Chinar once provided shade, spiritual solace fast losing significance in Kashmir

Rising Kashmir

Chinar once provided shade, spiritual solace fast losing significance in Kashmir

July 24, 2018

Rabiya Bashir

Abdul Rahman, 70, recollected the memories of majestic Buen (Chinar trees), which exhibited the Kashmiri culture and identity.

Rahman, who hailed from Rainawari area of the old city, had grown under the shade of Buen (Chinar tree). For him, those were the golden days, when he along with his friends sat under Chinar trees for get-togethers and discussions.

He would always seek spiritual solace and ease under the shade of Chinar trees. The shade of Chinar in summers and the beautiful vibrant colors of leaves in autumnhad magical effect on him, relieving him of all his worries.

Rahman said the fresh gentle breeze, comfort and unity of people under the shade of Chinar tree was a cure for ailments.

Explaining the cultural significance of the Chinar trees, Rehman said, the trees represented the culture of the valley.

He said that the people were performing cultural activities like the BhandPather (traditional Kashmiri folk) under the Chinar trees.

“ Such activities would provide the entertainment, unity, eternal peace to the rural masses as well. Such was the capacity, magic and charm of this magnificent tree,” said Rehman.

Like Rahman, there are other elderly people who have witnessed the Chinar trees playing a major role in maintaining the cultural ethos and ecological balance in the valley.

But, currently, the decline of Chinar trees is not only posing threat to the ecology but also to the Kashmiri culture and identity.

The elders in Kashmir sayChinar trees are the cultural asset of the valley.

Environmental expertsare also concernedover cutting ofChinar trees in the valley.

“From Mughals, Dogras to the Sufi saints, Chinar trees have always been valued for their aesthetics, cultural and spiritual significance.” said experts.

The experts say that many old Chinar trees are being lost rapidly at placeslikeNishatBagh and Shalimar Bagh.

Recently, the heavy windstorm in Srinagar uprooted iconic Chinar trees at Shalimar Garden. Some of the uprooted trees were over 300 years old while others were two-three decades old.

The garden sites come under the tentative list of UNESCO World Heritage Centre.

Earlier in the 1970s, there were 42,000 Chinar trees in Kashmir. Over the years, their number has dwindled to a mere 20,000.

After the alarming downfall, the government in 1986, launched a Chinar Development Office under the Department of Floriculture, aiming to preserve the Chinars and check cutting of the trees.

Apparently, the initiative died due to the lack of staff in the Chinar Development Authority.

After the hue and cry in the Valley, the Floriculture Department started planting around 5000 to 6000 Chinar saplings every year.

The department is sowing Chinar saplings in different district nurseries on March 15 every year. The saplings are also being supplied to different departments to grow Chinars in their jurisdictions.

According to the latest census conducted by the Floriculture Department, there are only 35,805 Chinar trees across the Valley at present.

As per the census, Srinagar district has the highest number. It has around 7294 Chinar trees.

Anantnag district is on the second number with 6222 Chinar trees, followed by Ganderbal with 4562 Chinars. Baramulla district has 4042 Chinars followed by Pulwama with 2857 Chinar trees.

Similarly, in Kupwara, there are 2055 Chinar trees, while in Shopian there are 2651 Chinar trees followed by district Budgam with 2637 Chinars. Kulgam has 1973 and Bandipora has1512 Chinar trees.

Although the department claimed to have planted the Chinar saplings, but the experts said on the ground the saplings are hardly sustaining.

ShakeelQalander, a prominent civil society member said the saplings need care and protection. He said the saplings either dry up or die due to negligence.
“How many saplings will sustain and become Chinar?” he asked.

He said that it is not only about growing saplings, the government and all the concerned departments need to protect and take care of the saplings till they grow. “The older Chinar trees need protection and attention.”

He said that the heritage gardens in the valley are not being taken care of properly. “On the name of development, the Chinar trees have been sacrificed.”
Zareef Ahmad Zareef, noted poet and historian said the Chinar trees have always maintained the pristine glory of the valley. “But the government has failed to protect the majestic trees.”

He said, as per the agricultural scientists, a 100-year-old Chinar tree has a capacity to give a 20-gallon oxygen in 24 hours. “Since 1947, the Chinar trees have been neglected.”

Zareef said, in past, there were no issues like global warming and hot temperatures in the valley. “Now, we are facing and experiencing these issues. The consequences are in front of everyone.”

He also said the monarchs like the Mughals, Pathans and Maharajas had treated the Chinar as an integral part of Kashmiri’s soul and existence. “Mughals had declared the Buen as the Royal tree.”

The majestic Chinartree, whose botanical name is Platanusorientalis or “Buen” in the Kashmiri language, is living heritage of Kashmir.
The 627-year-old Chinar tree is thought to have been planted in the year 1374 AD at Chattergam village in central Kashmir by an Islamic mystic Mir Sayyid Ali Hamdani.
Mughal Emperor Akbar had planted Chinars in the valley, after annexing Kashmir in 1586, that included an estimated 1,200 trees near the present site of the Hazratbal shrine.

Part of NaseemBagh, which lies near the Hazratbal shrine, survives to this date with hundreds of Chinar trees. It now is a part of the University of Kashmir campus with university buildings placed under the trees.

Dr Aziz Hajini, Secretary, Jammu Kashmir Academy of Art, Culture and Languages (JKAACL) said the Chinar is the symbol of love, patience, solace and culture.
“Chinar has a cultural importance. In every Kashmiri festivals, Chinar symbol is used as it is our identity. Even the Chinar leaf design craved on the gifts make it special,” he said.

DrHajini said that due to urbanization, number ofChinar trees is declining.

He said the Academy is starting a NukadNatak drama to address different issues, especially related to environment in Kashmir.

“NukadNatak will be an awareness program with a social message. Old Chinar trees should be protected and new saplingsshould also be planted,” he said.