• Tue. Dec 6th, 2022

Chillai Kalan- Interesting facts

Chillai Kalan or Chillia Kalan (Kashmiri pronunciation: [t͡ʃilaj kalaːn] , Translation : forty days of intense cold) is the local name given to 40 day period of harsh winter in Kashmir. It is the coldest part of winter, starting from 21 December to January 29 every year. Chillai-Kalan is followed by 20-day long Chillai Khurd (Kashmiri pronunciation: [t͡ʃilaj kʰɔrɨd] , Translation : small cold) that occurs between January 30 and February 18 and a 10-days long Chillai Bachha (Kashmiri pronunciation: [t͡ʃilɨ bat͡ʃi] , Translation : baby cold) which is from February 19 to February 28.

During this 40 day period in Kashmir, nights are chilly and day temperatures thrive in single digits. During Chillai-Kalan, the weather in valley of Kashmir continues to remain cold with minimum temperatures hovering below the freezing point. The snow that falls during this time period freezes and lasts longer. It is this snow that adds to the glaciers of the Valley and replenishes the perennial reservoirs that feed the rivers, streams and lakes in Kashmir during the months of summer. Any snowfall after the chillai kalan does not last long.

Chillai Kalan affects the daily life of Kashmiris. Use of Pheran (Kashmiri dress) and a traditional firing pot called Kanger increases. Due to subzero temperatures, tap water pipelines freeze partially during this period and the Dal Lake also freezes. Tourist resorts like Sonamarg and Gulmarg receive heavy snow.

Chillai Kalan is the most severe part of the winter in Kashmir consisting of three months. It is divided into three parts called the Chilas: The Chillai Kalan, the Chillai Khurd, and the Challai Bache.

Chillai-Kalan is the 40-day period of harsh winter. Chillai-Kalan begins from December 21 and ends on January 31, next year. Chillai-Kalan is followed by a 20-day long Chillai-Khurd (small cold) that occurs between January 31 and February 19 and a 10-day long Chillai-Bachha (baby cold) which is from February 20 to March 2.

Chillai Kalan is a Persian word that in literal sense means “major cold”. December 21 marks the beginning of Chillai Kalan every year and thus, begins the period of harsh cold and continues till January 31. In this 40-day period, nights are chilly and day temperatures thrive in single digits. Historically, during this period, Kashmiris stay indoors surviving on dried preserved food and enjoying folklore and traditional music.

During Chillai-Kalan, the weather in Kashmir valley continues to remain dry and cold with minimum temperatures hovering below the freezing point. The snow during this 40-day period freezes and lasts longer. It is this snow that adds to the glaciers of the Valley and replenishes the perennial reservoirs that feed the rivers, streams and lakes in Kashmir during the months of summer. Any snowfall after the chillai kalan does not last long.

In the past, many families would prepare ‘Shabdeg’ on the first day of ‘Chillai Kalan’. A fat duck would be cooked with turnips and spices in an earthen vessel during the night intervening December 20-21.

Since many years, there has been more snowfall and cold during chillai khurd and chillai bachcha than during chillai kalan.The discomfort of cold is exacerbated by the erratic supply of power.

Every year, residents cover their windows with plastic to prevent the cold air from seeping in during the peak winter. While kangerees become indispensable for most residents of Kashmir, the well-to-do huddle together in hamams – rooms with limestone floors that are warmed by burning firewood in a hearth. Others spend long hours in mosques even after prayers, as the hamams there provide a warm backdrop against which Valley residents socialise.

Every year, when winter sets in, weatherman Sonam Lotus acquires the status of a minor celebrity. Residents of the Valley anxiously wait for updates from the head of the state’s meteorological department before stepping out of their homes.

Traditionally, Kashmiris used to dry vegetables like tomatoes, turnips, brinjals and gourd during summers to be used during winters when the Valley would remain cut off from the rest of the country. The tradition continues in remote and far flung areas of the Valley. However, with the Jammu-Srinagar National Highway becoming almost an all-weather road, fresh vegetables are available in the market throughout the year and the tradition of drying vegetables is no more seen in cities and towns of the Valley. Dried fish, popularly known as Hokh Gard in Kashmiri, is, however, still used as a delicacy during the winter.

Key Points

  • It is the harshest winter period in Kashmir starting from 21st December to 29th January every year.
  • Chillai Kalan is a Persian term that means ‘major cold’.
  • Chillai-Kalan is followed by a 20-day long Chillai Khurd (small cold) that occurs between January 30 and February 18 and a 10-days long Chillai Bachha (baby cold) which is from February 19 to February 28.
  • The 40-day period brings a lot of hardships for Kashmiris as the temperature drops considerably leading to the freezing of water bodies, including the famous Dal Lake here.
  • During these 40 days, the chances of snowfall are the highest and the maximum temperature drops considerably. The minimum temperature in the Valley hovers below the freezing point.

Impact on Daily Life of Kashmiris:

  • Use of Pheran (Kashmiri dress) and a traditional firing pot called Kanger increases.
  • Due to subzero temperature, tap water pipelines freeze partially during this period and world-famous Dal Lake also freezes.
  • Kashmiris celebrate with sumptuous Harissa, a dish made of lean mutton mixed with rice and flavoured with spices like fennel, cardamom, clove and salt.
  • Besides, they frequently consume dried vegetables as there is shortage of fresh supplies due to blocking of roads following heavy snowfall.

What Kashmiris do in Chillai Kalan?

Wear Pharan
Kashmiris put on traditional pharan (Long woolen gown both for males and females) to protect from cold. Though modern day down jackets are available but Pharan seems to be affordable and more reliable in harsh winters

Light Kanger
Kanger – a traditional earthen firepot – is used to keep warm and ward off freezing intense cold. Despite having different avenues of heating, Kanger in which coal is used is most reliable. It keeps a person warm for a day. The coal is replaced every morning.

Kanger and Paharen go together. Either of the two is useless without each other

Eat Dry vegetables

Dried vegetables are frequently consumed by Kashmiris as most of the time fresh supplies go scarce due to blocking of roads after heavy snowfall. The agricultural land also remains under snow.

Waer

Red tinged paste of mixed spices: Mothers would usually make paste of mixture of spices and keep it preserved. This mixture is primarily used in preparing the dried vegetables and making them mouthwatering

Aanchar

Kashmirs are fond of pickles mostly made of home grown vegetables with Nadru (lotus stem). It is an essential part of meals during Chillai Kalan. The pickles are prepared after a laborious and painstaking preparation for a few days and then kept dumped underground for over a month to enhance its taste. The pickles were stored in clay cookware. During harsh winter months it is extensively used.

Harissa

Celebrating Chillai Kalan with sumptuous Harissa is a quintessential part of Kashmiri tradition.
Harrisaa is prepared from minced meat mixed with rice flour. The mutton is kept in an earthen oven overnight so that the flavors drown in.

Hamam

People spend most of the time in Hamaam or central heating room in which floor was made of limestone on hollow base. The stones are supported with concrete pillars. The hollow space underneath is used to light the wood to make stone slab warm.
In the past, Hamaam used to be only in Masjids and locals would spend most of the time there. Now-a-days many homes also have Hamaam as an alternative to the modern central heating system.

Cricket on frozen Lakes

In the past, due to more harsh winters and comparatively more snowfall which would accumulate up-to few feet in Srinagar and more in rural areas, lakes big or small would freeze for days even months together.
Children would make it a point to play cricket on frozen surfaces over the lakes. It was a favorite pass time during Chillai Kalan.

Removing snow from rooftops

Again in the past, due to heavy snowfall, it was one of the main tasks of elders to clear tin roofs of heavy loads of snow. Rich people would hire experts for the job. However, in villages, which experience more snowfall than Srinagar, climbing to the rooftop to clear the snow is still prevalent.

Sheen e Jung

Fighting with snowballs used to be the favorite sport among youth in Chillai Kalan. Two rival parties would make snow bunkers and frontline warriors would make snowballs to be hurled with full force at the opposing camp till one party would completely destroy the bunker of the rival team.