An Umbrella In The Garden?
Umbrellas and humans have a long and enduring history which last to this day. Umbrellas are called by many names such as brolly, rainshade, sunshade, gamp and bumbershoot etc. An umbrella is generally used to protect oneself from rain, whereas its close cousin, the parasol, is generally used as a sunshade. The word umbrella comes from the Latin word ‘Umbra’ meaning shade. The modern umbrella has a collapsible rib cage made of steel fitted around a central shaft which cab be telescoped to make it small. The standard non collapsible umbrella, with its distinctive ‘U’ shaped umbrella is very large compared to some of the collapsible versions which can fit in the palm of your hand. The materials used for umbrellas have changed over the years from hide to modern materials such as cloth, silk, plastic etc.
Umbrellas have been in use from ancient times. In some countries it was a royal monopoly. Only the king was permitted an umbrella over his royal head. In such places anyone daring to use an umbrella, would lose his head as it was considered an affront to the king. It was used in religious ceremonies in many countries. It is yet used in religious processions in Asia. Many Hindu temples use richly decorated umbrellas. On festival days, the deity is taken around, on an elephant caparisoned with gold ornaments, with an umbrella to protect the deity from the elements. Umbrellas find mention with almost all the ancient civilizations. The Greeks, Romans, Persians, Indians, Chinese, Egyptians etc. have used the umbrella in one form or the other. Numerous wall carvings, paintings and texts refer to the umbrella. In China, delicate parasols, with different colors and designs, spoke of the status of the holder. Persian and Egyptian Kings went to battle in chariots fixed with an umbrella. Needless to say, when royalty uses an umbrella, it will be adorned with gold and precious stones and made of the finest materials.
The modern umbrella
In the modern era, Umbrella patents are one of the most commonest patents applied for. Every possible permutation and combination has been tried. Umbrellas with fans fitted that work on solar batteries, storm umbrellas, umbrellas which automatically open and close etc. are some of the innovative designs for which patents have been applied for. China is now one of the largest manufacturers of umbrellas. It is available in every possible color and design imaginable and due to the economics of volume it is possible to buy an umbrella very cheap. In many poor countries, the humble farmer, uses an umbrella shaped hat to get protection from rain and sun.
The umbrella has found its way into humor. An eccentric Englishman’s symbol was the umbrella with the 'U' shaped handle. In world war two, an English Major, always carried the umbrella since he could never remember the password! Who else but an Englishman would carry an umbrella into battle? It was a password in itself. The umbrella has been used as a weapon. The tip of the umbrella has been pointed and laden with poison to inflict serious injury and death. The umbrella has been used as a protective device. The cloth has been replaced with Kevlar, a lightweight carbon fabric which is bullet proof, and used to protect heads of state.
In tourist resorts, a beach umbrella is a common sight. For larger areas, Shade Sails are sometimes used. The advantage of a beach umbrella is it is easily movable and if the tourist wanted some sun, he could just have it folded. Some of the beach umbrellas have a table fixed around its central pole. There is an innovative umbrella design that is used mainly in beaches. The handle opens like a book to form a seat and the pointed end is stuck into the stand while you sit on the handle to enjoy the breeze. In many places with balmy weather, large umbrellas are used over the open air tables. It could be open or folded as desired.
Umbrellas may have an ancient origin, but they show no sign of dying out and are even more common place today. More than reinventing the wheel, humans have reinvented the umbrella, as testified by the many shapes, sizes, styles and uses in existence till today.