Chillam and its Variants

پښتو :: پښتانه :: پښتونخواه :: پښتونوالی

Chillam and its Variants, Omar Usman
Published in Khyber.ORG on Thursday, August 23 2012 (

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Chillam and its Variants

Omar Usman

Publishing Date: Thursday, August 23 2012

It is said that all the credit of the beautification of the Hujrah goes to the Chillum,  i.e., without it the Hujrah will be incomplete and dull. Men get together for their evening discussions, prepare a chillumor two, and pass it around as the night lingers on. The rule of smoking is not to take more than 3 deep whiffs. The honor of lighting the chillum is always given to a senior smoker who has a special and delicate way of preparing it.

The chillum is a water-pipe that is unique to Afghanistan. It's variants are called sheesha in the arabic world, and hukah in the sub-continent. While the arabicvariant is usually made of glass, the chillum is made of clay, copper or even stone.[1] Theactual word chillum is used for the stiff pipe through which smoke is inhaled.

It is used for smoking tobacco, and occassionally weed. The preparation involves lightingup the tobacco. Smoke is inhaled through a stiff pipe. Although the chillam is a permanentitem in the Hujra's, rural women-folk also use it incessantly. According to a survey [2], 62%of women who smoke have used a Chillam too. Chillam's are also available in tea-houses. Over the past decade, it has found its way into urban centers and is served in various restaurants.

The bowl of the chillum holding the tobacco is called the sarchana. It is enough to hold 10-15 grams. It isspecially designed to restrict movement of air inside, otherwise the tobacco would quickly burn out. However, this means that in order to light up the tobacco, one must have powerful lungs to force the air in. Once done, the tobaccowill burn at a constant slow pace. Expert smokers place a small stone in the sarchanabefore filling it with tobacco. This is so that the opening to the base of the chillum is kept clear. Two types of sarchana's exist. Those with the top wider than the diameter of the center are used for smoking tobacco. While thosewhose top is smaller are used for smoking hashish, etc. However, the most prevalent used are the ones for smoking tobacco.

A woman preparing a chillam at her kitchen

A man preparing a Chillam at a tea-house in Qandahar
Photo: Ludo Kuipers, Sun Nov 04, 1973

Before smoking, the jar is filled with cold water to a level enough to barely submerge the pipe coming down from the sarchana. The length of thechillum is so long that one must sit at a higher elevation. Hence usually the chillum is placed on the ground, and smokers may slightly tilt it so thatthe stiff pipe can reach their mouth.

Chitrali Chars o Chillam (Weed with Tobacco) is a popular form of smoking that has been passed down in folk-lore. RC Clarke writes in his book [1] regarding this particular formof smoking that was prevalent in Chitral. Hashish mixed with tobacco is placed on coals in a brazier. The vapors are then breathed down through a hollow reed or rolled tube of paper.

Depiction of Chitrali Chars o Chillam by Robin Ade in [1]

Another variant that was used by Kuchi nomads or Sufi mystics (or those who don't have a chillum at their disposal) is the earth-pipe. These were common in almost all shrines. A pair of thin bamboo sticks are stuck into a pit dug in the ground. The pit has a considerable capacity and twice as deep as it is wide. The sides of the pit are covered with wet clay and smoothed by hand in the same manner as mud walls are constructed. The pit is covered with a layer of twigs and leaves and is sealed with a layer of wet clay to represent a chamber. A stick is pushed through to make way for smoke to be inhaled from a side angle. Before sealing the pit, a rock is placed at the base of the pit. When the bamboo stick is pushed through the chamber surface, it will go as far as the rock and not beyond.

Depiction of poor man's Chillam by Robin Ade in [1]


  1. Clarke RC., Hashish, Red Eye Press.
  2. Alam SE., Prevalence and pattern of smoking in Pakistan, J Pak Med Assoc. 1998 Mar;48(3):64-6.


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Chillam and its Variants, Omar Usman
Published in Khyber.ORG on Thursday, August 23 2012 (