Punkah - hand operated Indian ceiling fan that kept the colonial rulers comfortable in the hot season

India, being a hot tropical country, faces challenging temperatures and wind conditions during the summer season (April to June) on the plains. The heat persists from March until September. In the northern states, the situation is worse with extreme heat coupled with hot winds. On the coastal areas, when the rainfall declines, intense heat grips the population, aggravated by the moisture in the air, causing humidity and breathing difficulties.

Before the advent of electricity, in villages and small towns, people used to sleep on raised platforms (locally called "Thinnai") in front of their houses or in open spaces under trees to enjoy refreshing air. Women typically slept inside the house

Punkah- hand operated  fan of India amusingplanet.com

Above image:  A woman reading under a punkah at her residence in Berhampore, WB, 1863............ 

The principle behind the punkah is simple: just as birds create a draft by flapping their wings, the manually operated punkah produces a draft of air through its continuous back-and-forth motion. The use of punkahs dates back to 500 BC. it is labor intensive and was useful several centuries ago. The motion of the punkah produced enough air without disturbing the chandeliers, which often hung in the same line. .................

When Europeans arrived in India ,adjusting  to the tropical heat was a significant challenge due to excessive sweating and high temperatures. The punkah, an elongated ceiling fan, was commonly used in the Indian subcontinent before the introduction of electric fans. Air was generated by manually pulling the punkah using a pulley system. Widely used during colonial times, there were many punkah makers and punkah wallahs—those who operated them for daily wages. Native to India, it was an  elongated fan of different lengths with a long wooden frame covered with cloth, suspended from the ceiling of a room. Gentle air is generated below it when it is moved rhythmically to and fro by means of a rope and pulleys operated by a person or two who   would sit outside the room to maintain privacy of the inmates. The rope connecting the punkah would pass through a hole in the wall to make it move. The workers used to work in shift during day and night in the rich home. To them sleep was a luxury. Having punkahs (derived from Sanskrit Punsaka) fixed in homes was a luxury, affordable only by  the rich and elite. There were different varieties of punkahs with elaborate designs on the cloth, including silk depending on the budget and taste. some painted and the ropes covered with silk.. The motion of the punkah produced enough air without disturbing the chandeliers, which often hung in the same line.


Above image: Punkahs were used all over South-east Asia. This photograph shows a Vietnamese court with a ceiling punkah, circa 1885. Photo credit: Alinari Archives............

For the white settlers the Punkah was more than a panatia to tackle intense heat and sweat and they were dependent on the Pukkha operators -Punkah-wallahs who received  small wages for their toil. 

The motion of the punkah produced enough air without disturbing the chandeliers, which often hung in the same line. Multiple punkahs could be connected and operated together in unison by sturdy ropes to swing uniformly operated by two or three workers at a time mostly in big halls, etc

Source: https://www.navrangindia.in/2015/10/punkah-hand-operated-hanging-fan.html