My sister-in-law, who visited Chennai a few weeks before we arrived, is interested in antiques from Kerala and Tamil Nadu so she spent a lot of time searching and buying brass and wood items that she remembers from her childhood at her grandparent’s Parapanangadi home. After shopping for paras in Kochi (Antique Shopping in Calicut), she hunted for barani and other items in Chennai. She was successful at Raja Stores in T. Nagar (a neighborhood in Chennai), just around the square from Saravanan Stores (more about this store later).
My husband and I visited the same store; I was stunned when I saw a barani right at the front of the store because it looked very similar to McCoy Stoneware jars that were made in Ohio back in the early 1900s, once popular now only available on ebay.com or at garage sales. The only major difference between the two pots is the color of the glaze: the Indian ones are tan and the American ones are dark brown. Most of the shapes are similar: cylindrical or round.
Baranis are kept in kitchens in Kerala, as well as other Indian states, to store sour items like pickles. Some people stored tamarind in them as well. As you can see from the photo the store had a magnificent inventory of baranis. It took me a while to decide which ones I would buy (and could fit in my suitcase); in the end I bought four different ones. I would like to know if the glaze on these pots contains lead. Since I only intend to use them for decoration, lead content isn’t an issue to me. One questions lingers in my mind: why are the American and Indian ceramic pots so similar in design? Who invented the original and how did it get to the other country? Hmm.
One other item on my shopping list was a pair of brass lanterns. They are incredibly expensive in the U.S. so I haven’t purchased them before. I found some pretty ones about a foot tall that would be perfect on a table or just sitting around for decoration. These lanterns are filled with oil and cotton wicks are inserted around the top bowl before being lit. People all over Kerala light them at night. I remember seeing the magical glow from houses out in the country as we passed by on the train from Chennai to Kozhikode. In the photo I have included the original brass lamp from Kachi’s house in Parapanangadi with mine. It is just half a foot taller but weights 6 pounds while mine weighs a mere 1 pound. The brass is thicker and the design is more sophisticated than my new ones. I suppose it was heavy so it would not blow over in monsoon winds.
Before leaving the store we noticed some tarnished brass pots in the corner of the collection of new brass and copper items. The salesman confirmed that these were antique coffee caddies that servants used to carry morning coffee to the man of the house generations ago. Under the lid fit a brass cup that fit neatly inside from which one would drink. My husband remembers the servant and the brass pot that transported his grandfather’s coffee to the courthouse. In the photo, you can see the tree antique coffee caddies. The two on the right have been polished while the one hiding in the corner on the left is untouched. The jar on the right now proudly resides in my kitchen.
Next, we visited Pondicherry for our last stop before returning home. What a trip this has been!
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