Chillai Kalan is the 40 day harsh winter period in Kashmir. This period sends shivers down one’s spine. Chillai-Kalan begins from December 21 and ends on January 31 next year.
Chillai Kalan is a Persian term. Chilla means 40, Kalan means bigger.
There are 3 Chilas
The Chillai Kalan, the Chillai Khurd, and the Challai Bache. The 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.
What Kashmiris do in Chillai Kalan
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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.