Kashmiris welcome Chillai Kalan with freezing cold, Pheran

Story by  Ehsan Fazili | Posted by  Aasha Khosa | Date 23-12-2022
Tourist in Drang area posing with icicles (Pictures Basit Zargar)
Tourist in Drang area posing with icicles (Pictures Basit Zargar)


Ehsan Fazili/Srinagar

With the usual freezing temperatures and bright days, people in Kashmir are out to welcome Chillai Kalan, the 40-day harshest period of winters that began on December 21. It’s coincidided with the ‘International Pheran Day’ that celebrates the basic woolen attire of Kashmiris people to fight the nasty weather.

While Jashan-e-Chillai Kalan was celebrated in some places across the Valley earlier, on its first day, a group of locals and tourists walked an imaginary ramp in front of the clock tower at Srinagar’s Lal Chowk to show off their phirens.

A fashion show was also held at Sher-e-Kashmir International Conference Centre (SKICC) in which the pheran-wearing youth walked to demonstrate myruiads colour, innovations and designs of this flowing robe.

A two-day Chillai Kalan festival was also celebrated in Shopian area of South Kashmir, before it began.

The frozen landscape of Drung area in central Kashmir (Basit Zatgar)

Many people from all walks of life have taken to social media welcoming the arrival of Chillai Kalan and celebrations of ‘Pheran day’. There have been several videos, presenting skits highlighting the traditional ways of life during Chillai Kalan on the social media.

A pictorial winter scene with an audio in the background depicted various facets of life of the poor man in Kashmir. It refers to “people suffering from bad cold, carrying medicines in polythene covers, freezing temperatures, scanty warm water in the absence of power supplies, dried vegetables and rare fresh vegetables for eating, scarcity of essential items, many elderly people dying during winter months, high prices in the markets, use of Kangri and bukhaaris (run on wood or charcoal)…. More troubles for the poor while the rich moving out of valley to avoid the cold…”

This is the time for the dwellers inside and around the Dal lake and other water bodes to venture out to make their livelihood by picking lotus stems and other water crops.

The young children enjoy holding ice plates/slabs in their hands to show off the winter’s harshness and their vigour.

There are many old sayings about the nature of Chillai Kalan. A post on the FB quoted “Chila Kalan”: Agar Mea assay na Mardydum naw peymut grekawen bana karhak band (If I were not known as the senior, I would have stopped boiling pots {with my cooling power}).

A post carried a cartoon in a local newspaper with the message from Chillai Kalan:

“Mein Iss waqt Europe k Douray par hoon

Albatta Apni Lehroon ko Kashmir Rawana Kar diya hai

Chand Dinon mein Barf K saath aaraha Hoon..

Ok Tata

Bye Bye”.

Another post described it as Thand Mehman (Guest of winter) which had Kangri the only remedy for the people to fight back in a poetic way in praise of Kangri:

“Meri Kanger Meri Kanger Mera zu tay Jaan

Wondmay Chilay Kalan, Chei hai Wondmai Chilai Kalan

Kaeshren Chhakh tchy Baagen Aametch heath Wandkuy Samaam

Wondmay Chilay Kalan, tchey hai wondmay chilay kalan.

The events this year have also opened a debate over the veracity of the “international pheran day”, which marks the beginning of Chillai Kalan.  “I love Pheran not only during winters but I wear it in summer months also. Yes the stuff being used is different. In winter it is a woolen pheran and in summers it is pure cotton”, posted Dr Ab Wahid. “Having said this I want to know who has declared this day as international pheran day?,  Any international organization?, he questioned.

Sanjay Pandita, a migrant Kashmiri Pandit has also among many others shared “greetings on International Pheran Day”….stating that “with the passage of time the look of Pheran has also changed”, as he posted his photo clad in a new pheran. Many others have also posted their photographs clad in the long robe known in Kashmir.

Phiren is a fashion trend: influencers donning it on International Pheran day. @AnupamPKher @sanjayraina @ShenazGanai @BalwalSoni #InternationalPheranDay2022 #awazthevoice pic.twitter.com/ilOiwrWXtv

“Now tailors ask us ‘Kangri Pheran cha suwun,  kine fashioney Pheran’? (Is it to be stitched as for using Kangri or a fashionable/designed) posted journalist Yusuf Jameel. “Mine is the one beneath which I can hold a Kangri or a child”, he adds.

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Winter in Kashmir is divided into three parts depending upon the intensity and gradual decrease in the coldness of winters. It enters with Chillai Kalan (meaning large chill in Persian) of 40 days beginning on December 21 till the end of January. It is followed by 20 days of  Chillai Khurd (meaning smaller chill) and 10 days of Chilla Bachcha (little chill or baby) concluding by the end of February every year.