Post 742 -by Gautam Shah
Air-entrained materials as shape-able materials and pre-shaped objects are in use since prehistoric times. These continue to be used for supporting the body or limbs in various positions such sleeping, reclining or sitting. These materials and shapes allow better flow of body fluids, heat conservation, dissipation and absorption of the reverse impacts and vibrations.
In ancient times, bedding materials were of vegetative origins like grasses and leaves. The materials retained the body moisture causing putrefaction, so required frequent replacement. Another reason for frequent replacement was that all ‘beds’ get infested with lice. It was difficult to terminate the lice-infections, so bedding stuffs were occasionally burnt.
Unknown visitors and guests brought in infections and smells. The problem was acute at Inns, Sarais and Brothels. In dwellings, such visitors were asked to sleep in hay lofts. The hay stocks were seasonally replaced, the hay floor was ‘re-done’ or the bedding hay was frequently smoked or sun-dried. The vegetative materials were mixed with rice husks (fairly stable material) and eucalyptus or other aromatic leaves, to act as the natural insecticide. The ‘floored sleeping arrangements were prone to rodents, insects or snakes. The lower sections close to the floor, were affected by cold draughts in winters.
Winters in Northern Europe are too severe for spending nights in hay lofts. Guests shared with the family and servants, the warmth of kitchen-fire side platforms. These platforms were multipurpose facilities, used for food preparation, dining and social interactions. Privacy was not a medieval consideration. Loose straws of hay in kitchen area were fire-hazard, and so not preferred. Instead chopped grass, hay, straw, chaff, or bird feathers were stuffed into sacks or burlap bags. Such bags, the manageable stock served as the raw mattress for centuries. Where woven fabrics were difficult to get, the chopped fillers were contained in bottomless, four-sided frames, or open boxes. The chopped hay in heaps, bags or boxes were sometimes topped with leather, pieces of tapestry, wool or heavy quilted fabrics.
Straw vs Hay
Hay vs Straw Hay is harvested while a live, healthy plant. Straw is the dead stalks of plants after the valuable upper parts of the plants have been harvested. Hay is valuable as provides better nutrition to animals while straw provides little nutrition and so often burnt. Straw has sharp edge and can hurt anyone handling or eating it. Other farm or agriculture products have some value include chaff, husk etc. There value was as stuffing material in mattresses. due to finer size and non rotting nature. Chopped Straw is used as an additive for mud walls, whereas chaff and husk are added to brick muds. These were also used as floor spread for stables, poultry farms.
Questions have been raised, which came first the Mattress or Pillow? No find of historical, archeological or narratorial evidence supports the ‘mattress’ as the inevitable form of sleeping. Japan, China, India and many other countries of the region have used ‘head-support’ as the required tool for sleeping. Even today, travelers, fakirs, beggars, and road side squatters, may not use a mattress, but use the elbow for supporting the head. The head supports were through the raised head-bar of Charpais (India), wood pieces carved to shape of head, own entwined hair, Pagari (Indian head gear as head-tied or loosened form), bundled piece of tapestry or travel bag and stuffed pillows.
Long houses of primitive age had two types of sleeping facilities, parallel and perpendicular to the central aisle or fires. For sleeping solidly built or leg supported platforms were created, often supplemented with ‘bunks’ at upper level. The legged platforms had strips of wood or woven mats with piece of raised wood as the head support. Many regions in South Asia have been using Manch or Manchi (a wood platform covered with woven mat), often taller than the height of the crop.
Buckwheat pillows were once very popular and still admired by many, except for the crushing sounds during head shifting. Main stuffing material were of buckwheat hull shells. These are durable and fairly long lasting. The pillows originally came from Japan. Buckwheat controls the temperature.
Pillow shells or bags are made of woven fabrics, leather, mats, etc. The shells or bags are stuffed, and so naturally contour to the shape of the head. Feather bags or pillows sag fast, making the mass stiff. In case of a puncture the feathers spread out, and it is difficult to restuff. Other stuffing materials include, cotton, wool, coconut. Kapok (silk-cotton -Ceiba Pendandra) fibers.
The stuffed mattresses or pillows (and perhaps some form of bolsters) had some common problems such as uneven sagging, loss firmness, hygiene, unmanageable high volume and consequent heavy weight.
A k’ang is a platform bed with a stove built underneath. It was used for different purposes through the day. Starting around 300 AD, pipes or flutes were introduced to distribute the heat and ventilate the smoke from stove. Spread of palm fronds or mat was sufficient as the bedding surface.