Introduction to Blog

I launched the website and the Blog after having spoken to government officials, political analysts and security experts specializing in South Asian affairs from three continents. The feedback was uniformly consistent. The bottom line is that when Kashmiris are suffering and the world has its own set of priorities, we need to find ways to help each other. We must be realistic, go beyond polemics and demagoguery, and propose innovative ideas that will bring peace, justice and prosperity in all of Jammu and Kashmir.

The author had two reasons to create this blog. First, it was to address the question that was being asked repeatedly, especially, by journalists and other observers in the U.S., U.K., and Canada, inquiring whether the Kashmiri society was concerned about social, cultural and environmental challenges in the valley given that only political upheaval and violence were reported or highlighted by media.

Second, the author has covered the entire spectrum of societal issues and challenges facing Kashmiri people over an 8-year period with the exception of politics given that politics gets all the exposure at the expense of REAL CHALLENGES that will likely result in irreversible degradation in the quality of life and the standard of living for future generations of Kashmiris to come.

The author stopped adding additional material to the Blog once it was felt that most, if not all, concerns, challenges and issues facing the Kashmiri society are cataloged in the Blog. There are over 1900 entries in the Blog and most commentaries include short biographical sketches of authors to bring readers close to the essence of Kashmir. Unfortunately, the 8-year assessment also indicates that neither Kashmiri civil society, nor intellectuals or political leadership have any inclination or enthusiasm in pursuing issues that do not coincide with their vested political agendas. What it means for the future of Kashmiri children and their children is unfathomable. But the evidence is all laid out.

This Blog is a reality check on Kashmir. It is a historical record of how Kashmir lost its way.

Vijay Sazawal, Ph.D.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Kashmir and Chinar

Sharma details the "State Tree" and describes its cultural significance to valley residents

(Mr. Om Prakash Sharma "Vidyarthi", 50, was born in Udhampur. After completing his M.Sc. in Botany from the University of Jammu, he joined the Indian Forest Service (IFS). He won the prestigious Sahitya Akademi award in 2002. He has collected, catalogued and named plants and animals in all dialects and languages of Jammu and Kashmir and North India. Mr. Sharma, based in Jammu, has written 36 books on different aspects of forest ecology like garden flowers, medicinal plants, birds, biodiversity and environment. He got the National Forest Conservation Award in 2010. In previous years, he has received numerous awards and honours.)

Kashmir Without Chinar

Chinar, a majestic tree of Kashmir is known for its antiquity, magnificence, cool shade and a royal touch. The tree grows upto a height of 30 metres and girth of 10 to 15 metres at ground level. It bears dense crown of interlaced branches and palmately lobed leaves held horizontally to make shade extra cool during summer. The flowers are borne on pendulous stalks in paired globular heads.

The word Chinar has its origin from Persian language, it is native to Persia, Greece and Italy. Pliny mentions its introduction into Itlay around 390 B.C. Old Romans and Greeks had cultural links with this tree since long and was a favorite shade tree. In English, it is known as Oriental Plane and its botanical name is Platanus orientalis.

In Kashmiri language, it is known as Boiun or Booni and it is believed that word has originated from the term Bhawani which means goddess. In olden days, it was tradition to plant it near temples of goddess Bhawani and got its name Boiun as it is protective like mother Bhawani. Old Chinar groves are seen at various places like Tulamula (Kheer Bhawani), Zeethiyar (Zestha Mata), Vichar Nag, (Soura), Shardaji (Keran), Nagbal (Anantnag), Martand Temple (Mattan). At the confluence of Sindh and Jhelum at Shadipur, also known as Prayag, and old Bouin tree is growing since ancient times.

Large scale plantation of oriental plane was patronized by benevolent king namely Zain-ul-ab-din who was unlike his father and built large number of temples earlier destroyed by Sultan Sikander (1393-1416 A.D). After the arrival of Mughals, Akbar and Shahjahan also showed keen interest in using Chinars as attractive shade bearing landscape tree. Mughals got these trees planted in famous Mughal Gardens of Kashmir like Naseem bagh, Nishat bagh, Shalimar garden, Harwan and at places like Bijbehara, Budgam, Kokernag and Anantnag. Largest tree seen in Darashikoh bagh at Bijbehara has been measured 19 mts at ground level. The largest Chinar has also been reported from Chittergam, Chadoora which measures 31.85 mts at ground level and 14.78 m at breast height. All this reflects the deep aesthetic sense of Mughal Emperors. Foreign travelers who visited Kashmir before Mughal empire also mention presence of Chinar Trees in the valley. Kalhana, the great historian of Kashmir however does not mention Bouin but mentions a large tree called Vata as a sacred tree resembling Chinar. Sir Walter Lawrence in his book “Valley of Kashmir” published in 1895 mentions this as royal tree of Kashmir. He has put on record a boled Chinar in Lolab valley having a circumference of 63 feet 5 inches at about 5 ft from ground level. Attracted by the beauty of Chinars, Late Dr. M. S. Randhawa (ICS) Chief Administrator Chandigarh/Vice Chancellor Punjab Agricultural University, Ludhiana took saplings of Chinar from Kashmir and got them planted at Chandigarh and Ludhiana.

At present Jammu and Kashmir has declared Chinar as state tree and provided full legal protection under law but Chinar trees are dwindling fast due to drying because of ongoing developmental activities and increasing vehicular pollution e.g. drying of Chinars is visible in the newly created park on the left bank of River Jehlum between Zero Bridge and Abdullah Bridge. Chinars are also drying on either-side of Tourist Reception Centre lane and giving an ugly look to the visitors. Department of Floriculture has taken initiative of its large scale multiplication in the nurseries and raising awareness among masses by celebrating chinar day in the month of March. Accordingly to a census carried out by Chinar Development Authority, 19897 Chinars were present in 2005 from the earlier number of 42,000 in 1970.

Chinar tree has special cultural & religious significance among Kashmiris both Hindus and Muslims. It is a popular symbol of Kashmir heritage seen in various designs of arts & crafts, articles of house and shikara decoration, embroidery of shawls, papermachhe, wood carving and namda gabba making. Several articles of handicrafts decorated with motifs of chinar leaves are source of curiosity for the tourists and pilgrims who visit Jammu and Kashmir. Autumn season presents enchanting orange red glow to the falling foliage and great splendour of matchless beauty for the attraction of visitors. Our late Prime Minister Indira Gandhi had special love for autumn Chinars and used to adore flaming beauty of Chinars. Late Chief Minister Sheikh Muhammad Abdullah named his book after colour of autumn chinars as “Aatish-e-Chinar”. Several Kashmiri proverbs also have their origin in the elegance of these majestic trees of unique cultural and religious significance. Leaves of Chinars when fall dry find their way to heating pots called “kangris” for keeping the chill away. Its bark is medicinal and is used as tea substitute by the locals. The Chinar wood is heavy, hard, tough and is used in wood carving and furniture marking.

Kashmir's beauty has been nurtured by mighty Chinars planted by Kashmiri Pandits, Priests, Kings and others over the centuries, beauty praised and sung through poems and lyrics, decorated in handicrafts and shawls by the nature loving weavers and made more colourful by each passing autumn. Save Chinars, save beauty for the posterity and ecological security. The existence of Kashmiri culture without Chinars is unthinkable.

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