One of the features of our rich tradition is the traditional stone-mill, locally known as Ath-e-Gratte. This traditional artifact has no doubt vanished from our traditional setting but it was once, not only an integral part of every household in Kashmir Valley but played a crucial role in the local economy, supporting the agrarian society here. This common sight work-of-art and a gift from our forefathers was used for grinding grains usually rice, wheat and maize, etc. Though the traditional grinder was time-consuming, yet it was cost-effective. It was a symbol of our rich cultural, eco-friendliness and a good source of unadulterated food.
The traditional stone mill was made up of two circular stones placed one above the other with a wooden handle (mostly made of pecan or mulberry wood) fixed on the upper stone wheel. The lower stone had a strong iron or wooden nail on which the upper stone was fitted. However, the upper stone had two holes, one bigger and another was small. The bigger hole, towards the centre, was only meant for putting in the grains where as the small hole towards the border, hold the wooden handle. Only the upper stone rotated anti-clock wise, the lower section remained stationary. Before operating, it was made sure that both the stones of the manually run grinding wheel (called Chakki also) were perfectly cleaned with a cloth.
The task of operating the traditional Chakki was mostly undertaken by elderly at home. However in rural areas, it was mostly run by women in their leisure time. They would, after finishing their domestic chores, work on it for hours together to grind the different grains which they had harvested from their fields. In those days, women were generally industrious and hardworking. Things were mostly produced from home. The women not only performed the task of grinding corn for feeding their families but they also considered it as a holy sign of the richest legacy been received by them from Hazrat Fatima (RA), the beloved daughter of Prophet Muhammad (SAW).
The women would then choose a corner in their house and place underneath the Chakki, a cloth sheet, so that the pulverized grains fall on it. They would grind the grains so willingly that no sooner they sat to work on Chakki than they would start singing the folk songs. However, at others places, instead of cloth sheet, kept underneath, an iron container was made to collect the milled grains.
Besides, the task of grinding Dhayni (paddy) and Marcha Wangun (dried red pepper flakes) in the traditional Kanz-ta-Mohul (mortar and pestle), I had seen my mother pulverizing the grains umpteen times during late Autumn in my childhood; though the stone-mill no longer exits around at our house nowadays. She would take the traditional mill outside in the lawn and keep it on the traditional Patej (grass mat). And before the upper stone was rotated anti-clock wise, she would place under it a cloth sheet so that the pulverized grains fall on it.
And once the first round of grinding was over, she would collect the pulverized grains to be crushed in the Chakki again till the desired product of fine powdered flour was achieved which was later on collected and stored in gunny bags. The flour ground from this hand mill was tasty and healthier as compared to the abundance of machine-made packaged flours, easily available in the market. Not only did she grind the grains of rice, maize, wheat, etc. for the flour but she also milled different dals (cereals) which would later become easy to be cooked.
As the task of grinding the grains was over, the traditional stone-mill was again put on the balcony till the next pulverizing session. As children, we knew it as Grutte only. We were advised not to touch it as it was heavy and could prove risky. At times, when we, secretly, tried to move the upper stone with its handle, we felt it too massive.
It is pertinent to mention here that water-mill, locally called as Aab-e-Gratte, was quite different from Ath-e-Gratte. It was run by harnessing the power of flowing water of stream or an irrigation channel, etc. There used to be a queue of people out side the water-mill to pulverize their grains. However, one thing is clear that both hand run stone-mill and water-mill were both splendid gifts from our forefathers because both were un-contaminated ways of producing flour with no preservatives
“Both Aab-e-Gratte and Ath-e-Gratte were once not only a source of income for people in Kashmir but also an essential part of our culture. While modern technology has taken over, the importance of these traditional artifacts cannot be overlooked. They not only offered bodily exercise but also fostered social interaction and contributed to the overall development of the society. From physical work-outs to life skills; such artifacts had much to offer us despite the advent of modern technology. It’s time to preserve this Kashmir’s unique cultural symbol, part of our ancient cultural heritage which is on the verge of extinction.
MANZOOR AKASH is a teacher, and a regular contributor