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Upender Ambardar , The heritage tea brewer of Kashmir "Daily Excelsior" 22/10/2017
Samavar – the monarch tea breweris perhaps the mostdistinguishabletraditional utensil of Kashmir and is deeply rooted in the socio-cultural ambiance of the valley. Enjoying enormous popularity, it is indispensable and central to every day Kashmiri life with the tea prepared in it being an inseparable part of the warm-hearted Kashmiri hospitality. Its overarching standing in Kashmiri culture has remained undisputed and unchallenged over the years despite the inflow of numerous contemporary appliances of similar nature in the market.
Samavar – Socio-cultural Significance
Samavar has carved out a proverbial niche for itself amongst the Kashmiri tea connoisseurs and steals the limelight at our every socio-cultural function. Its arrival and presence imparts an intimate touch of social warmth and cheer to every festive occasion. It also serves a deep societal purpose as it provides contextual relevance to our native conventions and time tested traditions. Its predominant presenceis seen daily at breakfast and evening times in every Kashmiri household even now. Tea time is a wonderful family custom of Kashmir handed down to posterity by practice when all the family members assemble around the legendary Samavar to enjoy sizzling Kahwa cups. People relish endless chats, gossips and unconstrained talks over countless cups of tea prepared in it. Samavar by its utility also promotes family togetherness, emotional closeness and social cohesion.
The Journey of Samavar
Samavar was introduced in Kashmir as an outcome of the Kashmiri association with the age old trade routes in the medieval times. The name Samavar is derived from the Russian word -‘Samover’and translates to ‘self-boiler’ or ‘self-brew’ in english.The innovative remodelling and improvisation that the Russian Samover received at the hands of Kashmiri artisans has resulted in the emergence of its exotic design and form.
Samavarenjoys cross-border acceptance andacknowledgement as it is closely linked with many cultures across the borders. Apart from Kashmir, it enjoys phenomenal popularity in Russia, Turkey, Iran, Azerbaijan, Central Europe, South-east Europe, Africa, Morocco and the Middle east through its resembling counterparts. The lookalike utensil has diverse shapes, designs and outlines varying from place to place and may be cylindrical, spherical or barrelled in appearance and made from either plain iron, copper, polished brass (an alloy of copper and zinc) orbronze. The RussianSamover comprises of the main body, base, central chimney, faucet, cover, handle, crown ring and the steam vent key. The traditional Samover of earlier times used coal and charcoalfor heating and brewing purpose while the present day ones are driven by electricity.
From Russia, the Samover made its entry into Iran about two centuries back as’Samevar’ in the Persian language.The Iranian Samevar’employsPersian art motifs in its designs and outlines. The city of Borujerd located in Iran is one of the prime centres of its production where they are mostly handmade. Likewise, its lookalike kin, the Turkish Samovar is a metal container traditionally used to heat water and brew tea.
Samavar- a specimen of Kashmiri craftsmanship
The Samovar is an all-time favourite domestic utensil in the entire valley of Kashmir. It is one of the finest examples of the splendid art or craftsmanship and is known for its superb quality and distinct design. There are essentially two types of Kashmiri Samavars, the Qandhkari Samavarsand the plain Samovars. The Qandhkari Samavars are made from copper and are exclusively used by the Muslims. In contrast, the plain Samavars are crafted from brass and are used by the Kashmiri Pandits. However, the stylish handles of both the types are made from brass.In earlier times, another type of Samavar was in vogue among the Kashmiri Pandits. It was known as the PanjaebSamavar. Unlike the usual Samavars, it was uniformly globular in shape right from the crest to the base with a latticed lower part.
The QandhkariSamavar has its entire outer surface carved with intricate floral andChinar leaf motifs or geometric designs. Both its outer and inner surfaces are nickle plated, which is locally known as ‘Kalai’. In contrast, the plain Samavar is devoid of any design. Only its inner side is nickle plated which gives the surface a smooth finish and shine. The size of aSamavar depends upon its capacity to hold the number of tea cups. The Samavarused by the Muslims is usually bigger in size as compared to the one used by Kashmiri Pandits. It is sold by weight and its costis related to its water holding capacity and size. The artisan who crafts the Samavar is known as ‘Thanthur’ in local parlance, whereas the designer who creates decorative carvings and patterns on its outer side is called ‘Naqash’. In Srinagar, the biggest and the most reputed market of its production is located at Gadde Bazar, ZainaKadal, in downtown Srinagar. In addition to it, the spring town of Mattanin Anantnag, the village Nehama in Pulwama district and the hamlet of Wanmpora in central district of Budgam are known for their high grade and outstanding quality of Samavars. The handmade peg bottomed bronze tea cups, locally called as ‘KenzKhose’made at these places are prized for their high quality.
Samavar – Preserving our culture
The heritage tea brewer-Samavar has also made its entry into the folkloric narrative of Kashmir. It figures both in the riddles and the famed folk form of singing – Wanwun. The riddlesassociated with Samavar run as “AendAendAab, Munjbagh Naer” which means “having water outside with the blaze in the middle” and “Su kusjanawar chu yaskaluspaethnaervuhaantaetountae kin travaanruth” which means “the animal that has an inflamed glowat the crest with its sprout pouring out reddish fluid”.
The Samavar is also praised in the traditional Wanwun singing at Kashmiri wedding functions. Some of the songs that find a mention of it are:
“Samavarusteungultreav, vahvahmaamtouthaiaev” which means “put embers in the Samavar and keep it ready to welcome the esteemed maternal uncle”
“Aalaetaebadamtraav Samavarus vuchSumcharusguilphoulnai” which means “put cardamom and almonds in the Samavar; it will heighten the bond of nearness”
“Roupsundhkhoustae ssouna Samavarae, vuch chai kyamazadaar” which means “Have tea from the Silver crafted khousand golden Samavar and enjoy the unique flavour”
Kashmiris irrespective of their religious affiliation continue to have an unshakeable allegiance with the Samavar. The fast paced lifestyle and the advent of modernization has neither diminished its stature nor lessened its relevance. The Kashmiri Pandits have unquestionable adoration for this priceless possession that reminds them of their socio cultural roots in the valley. They have unwaveringly stayed loyal to it even in their time of exile. It continues to be the hallmark utensil at their socio-cultural functions as its presence till today amplifies the festive cheer. Needless to say, that it is imperative upon us to preserve this rich legacy of the Samavar so that it is not relegated to obscurity and lost in the pages of history.