Come Under My Umbrella

Monsoons are a synonym of happiness, joy and loads of fun. The grey skies can fill anyone’s heart with radiance. Monsoon is the only season when even the crocking of frogs seems like music to ears. The music is everywhere, from drop falling on tin roofs to the splash of water on roads.
While enjoying, however, one needs to save himself from sometimes cruel and often acidic rains. The only thing one needs for this is a simple umbrella. Have you ever wondered how and when the device that saves us not only from downpour but also from heat came into existence? Umbrellas have been around since ages. I still have that old long black grandpa’s umbrella as a cherished item with me as I have kept the Chinese silk umbrella of my mother. Both are very different but serve the same purpose essentially. The device has become so popular that it has seeped into the corporate jargon as well like ‘umbrella Corporation’, ‘umbrella group’ , ‘umbrella branding’ and the like. This post will explore in brief, the journey of this ubiquitous wonder.

Firstly, the term ‘umbrella’ is derived from a Latin word ‘umbra’ that means shaded. The word umbra itself comes from a top rounded flower known as ‘umbel’. Another commonly used term for umbrella is ‘parasol’ which means to save (para) from sun (sol). The Indian term for umbrella is ‘chhata’ that is derived from ‘chhat’ meaning roof. In Britain, umbrellas are also called ‘gamps’.

Secondly, the references of umbrellas can be seen everywhere from ancient Greek to ancient Egyptian texts, from Hindu mythology to Persian history.

In ancient Egypt, various types of umbrellas were used, from a simple fan made out of palm-leaves to a fan of coloured feathers to a covering of a chariot of the kings and even for religious decorations. The degree of ornamentation of these umbrellas often showed the status of the owner in the society. Hence, umbrellas are also used as a status symbol.

Coming to Greece, the land of Alexander the Great, umbrellas were seeped into daily lives, often finding place as a fashion accessory of rich ladies. Greek men did not use an umbrella, for it indicated effeminacy. A tomb dating back to 4th century BC depicts a figure of a lady carrying an umbrella. However, in Greece umbrellas were also an indispensable part of religion as well.

In our own, Incredible India, our ancient epic the ‘Mahabharata’ too has references of umbrellas for shield from rain and sun and also as mountings on chariots a mark of royalty for kings.

In his legendary book ‘Voyage To The East’, the 17th century writer, Jean Baptiste Tavernier reveals that two heavy and decorated umbrellas were on each side of the Mogul kings’ thrones. Umbrellas of the Indian and Burmese princes were large and heavy.

The oldest reference of umbrella is that in Chinese texts, the ancient book of Chinese ceremonies, called Zhou Li (The Rites of Zhou), and dating 2400 years ago to be more precise. It describes the dais to be composed of 28 arcs, which are equivalent to the ribs of the modern instrument, and the staff supporting the covering to consist of two parts, the upper being a rod 3/18 of a Chinese foot in circumference, and the lower a tube 6/10 in circumference, into which the upper half is capable of sliding and closing.

The Chinese design was later brought to Japan via Korea and also introduced to Persia and the Western world via the Silk Route. A late Song Dynasty Chinese divination book that was printed in about 1270 AD features a picture of a collapsible umbrella that is exactly like the modern umbrella of today's China.

The patent for the first folding umbrellas was obtained in the year 1969 by Bradford E Phillips, the owner of Totes Incorporated of Loveland, Ohio. At present, umbrellas have become a global product. In the US alone, about 33 million umbrellas worth $348 million are sold each year.

Gerwin Hoogendoorn, a Dutch industrial design student of the Delft University of Technology, the Netherlands invented an aerodynamically streamlined storm umbrella (with a similar shape as a stealth plane)[21][22] which can withstand wind force 10 (winds of up to 100km/h or 70 mp/h) in the year 2005. Hoogendoorn's storm umbrella was nominated for and won several design awards.

By the way, I can’t stop humming the hit number by Rihanna, ‘Come under my umbrellas..ella...ella”!!

Info source: various sites
An article by Ankita who blogs at The Humming Words

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