Photo Essays | Society | South Asia

How Kashmir Keeps Warm

Kangdis are more than a way to survive a bitter winter; they are part of Kashmir’s cultural legacy.

By Sugato Mukherjee for
How Kashmir Keeps Warm

Showkat Hussain, 15, has a busy winter. His school remains closed for the better part of the winter and he makes the most of it by selling kangdis that his family makes in their village home in Budgam district near Srinagar.

Credit: Sugato Mukherjee
How Kashmir Keeps Warm

Abdur Rahman and his wife have been making kangdis for the last 50 years, since their marriage.

Credit: Sugato Mukherjee
How Kashmir Keeps Warm

The weaving of the wicker basket around the earthenware pot requires skillful techniques. A kangdi maker has a busy shift of 10 hours in winter, making up to eight kangdis in a day.

Credit: Sugato Mukherjee
How Kashmir Keeps Warm

A kangdi vendor with his wares on the snowladen backstreets of Srinagar.

Credit: Sugato Mukherjee
How Kashmir Keeps Warm

An old Kashmiri gentleman inspects the goods on offer before buying from the street vendor.

Credit: Sugato Mukherjee
How Kashmir Keeps Warm

The kangdi is the constant companion of the average Kashmiri, at work and at leisure.

Credit: Sugato Mukherjee
How Kashmir Keeps Warm

An old coppersmith in his shop in Srinagar. Traditionally, the kangdi is taken inside the feran (the Kashmiri dressing gown), which keeps the body warm with the slow, simmering heat.

Credit: Sugato Mukherjee
How Kashmir Keeps Warm

Three Kashmiri artisans at work with their kangdis close at hand.

Credit: Sugato Mukherjee
How Kashmir Keeps Warm

A boatman takes a break from rowing on the ice cold waters of Dal Lake and warms his hands on the kangdi.

Credit: Sugato Mukherjee
How Kashmir Keeps Warm

The earthen pots stacked in the backroom of a house. The seasonal demand for these warming pots goes up to quite a few thousands in the valley during the bitter winter months.

Credit: Sugato Mukherjee
How Kashmir Keeps Warm

A stack of kangdis on a downtown Srinagar street.

Credit: Sugato Mukherjee
How Kashmir Keeps Warm

A group of artisans at work inside a house that doubles as a kangdi factory in a village on the outskirts of Srinagar. Kangdi making is a cottage industry that provides employment during winter months.

Credit: Sugato Mukherjee
How Kashmir Keeps Warm

Mushtaq, a young kangdi seller in his shop in Pulwama district, inspects a ceremonial kangdi. Apart from its daily use as a warming pot, kangdis are also used in social ceremonies like marriages, where elaborately decorated kangdis form part of the bridal gift.

Credit: Sugato Mukherjee
How Kashmir Keeps Warm

In the bitter Kashmiri winter, the kangdi is an affordable source of heat and warmth for the people of the valley.

Credit: Sugato Mukherjee

The advent of a long, bleak winter in the valley of Kashmir often leaves everything at a standstill in the region. But thanks to a brilliant indigenous system of heating, a small, semi-spherical earthen pot enclosed with willow rushes, the people of Kashmir continue their normal life. This is the kangdi, Kashmir’s portable heating system. Priced at as low as $2, it ensures that even the poorest of the people can combat the sub-zero temperatures with this warming pot neatly tucked between the feran (the long woolen coat that is the ubiquitous dress of the average Kashmiri in winter months) and the body.

Kangdis were introduced during the Mughal rule in Kashmir and the technique of the meticulous mixture of coal and ash so as to keep it ignited throughout the day has been handed down the generations. Though modern heating appliances have been introduced in the valley, Kashmiris still prefer their local firepots. Kangdi making is one of the foremost cottage industries of Kashmir, giving employment to rural families in winter.

Apart from being a utility device, the kangdi has its rightful place in the cultural legacy of Kashmir and ornamental kangdis often form part of the bridal gift package. The Kashmiri proverb, “What Laila was to Majnun’s bosom , so is the kangdi to a Kashmiri,” sums up the relationship between a Kashmiri and the kangdi and its cultural importance.

Sugato Mukherjee is a photographer and writer based in Calcutta and his works have appeared in The Globe and MailAl JazeeraNational Geographic TravelerHarper Collins and Yale University Journal. His coffee table book on Ladakh has been published from Delhi in 2013. Some of his visuals and stories can be found at sugatomukherjee.com