Razai (Hindustani: रज़ाई or رزائی, ruh-zaa-ee) is a bedquilt used in Afghanistan, Iran, Pakistan, North India and Nepal. It is a type of bedding similar to a duvet or comforter. Razais usually have a cotton, silk or velvet cover which is stuffed with cotton wool. They can provide a great deal of warmth even in the very cold weather that can occur in these regions, primarily due to the insulating effects of the large amount of air trapped in the cotton wool.
The cotton wool in a razai clumps over time, thinning the razai and driving the air out, which causes the razai to become less effective as a protection against the cold. For this reason, prior to the onset of winter weather, it is common for families to get their razais carded: the cotton wool in the razai is removed, carded to eliminate the clumping, and reinserted into the razai-cover. This is done by razai-carders (called dhuniyas or dhunnas, see the Australian English term for duvet, "doona") who are professionally adept and seasonally employed in this activity. The bowed carding instrument, called the dhunki, has a distinctive twang when it is in use or its string is plucked. This twang is a common daytime sound in rural areas in the autumn, and is sometimes used as a cultural reference to the onset of winter in local literature and movies.
There are many businesses that have set up to sell quilts. The quilt market is big, yet culture and local customs has evolved to make a quilt into international business opportunity.
- Theodore Leighton Pennell (1912), Things seen in northern India, Dutton, "... The other article which travellers are recommended to purchase in India is a native quilt, or "razai." This is a cotton or silk cover stuffed with cotton-wool ..."
- Murray's handbook, India, Burma & Ceylon, John Murray, 1924, "... which in North India may sometimes be bitterly cold. The minimum equipment is a pillow and two cotton-wadded quilts (razais), one to sleep on, and one, which should be larger, as a coverlet ..."
- Nigel B. Hankin (1994), Hanklyn-Janklin, or, A stranger's rumble-tumble guide to some words, customs and quiddities Indian and Indo-British, Banyan Books, "... Each autumn the razai is unquilted and the cotton carded and fluffed ..."
- Henry Balfour (1899), The natural history of the musical bow, Clarendon, "... the itinerant cotton-cleaner, dhuniya. as he goes his rounds along the streets, constantly twangs the tightly stretched string of his huge cotton-cleaning bow, dhunki, which gives out a musical note serving in lieu of a street call ..."
- The Eastern anthropologist, Volume 13, Ethnographic and Folk-Culture Society (Lucknow, India), 1959, "... The profession of cotton carding is mainly seasonal ; a Dhuniya is usually employed in his specific occupation just ... During the major part of the year a Dhuniya earns his living by other means ..."
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