Chillai Kalan, Chillai Khurd, and Challai Bache

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 KO Photo: Abid Bhat

By Umair Shafiq

CHILLAI KALAN is the most severe part of the winter in Kashmir consisting of three months. It is divided into three parts called the Chilas: The Chillai Kalan, the Chillai Khurd, and the Challai Bache.

Chillai-Kalan is the 40-day period of harsh winter. Chillai-Kalan begins from December 21 and ends on January 31, next year. 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.

Chillai Kalan is a Persian word that in literal sense means “major cold”. December 21 marks the beginning of Chillai Kalan every year and thus, begins the period of harsh cold and continues till January 31. In this 40-day period, nights are chilly and day temperatures thrive in single digits. Historically, during this period, Kashmiris stay indoors surviving on dried preserved food and enjoying folklore and traditional music.

During Chillai-Kalan, the weather in Kashmir valley continues to remain dry and cold with minimum temperatures hovering below the freezing point. The snow during this 40-day period freezes and lasts longer. It is this snow that adds to the glaciers of the Valley and replenishes the perennial reservoirs that feed the rivers, streams and lakes in Kashmir during the months of summer. Any snowfall after the chillai kalan does not last long.

In the past, many families would prepare ‘Shabdeg’ on the first day of ‘Chillai Kalan’. A fat duck would be cooked with turnips and spices in an earthen vessel during the night intervening December 20-21.

Since many years, there has been more snowfall and cold during chillai khurd and chillai bachcha than during chillai kalan.The discomfort of cold is exacerbated by the erratic supply of power.

Every year, residents cover their windows with plastic to prevent the cold air from seeping in during the peak winter. While kangerees become indispensable for most residents of Kashmir, the well-to-do huddle together in hamams – rooms with limestone floors that are warmed by burning firewood in a hearth. Others spend long hours in mosques even after prayers, as the hamams there provide a warm backdrop against which Valley residents socialise.

Every year, when winter sets in, weatherman Sonam Lotus acquires the status of a minor celebrity. Residents of the Valley anxiously wait for updates from the head of the state’s meteorological department before stepping out of their homes.

Traditionally, Kashmiris used to dry vegetables like tomatoes, turnips, brinjals and gourd during summers to be used during winters when the Valley would remain cut off from the rest of the country. The tradition continues in remote and far flung areas of the Valley.However, with the Jammu-Srinagar National Highway becoming almost an all-weather road, fresh vegetables are available in the market throughout the year and the tradition of drying vegetables is no more seen in cities and towns of the Valley. Dried fish, popularly known as Hokh Gard in Kashmiri, is, however, still used as a delicacy during the winter.


  • The author is a student of BSc Nursing Pacific Institute of Medical Sciences Udaipur 

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