Power crisis, resource crunch shift focus back on traditional hammams

Srinagar, Nov 29: With the onset of winter and the worsening power situation, Kashmir is witnessing a remarkable resurgence of its traditional Hamams and it has become a household necessity now in Kashmir to beat the harsh winter months.

Winters typically start from December and by November, people have to be prepared to live in chilly conditions.


Electric gadgets like heaters and boilers used to be a source for the people to survive the harsh winter days and had almost replaced the use of traditional hammams but now with the pesky power supply and high
power tariffs, people have gone back to traditional ways to keep themselves warm.

Till about a decade ago, hammams were a feature of Masjids where people, particularly men, would assemble to stay warm.

However, in the last few years, people started installing hammams in newly constructed houses, as the new houses are mostly built of concrete and remain colder than traditional wood and mud houses.
Talking to Greater Kashmir, Convener INTACH, J&K Chapter, Saleem Beg said that hammams in Kashmir were introduced by Mughals in the late 16th century.

“Initially these were found only in Mughal establishments, military or leisure use like gardens and palaces. They soon became part of major architectural forms in Khanqahs and shrines. Frequently local elite and those who were part of the ruling class adopted these for their comfort. It was only after the 1930s that local Mohalla Masjids were adopted as part of the construction of a Masjid. This trend then spread and locals adopted it as part of their house plans due to the reasons of affordability as also a cultural aspect of being together during harsh winters,” Beg said. “We do not have any archaeological or textual evidence of hammams in local shrines pre-Mughals period though the concept of hammams must have been around during the Salateen period given the fact that Central Asian and Iranian influences were already known in local architecture.”

He said that the pruned branches of orchard trees could be converted into high calorific wood pellets, which would help meet the demand for wood for heating during harsh winters when the temperature dips to several degrees below zero in Kashmir.

“The wood pellets will lessen the burning impacts and can also be used in hammams. The heating value of pellets is more and can be an efficient way to reduce deforestation and emission of black carbon,” Beg said. “Over the years, many of these structures fell into disrepair due to various factors, including changing lifestyles. However, a renewed interest due to various factors has led to a resurgence in these hammams. These days the demand to have a hamam in the house has increased. With the new constructions, people prefer to make a hamam for their convenience,” Irfan Ahmad, a resident said.
Muhammad Amin, a mason and a hamam maker in Ganderbal, said that during the last two years, he made more than 50 hammams in various parts of Kashmir.

“The interest in hammams has surged in Kashmir. We have a good demand for hammams and each year we make more than 20 to 40 hammams in various districts of Kashmir,” said another Hamam maker, Ghulam Qadir Raina.

Manzoor Ahmad of Kangan said that he installed a Hamam last year in his newly constructed house after spending two years shivering and unable to sleep in the new house.

“I was not aware that concrete houses would be so cold in winter. Last year I dug out the floor of one of the rooms to create a hammam,” he said.
Most people who have built new houses in rural Kashmir have been installing hammams in their old houses as well, to save themselves and their children from the cold.

“It is better to use wood in hammams and Kangris than the room heaters, especially when electricity lasts for a few minutes, that too at a high cost,” Ahmad said.

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