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Antique Hand-held Brass Fan

Antique hand-held brass fan with peacock neck handle
Antique hand-held brass fan with peacock neck handle

I am going to present to you an antique hand-held brass fan which I have collected recently that was used by a rich landlord during the Zamindari system in pre-independence India. This beautiful brass fan is acquired from a gentleman by name Adinarayanan whose great grandfather was working as a chief accountant for a wealthy landlord in present Tamil Nadu state,India somewhere in the pre-independence era or the early 19s.  It was given as a gift by the landlord to his Chief accountant for the services rendered to him. In the days of Rajas and Zamindars, it is a common practice to bestow gifts to the devoted persons as a mark of appreciation and honor. As it was heavy, the owner would have his servant to do the fanning during important social and cultural functions as it was considered a mark of status. It has been in Shri Adinarayana’s family for more than 3 generations.

 

The Design Of The Brass Hand-held Fan

This hand-held brass fan is designed to give appearance as a fan made out of Palmyra palmtree leaves which is used very common in those days and even now in rural areas of India as it is very handy, light and inexpensive. The fan is round in shape and the handle is designed to look like a peacock neck with the beak clutching the fan. There is a stitching design joining the leaves of the fan.There is a border design all around the periphery of the fan resembling the stitching the borders with a design to prevent the leaves from damage during handling.The whole fan is so ingeniously designed to combine esthetics with functionality.

Antique hand-held fan showing a peacock holding the fan with its beak
Antique hand-held fan showing a peacock holding the fan with its beak
Antique hand-held fan showing a peacock holding the fan with its beak
Antique hand-held fan showing a peacock holding the fan with its beak

The History And Evolution Of The Fan

Man is always in constant search of comfort and happiness. He has devised tools and implements that give him the desired level of comfort and a sense of feeling good. Man has developed ingenious methods to counter the vagaries of nature that make him uncomfortable and developed ways and means to be cozy and comfy.

He invented the primitive umbrella to protect himself from rain and covered himself with animal skin and cloth made out of plant material. To ward off oppressive heat and sultry weather, the primitive man made hand-held fans with dried leaves to create air movement around him to get relief from his discomfort. The very origin of primitive fans most likely was to hasten up the burning of fire and also to chase away the insects that disturbed the man and eventually acquired a prestigious place. For ages, long handled hefty fans were ritualistic symbols of supremacy, the privilege of Kings, Pharaohs and Priests. Even in present times, fans of this magnitude are ceremonially carried in formal religious processions.

The humble primitive fans have taken a different avatars as man improvised different verities with different materials as civilization progressed. He started making fans with feathers, ostrich plumes, ,bamboo, cane, palm leaves, roots, silk and cotton cloth, ivory, wood , fine metals and with as fragile as a butterfly`s wings. To enhance his comfort level, he developed larger fans that can be held and swung by other individuals like his servants and slaves. He also developed remote fanning device like Pankha that can be fixed above him and can be pulled by a rope held by a person sitting in a remote place. With the invention of electricity, man used this wonder power to create the present electric fan that provides him air by pressing a button. The simple fan has taken a very colorful journey through out the growth of civilization by serving the need of a common man to, nobles, kings, queens and gods as well. It became part of religious rituals and a mark of social status symbol.

A hand-held fan made out of fragrant roots called VattiVeru resembling the design of the antique brass hand-held fan
A hand-held fan made out of fragrant roots called VattiVeru resembling the design of the antique brass hand-held fan
Hand –held brass fan showing the design joining the leaves and boarder design around the edge of the fan
Hand –held brass fan showing the design joining the leaves and boarder design around the edge of the fan

Hand Held Fans – My Childhood Memories

 It is considered as a good deed if you gift to someone a fan during the summer seasons of India. In my village Someswaram, Andhra Pradesh, India, Sri Rama Navami, the birth day of Lord Rama is celebrated in great devotion. Normally, this festival falls in the summer months of April or May. As a boy, I used to attend this festival being celebrated in our village temple without fail since I used to get a palm leaf fan and a mango fruit free.

In our area, it is a strong belief that if any one gifts a fan and a mango fruit during the summer season they acquire lot of divine blessings. Imagine someone doing that now in this modern age. Picture yourself walking up to your friend or relative and gifting them a fan and one single mango fruit? How do you think they would react?

Anyways, getting back to the past, sometimes we used to get two or three fans also if there are more than one donor.We never had electricity in our house and the only source of getting some air is by these palm leaf fans.It is a regular even practice in our home that preparation of bed for the night include a leaf fan next to the pillow. We used to do self-fanning with our hands alternately till the fan automatically dropped out once sleep set in.

Truly Multi-Purpose!

This fan has a multi-purpose use. My mother used to use these fans for airing the charcoal stove to get the required flame for cooking food. My grandfather used these fans to chase away the flies during his mid-day mango feasting session.My grandfather was a mango lover and during the season he used to eat 10 to 12 fruits daily during the afternoons after soaking the mangoes in a large brass vessel for an hour to cool them and wash them before eating.

Hand-held Fans In Religious Ceremonies

One of the devotional services rendered during Pooja ceremony to the Gods is Vinjamaramseva. Vinjamaramin Sanskrit means fan. After the Abhishekam (ceremonial bath), Harati (ceremonial camphor flame circled around the god) and Naivedyam(offering of food to the gods), Vinjamaramseva (fanning the god) is done in a traditional pooja.

It is written in Aagamasastra (the scriptures that describe the religious pooja ceremony) how to do a traditional pooja ceremony to different Gods and Goddesses.One of the most important rituals is to wave the fan in front of the God to circulate air around him.This is done in two ways:

the hand-held fans generally made out of wood or bamboo covered with silk cloth with frills around it

(or)

With onemade out of metals like brass,silver and gold or with peacock feathers.

Chamaram- The fan made out of the tail hair of the Yak
Chamaram- The fan made out of the tail hair of the Yak

.

Picture showing chamaram being waved in front of the deity at the ceremonial Pooja time
Picture showing chamaram being waved in front of the deity at the ceremonial Pooja time

There is another type of fan called as chamaram, made out of the hair from the tail of a yak. Chamaram is of a different shape.One end of the Yak hair is inserted into a handle made out of a metal.The other end of the hair is spread out loose.These types of fans are used in the religious Pooja ceremonies of Hindu, Buddhist and Jain temples as well.

The Yak tail hair is considered as sacred.The Yak is an animal belonging to cattle family with long hair found in the Himalayan region of southern part of the central Asia,Tibet, Mongolia and as north as Russia.

Pankha – A Hand Operated Hanging Fan

 

Pankha is a hanging fan invented by Britishers during their British rule in India to have a constant supply of air to get relief from the oppressive heat in India. Pankha is made in a rectangular shape with a combination of wood and cloth, with or without frills, hung to a ceiling with ropes and pulleys and pulled with a rope to create fanning movement. The pankhas subsequently became a common sight in royal and aristocratic families,in the offices of the Britishers and high ranking officers. The rope is pulled by a rope-puller who sits outside the pankha room and pulls the rope repeatedly in a front and back motion. During the British rule, there was a permanent post called “Pankha Puller”and the person holding that job was a proper government employee in many offices. You must have seen something similar in old Hindi and Telugu movies.

Picture showing the Pankha hanging from the roof of the room with ropes and pulleys in a vintage house
Picture showing the Pankha hanging from the roof of the room with ropes and pulleys in a vintage house

I had this wonderful experience of seeing a Pankha being pulled by a peon in a judicial court. I  completed my class 7(seventh standard, then known as 2nd form) in a town called Peddapuram in Andhra Pradesh in the year 1953 staying in the house of my maternal uncle Shri. Rajapantulu. My uncle used to work for a lawyer and he used to be in the court during the court timings between10.00 AM to 5.00 PM.

If I had to see him for any purpose, I used to go to the court. The court was a huge British type of building with high ceiling and there used to be a Pankha on the ceiling above the place where the judge sits.There used to be apankha puller, an old man with official peon uniform which consisted of a turban, white trouser or dhoti and a white closed neck top, a cotton belt around his waist and a wide cotton belt across his chest resting on his left shoulder and draping on to the right side of the waist holding a brass rectangular plate that is inscribed with the name of his office.

Certain Interesting FactsAbout Hand-held Fans

 – Christopher Columbus brought a feather fan,among other items from newly discovered America and gifted it to Queen Elizabeth.

 – There is a museum dedicated to fans in 12 Crooms Hill, Greenwich,London SE10 8ER..

 -Even in present times,fans of large size are ceremonially carried in Christian papal processions.

So that’s the story of the fan that I acquired. If you have any memories of using one or seeing one used in the days back then, do share your experience or memory of it. Would love to hear from you.

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Antique Brass Pedestal Bowl

 

This is a beautiful brass bowl with a pedestal. Anything sacred is always kept on a pedestal. The statues of Gods, Goddesses, the sacred Kalasam are mounted on a pedestal because they are of ritualistic importance and should not be placed on the ground according to Hindu tradition. The Radukalu (divine sandals representing the feet of gods and goddesses) are always mounted on hollow Indian crown shaped pedestal called Satagopam also called Satagopuram .Likewise, sacred items that are to be offered to gods like flowers, fruits, chandanam (sandalwood paste) and other offering will also be kept in a bowl with a pedestal or a stand. I have collected this exquisitely crafted pedestal bowl that is used in temples for keeping flower and fruit offerings to the god. I have also seen such pedestal bowls are also used to keep Sankham (conch) that is used for doing Abhishekam (ritual water bath) to the deity.

 

Antique Brass Pedestal Bowl – front view

 

Antique Brass Pedestal Bowl – an angle view

 

Antique Brass Pedestal Bowl-top view

 

Shape of Pedestal with round base, ring like grip holder and long cup

 

The Design of the Brass Pedestal Bowl:

 

This bowl sits on a five inch tall pedestal .The pedestal is in three sections. The base section is round with a diameter of 2.7 inches. The middle section of the pedestal is a ring like projection that serves as a grip holder. The top section has a long cup like design on which the bowl sits. The diameter of the bowl is eight inches. The bottom of the bowl is flat like a plate and the walls of the bowl rise from the plate with two steps. The entire bowl is intricately and wonderfully hand carved with immense aesthetic appeal giving a visual treat. There are 40 conical shaped projections all around the rim of the bowl which gives wavy design to the rim of the bowl. The bowl with the pedestal is made with high quality of brass and when it is polished it shines.

 

Antique Brass Pedestal Bowl – bottom view

 

Antique Brass Pedestal Bowl-upside down view

 

Antique Brass Pedestal Bowl- appreciate the intricate design inside the bowl

 

How I got this enchanting antique piece

I have acquired this superb bowl from an antique dealer in Chennai near Kapaleswara temple in Mylapore area in the year 1970. So it is with me since 43 years. I do not know since how long this piece was with the antique dealer and how long it was in use with the temple. There were thick patina marks on the bowl with pedestal and I have cleaned the major part. Still there are beautiful patina marks underneath the bowl which could not be cleaned. These patina marks are one indication of the antiquity of the bowl which is estimated around 100 years old.

Notice the nice patina marks under the bowl and inscription in Tamil

 

 

Admire the 40 conical shape projections all around the rim of the bowl

 

 

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Brass Temple Umbrella Kalasam

Kalasam is the most sacred symbol of Hindu religion. All Hindu religious rituals start first with kalasa pooja. It is considered as Sarva Devata Roopam (image of all Gods), Sarva Veda Roopam (image of all vedas ) and Sarva Divya Nadee Roopam (image of all sacred rivers). Because of its sacred nature, kalasam is invariably found on the top of temples, temple towers, temple chariots, and on temple umbrellas. The kalasams are made with brass and some of them are coated with gold. I have collected a magnificent temple umbrella kalasam and I am happy to introduce this sacred artifact to you.

Kalasam
Temple umbrella brass kalasam – Front view

The significance of Kalasam in Hindu religious rituals:

Firstly, we will talk about how to make a kalasam. Take a copper or silver pot of medium size and fill water till half. Decorate the pot with sandalwood paste, haldi (turmeric) and kumkum and place few mango leaves around the mouth of the pot in such a way that the stem portion of the leaves are in the pot and the other half is above the rim of the pot. Now take a coconut with the fibre handle and decorate the same with sandalwood paste, haldi and kumkum. Place the coconut in inverted position on the opening of the pot with the fibre handle facing upwards. Now the kalasam is ready.  The kalasam has to be sanctified by inviting the Gods, Goddesses, Vedas, and the holy waters from the oceans and Bhoodevi by chanting the following mantra. While reciting the mantra, keep the right hand on the top of the kalasam.

”Kalasasya Mukhey Vishnu, Kantey Rudra Samaasritaah,

Mooleytatra Sthitho Brahma, Madhyou Maatru Ganaasshritaa.

Kukshoutu Saagaraa Sarrvey, Sapta Dweepaa Vasundharaa,

Rugvedodha Yajurve Ydassaamaved Ohyadharvanah.”

By reciting this mantra we do ‘Aavahanam,‘ that is inviting the following Gods and the holy creations of God to come and occupy their positions in the pot to make it sacred.

We invite Lord Vishnu to the mukha or opening of the pot, Rudra to the neck, Brahma to the base, all matruganas (Goddesses) to the center, all oceans, seven dweepas (continents) and the entire earth, and all four Vedas to the belly of the kalasam.

Now we do Aavahanam, that is invite all sacred rivers to the kalasam by reciting the following mantra.

”Gangeycha Yamunneychaiva Godaavari Saraswati,

Narmadaa Sindhu Kaaveyri Jaley Asmin Sannidhim Kuru”

Now all the sacred rivers, Ganga, Yamuna, Godavari, Saraswati, Narmada, Sindhu and Kavery have been invited and settled in the kalasam.

Now the kalasam is the personification of sarva devatas (all Gods), sarva divyanadee (all sacred rivers) and Sarva vedam (all vedas). It now becomes sacred. Symbolic to this, kalasams are made with brass and are placed on the top of the temple umbrellas. One such brass umbrella kalasam is in my collection.

inverted coconut
Inverted coconut placed on the mango leaves of the kalasam pot.

 Temple Umbrella Kalasam Design

The kalasam has a beautiful shape and is hand made with brass sheet. It is designed basically in two parts. The bottom part is a round stepped pedestal that sits on the umbrella. The second part is the actual kalasam that has a pot decorated with eleven mango leaves around it. An inverted coconut sits at the opening of the pot with the conical fibre part on the top. Since the kalasam is sacred, it is kept on a pedestal. The entire kalasam is hollow so that the top end of the wooden pole of the umbrella can be inserted into it. There are two holes in the middle of the kalasam. These holes are meant to drive the screws to hold the kalasam securely to the umbrella pole. The kalasam on the top of the umbrella serves two purposes, first it covers the naked wooden pole that protrudes out of the upper part of the umbrella, and secondly, the holy kalasam brings divinity to the ordinary umbrella.

Schematic picture of the temple umbrella showing the pole,umbrella cloth cover with frills, and kalasam on the top of the umbrella.
Hole for screw
Picture showing the hole on the kalasam for fixing the screw to the umbrella pole

 

depicting inverted coconut
Kalasam without base depicting only the pot, mango leaves and inverted coconut

 

Full bottom view
Pedestal bottom view with hole for the post. The white light spot is the hole for fixing the screw

  

bottom view
Temple umbrella brass kalasam – Bottom view

 

Hole for screw
Picture showing the hole on the kalasam for fixing the screw to the umbrella pole

Measurements of the brass temple umbrella kalasam

The height of the kalasam from bottom to the top is 15 inches. The diameter of the base pedestal is 8.5 inches. The round top of the pedestal is 5 inches diameter. The protruding mango leaves are one inch long each.

kalasam top view
Temple umbrella brass kalasam – Showing protruding mango leaves

 Temple procession

It is a part of the ritual poojas to the Gods to take them out on a procession, seated on various vahanas (mounts) around the temple streets with royal regalia. The procession consists of the God/Goddess seated on the vahana which can be a palanquin, chariot or animal or bird vahanas carried by men. The Gods on the vahana are invariably covered by decorated large umbrellas held by archakas (priests). These umbrellas are mounted with a kalasam made out of brass on the top of the umbrellas.  There will be a leading procession in front of the God consisting of nadaswaram, drums, tableaus, traditional dances like kolatam, bhajans, garaga dances, puliveshalu, yakshagana characters. These colorful art forms and performances add life to the procession and make the procession vibrant. Thousands of devotees participate in the procession. Though there will be colourful electric lights, there must be the traditional oil kagada (torch) in the lead. The devotees participate with pomp, gaiety and spiritual fervour.

Procession
Temple umbrellas in a procession

 The Tradition of  Annual Tirupati Umbrella Procession in Chennai

An organisation called Tirupati Umbrella Charities and Hindu Dharmartha Samiti donates special umbrellas to Lord Venkateswara at Tirupati every year. Ten decorated umbrellas, two big and eight small, are taken on a procession in Chennai for two weeks and finally reach Tirupati on the day of Garuduseva during Brahmostavam of Lord Venkateswara. The umbrellas are used for the procession on Garudostavam (fifth day of Brahmostavam). The umbrella procession starts from Suncoovari house in George Town in Chennai and this house belongs to one of the founder members of the endowment. The distance from Chennai to Tirupati is 176 kilometres and this distance is covered by the procession in 14 days, stopping en-route at many places for devotees to offer worship to the umbrellas considered as Lord Venkateswara personified. The procession consists of 150 people. The procession stops at Tiruchanoor and two umbrellas are offered to Padmavathi Ammavaaru, the consort of Venkateswara Swamy. On reaching Tirupati, the umbrellas are received by the Devasthanam with due honour and they are paraded on the Garudaseva day.

Decorated umbrella
Decorated umbrella inside view in a temple procession

These umbrellas are specially made by the traditional experts. The handle is made with teak wood and the collapsible frame work of umbrella is made of cane. The covering cloth is made of pure silk. The wood work and the silk lace work are done in Chennai and the cane/bamboo work is done in Kanchipuram and the final assembly is done in Chennai. The umbrellas are massive and fine pieces of art work. All these umbrellas are fitted with brass kalasams.

Goldem chariot
Kalasam on the top of a golden temple chariot

 I purchased this beautiful item from an antique dealer in Chennai in the year 1968. Whenever I see this kalasam in my collection, images of great processions of temples with colourful umbrellas decked with kalasam on top pass through my mind. I drift to a spiritual state of mind where I see everything blissful, beautiful and celebration. I hope and wish you too experience the same feeling.