The word “umbrella” literally means, “Little shade”, and so the name explains what the thing is for. We use umbrellas to give us shade from the sun, or shelter from the rain.
The umbrella is a frame made of steel, fixed on a stick with a handle, and covered with cotton or silk cloth. It is so made that it can be opened and carried over the head when we want shelter from rain or sun, and closed and rolled up when not needed so that it can be carried in the hand like a stick. It is a very handy and useful thing: and most people have one. In Calcutta, almost every Bengali walks the streets with his white or black cotton umbrella to shade him from the sun; and in rainy England, most people carry umbrellas lest they should be caught in a shower.
Nowadays people keep umbrellas for use. But in old days the umbrella was a sign of rank, and so it is even now in some eastern countries. In Burma, only the king and the sacred white elephant were allowed to carry white umbrellas, while officials and lords had yellow, golden, red, green, and brown umbrellas, according to their rank. In India, the Maratha Rajas were called “lords of the umbrella”. In China, every mandarin, or government official, had the right of having a fine umbrella held over him as a sign of his rank. In Italy, the Doge, or duke, of Venice had a splendid state umbrella, which was carried over him when he went in processions. And even in ancient Assyria, thousands of years ago, the king sat on his throne under a grand umbrella with coloured tassels, held by an officer of the court. This shows that the umbrella is not a new thing, but a very old invention.