EUREKA Children

Come rain or shine

The day one decides not to carry an umbrella is when you can be sure of getting caught in heavy rains! While we associate umbrellas with rains, the word actually comes from the Latin ‘umbra’, which means shadow.

This is no coincidence, as the umbrella actually originated as a way of providing shade from the sun! Historians say that umbrellas came into use over 4000 years ago in hot and dry Egypt. Made using palm leaves, papyrus and peacock feathers, they were heavy and required an attendant to carry them. Moreover, they were exclusively reserved for the royals!

One variety that originated in China was made primarily of bamboo sticks and covered with leaves and feathers. This was much lighter but, as in Egypt, was meant for protection from the sun!

Royal and special

It seems like the umbrella soon became a sign of special status. It was reserved for the royalty and held over people of prestige even while indoors.

In India, we have records dating back roughly 1500 years in the form of a stunning painting in one of the Ajantha Caves that show female attendants holding elaborate umbrellas over women from the royal family. Despite being super exclusive, these umbrellas continued to leak.

A fresco from Ajantha Caves showing umbrellas being held over royalty

A fresco from Ajantha Caves showing umbrellas being held over royalty   | Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

So, when did the change from sunshade to protection from the rain happen? Just around 400 years ago! Oil and wax were applied to the umbrellas to waterproof them. Umbrellas became a hit especially in Italy, France and England but exclusively as an accessory for women. The men preferred to get wet, as they thought the umbrella was delicate and meant for women.

But Jonas Hanway, a scholar of Persian Studies, found umbrellas practical in wet and grey London. He began using one and, after his death, so did other men. Very soon, umbrellas became a common item and England was, for long, the umbrella capital of the world.

With climate change making our summers hotter, don’t be surprised if the umbrella begins to be used as it first was: to protect from the sun.

Quick facts

Today, Shangyu in China is the umbrella manufacturing hub with over 1000 factories located there.

The U.S. patent office has over 3000 patents related to umbrellas.

The foldable umbrella was invented only in 1969.

The largest is the Golf umbrella that can be up to 6ft in diametre.


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Printable version | Jan 20, 2022 10:52:09 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/children/come-rain-or-shine/article37493817.ece

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