A kanger (Kashmiri: कांगर (Devanagari), کانگر (Nastaleeq); also known as kangri or kangar or kangir) is a pot filled with hot embers used by Kashmiris beneath their traditional clothing to keep the chill at bay, which is also regarded as a work of art. It is normally kept inside the Phiran (Overcoat type garment), the Kashmiri cloak, or inside a blanket. If a person is wearing a jacket, it may be used as a hand warmer. It is about 6 inches (150 mm) in diameter and reaches a temperature of about 150 °F (66 °C).
After the earthen pots are moulded, these are sold to the artisans who complete the wickerwork around them, erect two arms to handle the pot, and colour it to give an aesthetically delicate shape. The final product then goes to the market.
It is generally believed that Kashmiris learnt the use of the kangri from the Italians who were in the retinue of the Mughal emperors, and usually visited the Valley during summer. In Italy (where a similar device was known as a scaldino) and Spain, braziers were made in a great variety of shapes and were profusely ornamented. Historical data, however, contradicts the claim that kangri came to Kashmir from Italy, but it is known that it was used in the time of the Mughal Empire. Those visiting Kashmir for the first time during the winter season are surprised to find people carrying firepots in their hands or in their laps but every Kashmiri knows how to handle the apparatus with care.
Kashmiri Pandits burn kangri on the occasion of a local festival called Teela Aetham, marking the end of winter season. Isband (Peganum harmala), aromatic seeds believed to push away negative energies, are burnt in a kanger to mark a good beginning to a party.
This Kashmiri proverb, "what Laila was on Majnun’s bosom (Legendary Lovers), so is the Kanger to a Kashmiri", sums up the relationship between a Kashmiri and the Kanger and its cultural importance, which is also shown by this verse:
- Ai kangri! ai kangri!
- Kurban tu Hour wu Peri!
- Chun dur bughul mi girimut
- Durd az dil mi buree.
- (Oh, kangri! oh, kangri!
- You are the gift of Houris and Fairies;
- When I take you under my arm
- You drive fear from my heart.)
Regular use of the kanger can cause a specific skin cancer known as kangri cancer. This effect was first studied by W. J. Elmslie in 1866 and was thought to be caused by burns, but it is now thought to be the result of a carcinogenic distillation product of woodcoal.[contradictory]
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