The Punjabi poem "Chhanna, the Metal Bowl" is about a "flat-bottom metal bowl" which is apparently some kind of family heirloom, "filled with memories". What's so special about a metal bowl? Is it only because it's been in the family for a long time, or is there some special cultural significance attached to it, perhaps some Punjabi tradition? What is "the chhayapatra hovering in a nook", and why is this word untranslated?

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    I really can't in all conscience post this as an answer, because there is nothing i can add to it, but this link explains both terms. As to why it isn't translated, I'd guess that's because the author is writing in Indian English, where that would not be necessary.
    – Spagirl
    Commented Jun 6, 2019 at 10:38
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    @Spagirl: In the poem, chhana is explained quite clearly to be a metal bowl. And chhayapatra is not translated because there isn't an equivalent practice in Western culture, so whatever word you used in the translation would fall flat.
    – Peter Shor
    Commented Jun 7, 2019 at 15:35
  • From the link in your question : "The Sanskrit word chhanna is both a noun meaning a bronze bowl with its rim inclined inward and an adjective meaning hidden, mysterious, secret. According to Indian astrology, a chhanna is used for chhayadan, a practice—believed to negate the debilitating influences of malefic planets—in which the donor looks at his or her reflection in the mustard oil contained in an alms vessel before dropping a coin into it. That is why the vessel is also called chhayapatra, meaning, literally, "reflection vessel." "
    – tryin
    Commented Jul 8, 2019 at 11:09
  • I'm Indian but not Punjabi, and from what I know channa = chickpea(s). Today I learned, I guess
    – tryin
    Commented Jul 8, 2019 at 11:10

1 Answer 1


The bowl's significance is that it is used to practise chāyā dān, chhayadan or chaaya daan (depending on the transcription). In Northern India, the chāyā dān can be part of one of the seven pheras of Hindu weddings, as explained in Gloria Goodwin Raheja's study The Poison in the Gift: Ritual, Prestation, and the Dominant Caste in a North Indian Village (University of Chicago Press, 1988):

At the conclusion of the pherā, an additional prestation is sometimes made. A dish filled with clarified butter is brought and a ten-paisā coin is placed in it. Both the bride and the groom are made to cast their reflections into it. This chāyā pātra ("reflection vessel") is then given to a Dakaut, with an appropriate sankalp. Wenever a chāyā dān is given, the purpose, as we have seen, is to remove from the donor negative substances engendered by particular circumstances. The words of the sankalp once again describe the purpose of the chāyā dān: "to remove the various afflictions" (...) caused by the marriage (...), this chāyā dān is given to the Dakaut.

According to other sources, e.g. Hindusphere.com, chāyā dān is also performed on Shani Amavasya. (Shanivara means Saturday; Shani refers to the planet Saturn; Amavasya refers to the lunar phase of the New moon in Sanskrit.) According to the above Hindusphere.com article,

On Shani Amavasya Chaaya Daan has to be performed. The process of performing Chaaya Daan is very easy. Pour Mastard Oil in a bowl and place it beside your head or under the bed right under your head on the night before to Shani Amavasya. As soon as we get up the first thing to do is to look into bowl and see ones reflection in the oil. Then this oil has to be donated to a Brahmin or to be given away in the temple of Lord Shani on Shani Amavasya. This is called Chaaya Daan.

Performing of Chaaya Daan on Shani Amavasaya would please lord Shani immensely and people under the effect of Lord Shani would get relief in the difficulties caused in their lives because of Shani.

The "relief in the difficulties" sounds similar to the removal of negative substances mentioned in Gloria Goodwin Raheja's study.

It is not clear whether he poet's parents used the bowl only for Shani Amavasya or also during their wedding; in the latter case it would definitely be filled with significant memories. Since it is an heirloom, it may also have been used by ancestors, but since the poem does not explicitly mention ancestors, this remains speculation.

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