

 

The Story of the Box

The story of the box is enveloped with the feeling of gratitude of a family for a village head. The story starts in a village named Vanapalli in the Konaseema area in East Godavari district of Andhra Pradesh, India during the World War II. Many workers from this village went to Burma (the present day Myanmar) for work including a group of carpenters. In those days, telephones were not available in the villages and the only way of communication with the Burma workers and their families in India was by postal letters. Most of the families in India were illiterates and they did not know how to reply when a letter came from Burma.

My father-in-law’s father, Sri Machiraju Pullam Raju, was a Karanam (government representative) for Vanapalli village. In those days, karan was the virtual head of the village and the villagers used to approach the Karanam for any help they wanted.The families of Burma settlers were coming to Pullam Raju garu (garu is a Telugu word used to express respect) whenever they got a letter from Burma so that he can read the letter to them and exchange family welfare.He was also helping them in writing letters in reply. The families also took his advice on various issues in their families. Thus, Pullam Raju garu became a main link for the families to exchange information between Burma and India.

When the Second World War was declared, India was under British rule at that time. The Indian British troops were moved to Burma to fighting against Japanese army who had created a base there to fight against the Western forces. There was lot of commotion in the village Vanapallias they heard from the newspapers that Burma was bombed. The families were worried about their men at Burma and the frequent letters of exchange made Pullam Raju garu closer to the villagers. During war time,around 1940 some of the workers returned back to India and among them were some carpenters. The workers that returned from Burma were visiting Pullam Raju garu with their families to show their gratitude for the service rendered by him. They gave him some gifts that they brought from Burma. Few carpenters brought him foldable easy chairs. Seven carpenters brought him Burma teak wood trunk boxes; one each in different sizes. The one shown here is one out of them. This box is around 72 years old.

Pallam Raju garu had five children, two boys and three girls. The eldest son,Sri Machraju Bhaskar Rao was married to my aunt (Father’s sister)Machiraju Satyavathi. Subsequently, I married their daughter and he became my father-in-law. Pullam Raju garu gifted one box to each of his children. The remaining 2 boxes he has given to his friends. My father-in-law’s box was kept in our ancestral house in Someswaram since he was moving to Madras (present day Chennai) for his job and he did not have much space in his Chennai rented house to accommodate this trunk box. This box was being used by my mother who used to keep her valuable possessions in this box, including her wedding Banaras sari, my father’s Salem silk pancah and kanduva, her gold jewels, silver items like dinner plates, glasses, bowls, gandhapuginni (sandal wood paste bowl), rose water sprinkler and many more interesting items.

I and my sisters would flock around the box whenever my mother opened it to peep into various items that were stored in it. There used to be a small lakkabharani( lacquer box) in red colour in which my mother used to keep small items like gold rings, ear drops, locket with Anjaneya emblem and few silver coins. Sometimes my mother used to allow us to touch and feel them till our curiosity was satiated. Then she would put them back into lacquer box .The lacquer box goes back into the trunk box and is locked. My mother would then tie the key of the lock to the corner end piece of her sari.

My father-in-law never claimed the box. As an engineer, he used to get frequent transfers in his job and this heavy box was an inconvenience. The box has made our house its permanent home. My mother stayed in our ancestral house in Someswaram till the death of my grandfather in 1970 and thereafter she was living with us at Chennai. When she came to Chennai she brought with her the Burma teak wood box also along with her baggage.  Since then this vintage box is with me as a symbol of the noblest feeling called gratitude.

 

Young Teak would tree with flowers
Young Teak would tree with flowers

 

Teak wood logs– trunk side view
Teak wood logs– trunk side view

 

About teak wood and teak wood tree

Teak wood can be crowned as the strongest and most durable wood in the world. Teak wood has highest oil content and hence this wood has the power of rot resistance and protection from the infestation by the insects.It is the ideal wood for making boats since it is water resistant.It is widely used for making outdoor furniture for it can withstand any kind of weather.

The wood name “teak” is derived from Tamil word Thekku. The botanical family name is Verbenaceae and belongs to the sub-category of Tectona. The teak wood tree can grow up to 150 feet high and can live for 100 years. It is native to Asea and mainly grown in plantations in  countries like India, Burma, Indonesia, Thailand and also Philippine islands. The fragrant white colored flowers of the tree bloom in clusters and bear fruits  by insect pollination. The seeds of the fruit are used for plantation. The tree has big leaves with hairy structure underneath the leaf.

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Antique Elephant Incense Stick Holder

Antique elephant incense stick holder.
Antique elephant incense stick holder

 

This beautiful incense stick holder in the form of an elephant is a unique antique art piece. The elephant stands on its two hind legs and the other front legs are taken up and joined together resembling a prayer posture. Its body is slightly bent forward to reveal a humble gesture. Its trunk is taken up and is resting on the head mimicking trumpeting a prayer. The mouth is wide open and the years are spread indicating a careful hearing of something important. There are holes on the trunk and incense sticks are stuck into these holes. The elephant is designed to hold the incense sticks from its lifted trunk. It gives a pious feeling that it is offering dhoop (perfumed smoke) to a divine being in a traditional prayer. The eyes are half closed and sublime like in a prayer.

Antique elephant incense stick holder-with burning sticks and curls of smoke
Antique elephant incense stick holder-with burning sticks and curls of smoke

 

This elephant is made with highly polished shining porcelain with smooth finish. It has a beautiful golden colour. The ears are lined with red colour border. The opened mouth also has red colour. The eyes are in black colour. The elephant is standing on a   lovely blue colour base.

Measurements: The height of the elephant is 6 inches and the base diameter 2.2 inches wide.

The elephant is hollow. When the incense sticks are kept inside the holes located on the trunk of the elephant it may fall down due to the imbalance created by the lengthy incense sticks on one side of the elephant. To make it solid and stable the hollow inside of the elephant is filled with the sand. There is a hole under the base of the elephant through which the sand is filled and the hole is plugged with a cork to seal the spilling of the sand. The sand also helps to hold tight the incense sticks.

 

Antique elephant showing wide ears with red colour lining and base in blue colour
Antique elephant showing wide ears with red color lining and base in blue color

 

Antique elephant showing holes in the trunk for keeping incense stick
Antique elephant showing holes in the trunk for keeping incense stick

 

Eelephant standing on the back legs, front legs joined together in prayer posture
Eelephant standing on the back legs, front legs joined together in prayer posture

 

This magnificent incense stick holder is purchased by my grandfather. He is a follower of Lord Shiva and he used to do pooja to the framed picture of Shiva seated on his mount Nandi with his family of wife Parvathi  and children Ganesha and Kumaraswamy ever evening. He used to decorate the picture with Kanakambaram flowers, followed by inserting the smoking agarabathis into the trunk of this elephant. Then he would dance singing the songs in praise of Shiva to the rhythm of his Pandarichidathalu (a hand held pair of wooden blocks attached with cymbals)

He used the elephant incense stick holder daily for nearly 55 years but still it appears  new with the golden color still shining bright. After the demise of my grandfather we never used it on a daily basis for the fear of losing it and hence used to keep it is a cupboard in a locked condition. Occasionally we used to take it out for special poojas or for festivals. Now it is in my antique collection under rare and valuable category. We always admire its sublime and   fluid beauty.

Apart from its functional use, the elephant incense stick would make a wonderful accent piece in our grandfather’s room. It looks as though the elephant is enjoying the curling tendrils released by incense stick smoke.The fragrance from the incense smoke acts in two ways. When used in the Hindu ritual pooja, it adds to the mystic and spiritual ambiance. In other times, it relaxes the nerves and calms down the mind. The curls of smoke arising from the red tip of the incense stick take you to the fantasy world.The incense sticks come in various aromas and fragrances like rose, jasmine, lavender, sandalwood and many others.

 

Close up of the elephant trunk, tuskers, years, open mouth and joined hands
Close up of the elephant trunk, tuskers, years, open mouth and joined hands

 

Hole in the base to put sand for stability
Hole in the base to put sand for stability

 

Elephant with incense sticks
Elephant with incense sticks

 

Elephant holding burning incense sticks
Elephant holding burning incense sticks

 

Rear view of the elephant holding incense sticks with curling smoke
Rear view of the elephant holding incense sticks with curling smoke

 

My grandfather, Sri Yenugu Krishna Murthy, purchased this wonderful elephant incense stick holder in the year 1913. Now it is nearly 100 years old. We used to get street vendors in our village Someswaram in the east Godavari District of Andhra Pradesh state, India. Those were the days of British rule. The lady street vendors used to bring imported items of interest and my grandfather is their regular customer. Any interesting item they have, they used to first bring it to my grandfather. He purchased this rare item also from such vendors. Though there is no stamp of manufacturing country on this, I believe this is manufactured in Japan. The Buddhist temples of Japan use incense sticks as a part of their ritual prayer. Elephant has a great significance in Buddhism and elephant is associated with the birth of Buddha.

 

The story of Buddha and The Elephant

Around 4th century BC king Suddhodana ruled a Himalayan kingdom with the capital city of Kapilavasthu. His wife and the queen’s name is Maya. They did not have children and they performed many prayers and rituals for children. One night Queen Maya got a very vivid dream in whichshe was carried by four angels to the snowy peaks of Himalayas and dressed her with flowers. A splendid white bull elephant holding a White lotus in in her trunk advanced towards Maya and circled around her three times. The elephant then entered into her body from her right side and disappeared into her. The next day morning she narrated her dream to her husband. The King Suddhodana invited 64 scholars and asked them to interpret Queen Maya’s dream. They came out with the significance of the dream and told the king that soon queen Maya will become pregnant and give birth to a boy. The boy if he confines himself to the palace he would be a great warrior and conquers the world. If he comes out of the palace compound he will become a great enlightened man and become a Buddha.

When it was time to deliver, queen Maya proceeds to her mother’s place Devadaha for delivery on a palanquin accompanied by 1,000 courtiers. The royal procession had to pass through Lumbini grove which is full of flowering trees. The enchanted queen ordered the procession to stop to touch and feel the flowers. As she lifted her hand to reach the flowering branch, she delivered the boy. The queen and the boy went back to Kapilavastthu and the queen Maya died after 7 days. The boy named Sidhartha was raised by his mother’s sister Pajapati who is also the second wife of king Suddhodana. At one point of time Sidhartha comes out of the palace compound and becomes the Buddha ,the founder of the great religion Buddhism. Thus the story of the birth of  Buddha has mysterious connection with  elephant and the elephant is symbolized as Buddha. There is no wonder this symbolism triggered the imagination of many artists who made many products with elephant motifs  used in the temples of Buddhism  including the one shown in this article ,the incense stick holder.

 

 

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Antique Home Décor – An External Perspective

Here is a blog post by my neighbor. She was a small little girl with bright eyes when she first stepped into our house. 15 years later, when she came up to me one day and expressed her interest in writing an article about my antique collection for my blog, I was really happy. Here’s her take on my antique collection. Hope you enjoy reading it. I certainly did! If you too have anything to share about antiques or any memories associated with ones used at your home, I would be glad to have your article on my blog.

What do we do with heirlooms? You know those things that are too precious to part with and too old to come out of the box. We cannot give them away, they are heirlooms. I never thought anything could be made of them; they never match any of the interiors. At our place, they always sat boxed up, in the darkest corner of the attic. I was of the belief that nothing good would ever come out them. But my perspective changed once I stepped into my neighbors newly constructed home for the very first time. I was about 7 then. The first thought that came to my mind was “Woah! I can totally sit inside the dining table.” I was so captivated; it was nothing like any other dining table I had ever seen. It was a huge water storage brass pot with a glass top. I mean, who could have thought that you can convert something of such great importance and history into something so basic, efficient and fascinating while retaining its cultural value. The front door of their house was a big traditional door with a chain latch and was locked from inside using a wooden log.

The next thing that hit me like a deer in head lights was the living area. I was gob smacked, everything that we would have thought as useless was sitting right there in the living room with pride. Another brass pot was converted into a coffee table and two big ones sat on either side of the arm chairs. I was transported into another dimension. Every artifact had its own story. I could not think of a place to sit, how difficult is that? You pick a seat and you sit, simple isn’t it? I could not decide whether it would be the Victorian bed with drapes, that served as a contemporary substitute to that traditional dewan; or that exquisite looking floral recliner, or those dark wooden arm chairs that made you feel important.

Let’s face it, all of us have a tick for beds with drapes, but the chairs looked so inviting and the brass pots next to it had water in it. At least that’s what I thought, until I took my seat on the chair and discovered that it was not actually water but glass that created an illusion of water. Sheer genius if you ask me. The whole living room had an aura of a King or Queen’s private parlor. The best part was that there were two huge windows covered with drapes. When pulled apart, they filled the room with abundant sunlight.

There was never an instance when I got bored during any of my visits there. Looking at the artifacts itself was intriguing. Every showpiece was an artifact and every artifact had a story and history. Not until recently did I know that all these were more than artifacts, they have an immense cultural importance. Every piece of antique collected depicts the way of life of the people. The betel box, torches and the ink pot were etched in my memory. Tumblers! Who could’ve thought that tumblers that we drink from can be used for decorative purposes? The staircase that led to the terrace had been decorated with brass pots of different sizes on either side.

The door to the pooja room was a compilation of different sizes and designs of block prints. I am still in awe of how many articles have been collected by Y.K. uncle (as I fondly call him). This beautiful house felt like a home from the moment I stepped into it. One reason being the beautiful people that make it a home and the other being because of the cultural reminiscences of our great ancestors who have taught us all that we know about family and life. This is not a mere house or a home, it is on par with any cultural museum you will come across with an ‘in-house curator.’

It has been almost been 15 years now and every time I enter the house, it still feels the same. Nothing has changed since then. Everything is still in place, the brass antiques are still shining, and over the years I have seen many more new items added to the collection. I strongly encourage you to take a look at Y.K. uncle’s collection via the blog. The blog is a great place to start, but nothing would beat the experience of seeing and feeling the antiques personally at the house. So why don’t you come experience it for yourself?

Vyshnavi Gopalakrishnan (An utterly amused neighbor)