Traditional water mill, popularly known as “Aab-e-Gratte” in Kashmir, is an ancient mode of grinding wheat, corn and other grains to produce flour. Despite the advent of modern technology in grist mills, 40 years old Fareed Ahmed Bijran runs the water mill in Pahalnad Wanghat area of central Kashmir’s Ganderbal district. He is preserving centuries-old methods of grinding cereals, especially Maize.
The mill comprises a small 12 x 14 foot room and water flour mill to grind wheat, rice and other cereals in fine and super fine quality in addition to other machine mills.
Sitting in a water mill, Fareed grinds maize and waits for his customers to grind the flour for a small fee.
Fareed is doing good business. “I started this work when I was a young boy. I have been operating this mill for a long time and I charge less than what machine run flour mills do.”
He is happy to continue his forefather’s business. He grinds on average 10-20 bags of grain a day.
Traditional water mills are a blessing for the people as they get their grains grinded at very nominal rates. When the mill begins work, the water is diverted towards the water mill , and once the day ends, the water is diverted downstream again.
The mill is powered by fast- flowing water from the nearby river, which turns the heavy grindstone to produce flour. The force of the water flow drives the blades of a turbine. It rotates an axle that drives the crushing stone. The passage of water is controlled by sluice gates that allow for maintenance and control the speed of grinding stones. This is the historic way of grinding Maize and other grains and a symbol of the rich cultural history.
“Grinding of water mill takes nearly one and half hours for around 40 kg , whereas same is done by electricity flour mills in less than 15 minutes but residents of my village and its adjoining areas prefer to grind maize , rice grains here due to best quality and taste,” Fareed added.
Fareed’s ancestors have created a point at the channel where the water tributary diverts into two ways using rocks, one that flows towards the mill and the other towards the river.
The water is diverted from the river via open or closed duct towards the turbine placed on the lower section of the mill house. The turbine is made of wood. The shaft connected to the turbine on the floor of the mill house runs and turns the upper section of stone. The lower section is stationary, and grains stored in wooden settings above the stone drop grains through a hole in upper stone to lower stone via a feeder mechanism, and then grains are ground in between the stones.
One of the stones rotates and is powered by the moving turbine, while the other is stable. Once the grains are finely powdered, it is pushed out of the stone and collected.
Basharat Ahmed (24) ,resident of Wussan who had travelled 15 kilometers waiting in queue said, “These water mills depict our old traditions. There are several electricity – powered flour mill in the area, but traditional water mills have low–cost grain grinding facilities and are environmentally friendly.”
Owner of the watermill, Fareed charges some rupees per kg , and also takes some amount of flour from the customers.
Water mill is a productive technique that converts the kinetic energy of the water into mechanical energy that grinds the grains. With the outset of industrialization , the Gratt-e are rapidly losing the demand.
Another local, Maqbool Ahmed said, “We get maize, wheat and rice ground at this watermill as it costs less and produces best quality flour. The flour ground from this watermill is tasty and healthy as compared to flour from electricity run machines. We send the watermill ground flour to our relatives and friends living in the other districts.”
Traditionally grinding was done manually by women. Centuries ago, when industrialization was not a thing, people used to tackle daily life problems with their unique techniques and Gratt-e is one of the unique techniques used by people of that time.
The water mill had a great significance in the village and the water mill owner (Fareed) has a better social status in the village, for the family could afford both food grains and money, as a service charge on grinding.
Traditional water mills are a blessing for the people as they get their grains grinded at very nominal rates.
Everyday people are waiting here with sacks of Maize, rice and wheat to be ground as flour ground in water mills remains safe from insects and other pests for many months.
“Flour from water-run mills tastes better which is why people come from far away to grind their maize .I travelled for half an hour to come here to have my maize ground by the watermill. My Grandmother always told me that it is higher in protein and fibre,” Basharat added.
“I wish to keep my family’s traditional business alive and after me, through my children. These water mills essentially do not produce air pollution or sound pollution and it is a renewable source of energy,” Fareed added.
Traditional water mills find a huge space in our art and literature. They have always remained a fine example of the use of local technology. Prospering our traditional water mills will be an integral part of our authentic agricultural elements and cultural heritage.