Kashmir’s cultural tapestry is impressive. From saffron fields to shikara rides, our heavenly heritage, echoes its elegance and splendor, far and wide. One such example of our heritage is traditional “granary” locally known as Kutch. It is a small rectangular wooden hut or a room that farmers keep in their courtyards for the storage of threshed grains, mostly paddy known as Dhayni. It is often built above the ground to keep the stored grain away from the mice and other harmful factors.
The tradition of Kutch in Kashmir started in late 18th century and is still practiced in most of the rural areas of Kashmir. No doubt, much has been written on Kashmir’s history and art but the traditional architecture of which Kutch is a part, hasn’t been explored to such an extent.
Before the beautiful tradition of Kutch, the farmers used to place their grains in big earthen pots locally known as Lopun. These big pots, kept usually under the thatched roofs for the storage purpose, were a clay granary in old Kashmir used to store the yield. But, the flaw with these big pots was that they could not store the grains in sufficient amount.
Those days, people, no doubt, lived in small houses of one or two rooms. Yet, they kept their grains either in Lopun or in small rooms where the apprehensions of harm would remain. And it was the dearth of storage rooms that led to the invention of a bigger storage hut for the grains, that too outside the house. Thus, started, the lovely tradition of wooden granary called Kutch, for storage in every household of Kashmir.
Kutch was typically constructed by local carpenters known as Chann. It was a single-storey structure made from wooden sheets of either Kairu (pine) or Budlo (fir) wood. It was erected on wooden posts which kept it above ground. These wooden posts were further kept on stones not to decay in mud. Compared to its outward appearance, its interior was constructed with utmost care. Earlier, the external walls of Kutch were left as such in rain and sunlight, which with the passage of time didn’t survive the onslaught of weathering, etc. Though a Kutch of this kind would no doubt last for years, yet, its wood decomposed with time.
Also known as Koeth, the granary was a beautifully-made structure which was specially designed for long-term stock of grains particularly that of rice, wheat and maize. Because in those days, the Valley would remain cut off from the rest of the world due to heavy snowfall in winters. The granary was mostly single chambered. However, sometimes two or three chambered granaries were also made to store grains, separately. Usually, the opening to it was a small window, often kept towards the front side, from where the stock was put in it. Sometimes by using Feuhuv (a big wooden spoon kept in the granary for taking out Dhayni), the stock was leveled from the small verandah of the granary.
There are four types of granaries in Kashmir: the free-standing granary, the granary raised over a cart shed, the granary raised over a stable, and the granary combined with food preparations. However, in
Kashmir, the most adopted trend was that of making free-standing granary which was raised above the ground on wooden posts. Though there are examples of it, lifted over a cart pedestal or a stable too, yet, free-standing type was mostly preferred, and a common sight in some villages of Kashmir where it is preferably kept in courtyard corners.
Before the harvesting of Dhayni (the paddy), farmers utterly cleaned it and kept it ready for the future-use of their fresh stock. Not only was Kutch kept for storing paddy (a common perception amongst us) but also for other grains besides some sun-dried vegetables, pumpkins,etc. that were later cooked in the harshest winter.
Unlike present day granary, the old ones had roofing material either made of thatch (grass), locally known as Cheye or it was made up of barks of birch tree (Burzze Kul) known as Burzze Pash. Such granaries were the real reminiscent of our old Kashmiri culture. However, nowadays, as in vogue, the same roof top is made up of tin sheets.
Structured very keenly inside, the purpose of granary was only to protect grains from any kind of damage. Because in it, the stock would not only remain safe and dry up itself, but it was also believed that in it the grains ripened fully. The inside of it was made of smooth and planed wooden sheets by the carpenter and on the outside, tin sheets are appended so that the grains does not spoil within, from moisture or any harmful factors. Although, the newly styled granaries are iron-made; yet, about 70% of them, kept entirely wooden, are still not applied tin sheets from the outside, as is a common sight in hilly areas.
Kutch was mostly the endeavor of land lords whom people locally knew as Baed Zamindar. However, the size of it varied among farmers who made these structures as per the production of their grains. However, the most frequent shape for this rectangular courtyard-cabin was kept between 6/6 ft or 6/8 ft, etc.
It is quite apt to mention here that, this architectural tradition is also related with local agriculture and during harvesting of the paddy fields, the paddy heaps were first collected, then thrashed and then, as the husking practice was over, the grains were collected and lifted to be stored in granary, the legacy of which lives on in the architectural wonders and artistic heritage of Kashmir. Let’s preserve this artifact of our cultural heritage and save it before it is completely vanished.
The writer is a teacher, and a regular columnist