A 19th century Kashmiri Samovar, from the Central Asian Museum (Leh).

Photograph submitted by
Deepank Ranka
What is This?
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A Samovar (Samavár in Kashmiri) is a traditional Kashmiri kettle, used to brew and serve Kahwa and salted tea (noon-chai). The Kahwa is an integral part of Kashmiri hospitality and is commonly offered to guests as a welcoming gesture. The Samovar thus, is an object of cultural significance. There is hardly a home in Kashmir that does not possess one.

Kashmiri samovars are made of copper with engraved or embossed calligraphic motifs. The copper container has a central chamber for holding burning charcoal or hot coals. The top of the samovar has a smaller container for tea leaves, spices, and water, which is heated by the charcoal below.

The history and origin of the Samovar

The word “samovar” has Persian origins, and means “self-boiler” or “self-heater” in Persian. The origins of the Samovar, though are shrouded in mystery. The V&A describes it as a Russian invention, hinting that the design likely made its way to the region through cultural exchanges and trade connections with Persia and Russian Central Asia.

A catalogue of the 1903 Delhi exhibition where Samovars were exhibited as a fine example of Kashmiri craft, points to a Tartar influence. John Lockwood Kipling, wrote for the catalogue:

“The samovar in several shapes is one of the most popular articles of native use. Though purchased in Kashmir, there can be no doubt of their Tartar origin. The influence of Turki art on India and Persia is demonstrated by the researches of Russian enquirers.”

Interestingly, Nun chai came to Kashmir from Yarkand, in Turkestan, now in China.

Making a Samovar : Copper craft in Kashmir

Kashmir is globally renowned for its rich craftsmanship – from carpets and shawls to copperware (kandkari work).  It is believed that the Sufi saint and scholar Mir Syed Ali Hamdani played a pivotal role in introducing the craft of Copper (locally known as Traam) in the region. He invited skilled craftsmen from Persia and neighbouring regions to train local residents in crafting decorative copper items.

Samovars, beyond their functional use are also pieces of art. They are embellished with stylized motifs like the badam (almonds), mihrab (arch), and the chinar leaf with an intertwining vine.

Several artisans are involved in the process of making of a copper (or brass) item like the Samovar. Each artisan specializes in an aspect of the production process – the blacksmith, the Naqash (engraver), the Zarcod (gilder), the Roshangar (who polishes it) and the Charakgar (final touches / cleaning).

Here’s a photo of another mid 19th century Kashmiri copper Samovar in the collection of the V&A

Samovar VA

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References

1. Indian art at Delhi, 1903; Official Catalogue 1902-3 2. Arts and Crafts, Jammu and Kashmir Land, People, Culture by D. N. Saraf 1987 3. Handmade in India by M.P Ranjan and Aditi Ranjan