Wandeh: The Kashmir Winter

In Kashmir, winter is just not a season or a celebration alone. It is a language too. MJ Aslam offers a text and context to some of the words used in winter

With the mercury on an uninterrupted nosedive, the winters have started showcasing their artworks. This photograph taken from Tangmarg marks the take-off of nature’s winter art. Be ready for Chila-i-Kalan. KL Image: Bilal Bahadur

Kashmir is blessed with four fascinating seasons. Sounth is the Kashmir spring, Reti’kol is the summer), the Harud is the autumn and Wandeh is the winter, a season currently ruling Kashmir.

Wandeh spreads over three months of Bikrami lunar calendar of Pouh, Magh and Phagun. The calendar was introduced in Kashmir during Sikh Rule (1819-1846). Wandeh Kol is the winter season, Wandeh gateh is the darkness caused by harsh winter weather and Wandeh-mass is a month of winter, which was later modified to Shishir-mass (also called Shushir-mass in certain parts of Kashmir periphery).

Under age-old Kashmiri tradition and calculation, the harshest part of Wandeh with the severest winter conditions is Chillai Kalan. It is a composite of two Persian words: Chilla and Kalan. Chilla is a modified form of the Persian word Chahal, which means forty. Kalan means old, big, bada. So, together the two words connote the forty days of Wandeh. Kalan is used in the sense of the harshness of the weather when icicles are formed from the sloping roofs, trees, water bodies are frozen and snow piles up very deep in some feet everywhere and the valley shivers.

The Tourists taking photos near icicles in north Kashmi’s Tangmarg area on 28 December 2018. Kashmir valley is witnessing intensified cold this winter. KL Image: Bilal Bahadur

Kath Kosh is a very common reference to a peculiar situation during the initial days of Kashmir winter when the dew solidifies into tiny white ice dust. It is the onset of frost.

However, Kashmir’s all celebrated Persian chronicles have used the term that depicts the severity of Chillai Kalan – when water freezes in containers and natural reservoirs. It is the season when a thin layer of ice, the Shishir Khiend is usually formed on milk in home containers or sheet ice, the Tul Katur is formed on roads, water bodies, and roofs.

The forty days of Chillai Kalan are followed first by Chillai Khurd of twenty days from ending December to February 20. Comparatively, these are less severe days of Wandeh. It paves way for the onset of  Chilli Bachha of the last ten days from February 20, to March 2. These are comparatively better days of winter as day and night temperature improves. Chilla explains the Persian origin as it is otherwise in use in Chilli Kadan, Chillus Bihun, Chillis Atchun.

These are common sights during winter when people assembly to have a bit of warmth. KL Image: Bilal Bahadur

The Frost

Another word associated with Wandeh is Shishur. It is related to the time when a massive fall in the temperature frees everything. It is a permanent feature regardless of wet or dry winter. When a white blanket of snow spreads everywhere and icicles are formed, water bodies and lakes are frozen, it is called Shishur  Lagun. The icicles are called Shishir-Gante, frozen knots. A huge mass of frozen snow is called Shisher Maen.

Shishur and Shishi-mass mean the cold season or cold weather (lasting two months, January 15 to March, 15). Shishir-mass is “a month of the cold season”. Shishur and its related phrasal nouns and verbs are believed to have been inducted into the Kashmiri dictionary by Late Pandit Isvara Koula in the early twentieth century and  it was later used by the Jammu and Kashmir Academy of Culture and Languages in their publications.

Icicles hang from the roof of a building on January 14, 2020. KL Image by Bilal Bahadur

Shishur, Koula has recorded has been derived from the Sanskrit word Sisira, which means cool, chilly, (teir in Kashmiri) frigid, freezing, hoar-frost, cold weathers and “the cool or dewy season (comprising two months, Magha and Phalguna, or from about the middle of January to that of March)”. And, Sanskrit, Sisiri-massa, means “cool month” and  “beauty of cool season” of the cited three months. So Shishir-mass, according to Koula is a modified form of Sanskrit Sisiri-massa.

The Kashmiri Brahmans had an old tradition of giving presents to their newly married bride (daughter), which was called Shishir-Boug in the winter seasons. An amulet was tied on the occasion of a winter festival among them, which was called Shishir-Gor. It was like a water chestnut filled with mustard oil and other ingredients. Nobody knows if the tradition exists or has faded away.

Shishur Mass, however, is at variance with common Kashmiri terminology of the harshest part of Wandeh, the 40 days of Chillai Kalan, which has Persian origins. Persian has remained Kashmir’s court language for more than six hundred years.

Teir-e-Kokur

There are a lot of words that describe particular winter situations. One who “feels cold severely in winter and cowers and is pinched like a fowl in winter frost” is nicknamed Teir i Kokur.

So, blessed were and are the Kashmiri traditions, all those things that provide warmth, which included even ragged garments, the Jandeh, in the past and presently the woollen clothes and blankets and Pheran are all most cherished things during winter in Kashmir.

A domesticated cat warms herself near a traditional Kangri (fire pot) in Srinagar. File Photo: Malik Kaisar

By the way, how can one forget Kangri, which is the winter darling of every Kashmiri? When Kashmiris place Kangris under their Pherans, it gives them a feel of Beabeh Nar, fire in their bosom. In good old fairy tales, it is referred to as Laila to the Majnoon in a lonely Nishde-Wanh.

Beabh is a peculiar Kashmir word that is slightly more than what the lap is all about. When a child is taken inside the bosom of Pheran, Tchadar or Kamal for warmth or consolation, the process is called Beabhi Hyon. There are a lot of Kashmir words and idioms that explain the Beabh Nar: Beabhi Nar Gov Lukchar, which means childhood is without care. At the same time, it has another meaning. One Kashmiri idiom is Beabhi Nar Lalwun, which means a fire in the bosom that smoulders throughout. It is a reference to perpetual sadness, grief, unhappiness or loss.

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