The comforting power of the Kashmiri Kangri (fire-pot)

There exists an everyday object used by people in Kashmir. Not very well known to the outside world, it is called the kanger or kangri, which is a traditional utensil (fire pot) and also regarded as a work of art. During the severe winter months in these relatively high altitudes, these objects keep people warm when temperatures dip to minus 20 degrees Celsius.

Ataullah Kiani/

Kashmiri men wearing a traditional pheran.

Kashmiri people wear a long woolen coat called a pheran, which falls down to their knees. During the cold winters, they keep a kangri, a small earthen pot filled with burning charcoal, in their pheran or blanket to keep themselves warm. They have been using it for a very long time as a convenient portable heater. Even in modern times, it is in high demand and is used in public and private offices during winters.

Kangri is an earthenware filled with glowing charcoal and carried as a portable heater. Making a kangri is not an easy task, as it requires skill, labor, and local expertise. The manufacturing process of a kangri involves two main steps. In the first step, twigs are collected from deciduous shrubs, scraped, peeled, and then soaked, dried, dyed, and finally woven around the ceramic bowl. The maximum length of the wicker used for making a kangri is typically 4-5 feet. The second step involves decoration, where the earthenware is ornamented with colorful threads and mirrors. The diameter of a kangri is usually about six inches.

There are everyday kangris and special ones like the Maharani (queen) kangri, which are used in festivals and ceremonies. These special kangris come in different colors and decorations, and they are highly valued.

A practical source of heat that follows you everywhere

The kangri is a practical source of heat that can be carried with you wherever you go. It is a stable symbol of local craft that is not only eco-friendly but also cost-effective. Kangris are cheaper than gas, oil, and wood-fired heaters, as they can be burned using only a mere 200 grams of charcoal, which costs between Rs. 70 to Rs. 1500 (approximately $2 to $20). The heat produced by the coals can reach up to around 66˚C and will burn for up to 10 hours. Kangris are an effective heating arrangement when electric warming appliances are not accessible. In harsh winters when there is no electricity due to load shedding, kangris do not disappoint the people of Kashmir.

An object with history

Looking back at the history of the kangri, it holds significant importance in the heritage and culture of Kashmir. While some believe that Kashmiris learned to use the kangri from Italians, others think that it was adapted from a similar utensil named the ‘scaldino’ during the Mughal Empire period. However, certain evidence suggests that the kangri was in use even earlier than 1526. Despite the theory of Italian influence, historical data suggests that the kangri was used during the time of Mughal Emperors.

A renowned Saint Sheikh Noor ud din Wali (1377-1440) acknowledged the deep connection between Kangri and Kashmiris. Among his possessions, the Kangri was one of the crafts he used throughout his entire life. The importance of the Kangri in Kashmiri culture is illustrated by the following comparison: “What Laila was to Majnun’s bosom (Legendary Lovers), so is the Kangri to a Kashmiri.”

Visitors to Kashmir during the winter may be surprised to see locals holding Kangris (fire pots) in their laps or hands for warmth, but all Kashmiri people know how to handle this apparatus with care. Kangris come in different sizes, with small ones for children and large ones for adults. Many Kashmiris fill a kangri with toh (chaff) or guh’ lobar (dry cow dung). While Kangris are made across the Kashmir Valley, artists in some areas specialize in specific Kangri-making.

The Maharani Kangri is specifically made for brides and is usually highly decorated with intricate designs and silver work. On the first day after marriage, a bride takes her specially ornamented kangri to her in-laws’ house. Although they are not very comfortable due to their size, the Maharani Kangri is highly regarded for its beauty and is used mainly as an ornamental piece.

Poetry has also been written in Kashmiri culture, praising the utility and comfort that the Kangri brings to the lives of those who use it. One verse that expresses the significance of the Kangri is as follows:

“Ai Kangri! Ai Kangri! 

Kurban tu Hour wu Peri! 

Chun dur bughul mi girimut, 

Durd az dil mi buree.”

Translation: “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.”

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5 years ago

Sure could use on out here. It’s cold as *+@** this winter!

5 years ago

Never heard of this. Really cool for those cold nights! But don’t you choke off the fumes?