The Bold Voice of J&K

Kohlu vanished from rural economy

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Rajinder Singh Rana

In the past the sustenance of village life was largely dependent on small trades and occupations. These trades when continuously followed by the successors of any family also determined status of a particular sub-caste. Like other parts of Jammu and Kashmir, the people in Chenab Valley have also fostered number of small occupations to fulfill their socio-economic needs. Among all Kohlu (traditional oil Ghani operation) remained popular since early time.
Kohlu emerged as an important source for crushing oil seeds and nuts when there were no mechanic ways to do such work. A heavy rush of people was observed in the house of Teli (Kohlu’s owner). The waste (deoiled cakes) of the raw material after extraction was left with Teli as labour charges. This practice was prevalent everywhere in the rural areas with some exceptions. The Teli used to perform his duties with acute sincerity and never wished to cheat or play follies with customers due to fear of God. This is how the system was working very honestly fostering ethics and moral values.
But today, the Kohlu which was once popularly known for oil processing activities in rural areas has almost lost its existence either due to innovations in oil extraction techniques or emergence of changes in the life style of people whose survival was associated with oil related vocations. Another known reason for disappearance of Kohlu from rural economy is less cultivation of mustard and other seed crops in some regions due to unfavorable climatic factors.
It is a fact that modern oil machines have proved more effective and economic in saving a lot of energy and time but at the same time it is not possible to forget the traditional tools, instruments and vocations of old time which have proven corner stone for the survival of primitive generations and boosting village economy. The purities and qualities which were found during the time our fore fathers are, however rarely seen in today’s modern society.
The main base of Kohlu was usually made up of some selected trees with thick trunk sizing one meter or more in diameter. At other places hard stone rocks were also used wholly or partially for making Kohlu. The wooden Kohlu has number of components. The main base is carved out of thick trunk of tree whose lower part was covered under ground and remaining half was drilled and carved from inside for proper storage of seeds. A heavy wooden pestle was inserted into it whose upper part was further loosely connected with a crooked pole tightly fixed in the centre of thick wooden sheet attached with main base of Kohlu. A rope was extended from the sheet and tied with the body of animal. An outlet was developed in the base for easy flow of oil. The design of Kohlu also differed in many aspects according to the culture of a particularly area.
Commonly male buffalo was chosen for the Kohlu. But at some places oxen or bulls were also engaged in the functioning of Kohlu. Both the eyes of the animal were blindfolded with a traditionally made leather cover in order to restrict the animal from any uncontrollable movement on the circular ambit. Overall design of Kohlu was developed in such a way that animal was compelled to move in circular ambit. The pestle rotated with every movement of animal, exerting lateral pressure on the upper chest of the pit in the main base of Kohlu, first pulverising the oil seeds and then crushing out the oil. Some time children used to ride while sitting over thick wooden sheet in place of stone boulders keeping overall weight unaffected. The whole processing was completed in four to five hours or less depending on the type of seeds, nuts and other raw material. During winters more time was taken. The main seeds taken out for extraction included Mustard, wal nuts, ground nuts, til or sesame, Khobani seeds etc. But the main crop associated with the Kohlu remained mustard.
The deoiled cakes (locally called Khal) resulted out of crushed mustard seeds act as popular cattle feed. They keep high nutritional values and serve as best source of feed for animals. They have balanced amino acids and proteins. The farmers always preferred to purchase the mustard cakes from the Teli for milch animals. Some time advanced payments were made to him for purchasing the bags of such cakes. Very genuine rates were fixed by Teli for sale and purchase of mustard cakes. Nuts cakes were consumed by the humans too.
In villages, the Teli (oil processor) used to enjoy very prominent position in the old times as there were no machines or oil extraction units. To receive the oil, the locals had to visit twice in his house. In the first turn, raw material was handed over to the Teli after removing dirt and proper weight. A day was fixed according to his turn to provide him the oil. Normally the principle of ‘first come first serve’ was applied very honestly with the customers. There was no caste bar for becoming Teli as he might turn out from any community. Today we hardly find any Kohlu in the villages, but a special sub-caste of people still exists whose name is suffixed with the word ‘Teli’. The ancestors of Teli have certainly cultivated the vocation of oil processing for very long time. The Government has also given OBC status to the families of Teli since they are devoid of their work. Oil produced through Kohlu is very natural in its quality and free from adulteration. It has very good taste and remains affective for both body and mind. It is considered very useful and pure for massage of humans and animals. Wrestlers always prefer to smear Mustard Oil extracted through Kohlu on their body while exercising or entering in wrestling grounds. Besides, it also proves better for skin and nasal congestion. Pickle prepared with Kolhu oil is commonly liked by the all families. The mustard oil of Kohlu was also chosen for lightening Diyas (lamps) in the temples or sacred places in the past and present time too.
Now we are left with the only source to extract oil from seeds is scientifically designed machines which have lowered down the influence of Kohlu whose design at present is unable to be traced in the villages. This age old traditional machine can be revived and preserved as historical symbol if efforts are made on the right track.
(The author is serving as District Information officer Ramban)

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