Chinar, the perpetual witness, companion and its comforting shade

  • UBEER NAQUSHBANDI
  • Publish Date: Feb 24 2019 3:39AM
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  • Updated Date: Feb 24 2019 3:39AM
Chinar, the perpetual witness, companion and its comforting shadePhoto: Kashmir Ink

When Kashmir’s own football club, the sensational Real Kashmir played for the first time on their home soil in autumn this year it brought rare cheer on the faces of Kashmir’s young blighted by decades of conflict.

They watched the game in a rapturous environment amid a grove of majestic Chinars, making the moment more special. The moment marked a certain warmth during autumn in Kashmir, in a way the Chinar does before its blazing red leaves turn amber and finally yellow to mark onset of winter. Then, again its leaves turn green announcing the arrival of spring, freedom from harsh winter.

The tree having its origins in Greece is believed to have arrived into Kashmir during the times when trade used to be more than just business transactions. Chinar in Kashmir got a major impetus during the reign of Mughals, who studded the valley, its meadows and gardens with it.

Locally known as ‘buen’, the centuries old Kashmir Chinars are considered a living testimony to the region’s art, crafts, literature, leisure, politics and conflict as well. Scientifically, known as Platanus orientalis, the tree grows over 20 meters in height, while its girth can go up to 50 feet. The oldest—over 600 years old Chinar is believed to be in Budgam’s Chattergam village having a girth of over 50 feet. The magnificent tree near Hazrat Syed Mir Qasim (RA) shrine signifies how preachers from Central Asia and Persia, who came to Kashmir centuries ago, revered the tree. 

The majestic tree can be found around the valley’s Muslim shrines. Equally, Pandits also highly venerate the tree, with Chinars finding a place in many temple compounds including famous Kheer Bhawani temple in Ganderbal’s Tulmulla village.

The changing hues of Chinar through four distinct seasons have equally fascinated Kashmir’s politicians too. Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah chose the autumnal fire of the tree as the title of his autobiography, Aatish-e-Chinar (fire of Chinar). Abdullah’s grave near Hazratbal shrine is also surrounded by a grove of Chinars.  Another prominent politician, late Mufti Mohammad Sayeed, who helped right wing Hindu BJP to taste power in Kashmir for first time in history, also stands buried amid Chinars. Sayeed’s grave lies at Dara Shikoh Chinar Bagh in his native Bijebehara. Many believe the trend in Kashmir’s conflict of people descending at sites of encounters to help militants escape from military cordons started from Kulgam’s Frisal village, near a Chinar. Following a bloody gunfight that left six combatants and a civilian dead, it turned out that militants were inside an underground hideout that opened over ground into the hollow trunk of a Chinar in the village courtyard. 

Right from the start of the armed insurgency in Kashmir in 1990, Chinar’s trunk provided a safe hideout for militants and their ammunition. In fact Noefli Buen or Chinar Bagh at Eidgah Srinagar, where people used to offer special prayers in times of crisis, was converted into a graveyard for militants and other killed in the conflict. The place, now known as Martyr’s Graveyard is a memorial of people who laid down their lives for Kashmir’s “Azadi”. This year, pellet victims, a new fallout of Kashmir conflict after narrating their ordeal to penmen in Srinagar’s Press Enclave found their moment of solace from the scorching summer sun under the shade of Chinars—a witnesses to decades old ‘pain of Kashmir’.  Every month, sitting under Chinars scores of parents and relatives of those disappeared in the conflict assemble assemble in city center Pratap Park and demand whereabouts of their missing loved ones holding the banner of the Association of Parents of Disappeared Persons (APDP). Kashmiris before the onset of winter gather fallen Chinar leaves and burn large heaps to make charcoal for Kangris to keep warm.

The people here even use the Chinar bigness to ridicule each other sometimes. A burly person is chided as ‘bueni goud’ (Chinar trunk). A resilient woman or a good mother is often referred to as ‘shehaj buen’ (comforting shade of Chinar). Elders strictly advise children not to do any ridicule or pee under a Chinar and perpetually propagate a belief that the tree possesses some metaphysical powers. The changing hues of Chinar play on the mind of the people, who throughout the year upload pictures and videos shot in Chinar gardens. Couples can often be seen spending romantic moments under the shade of Chinars in Naseem Bagh, Nishat Bagh, Shalimar Bagh and other Mughal gardens dotted with the majestic tree.

Bollywood has also kept its tryst with Chinar, reflecting Kashmir’s grandeur. Yesteryears Bollywood movies including Arzoo, Jab Jab Phool Khelei, Kashmir Ki Kali choose Chinar to show Kashmir’s scenic topography. The new era Bollywood movies such as Haider, Yahaan, Harud symbolised Chinar to foreground the conflict in Kashmir.

In 2016, when photojournalist Saqib Majeed captured a moment of boys playing cricket amid magnificent Chinars of Nishat Bagh, it won him the coveted Wisden–MCC Cricket Photograph of the Year Competition. 

“For that year, it was only about bloodbath. Every person has a threshold. For a change, I thought to capture a landscape still,” said Majeed, about choosing to photograph children playing on the beautiful red turf of Chinar leaves in autumn. Chinar populates poetry as well. Couplets of the revered saint Sheikh-ul-Alam known as ‘shruk’ and couplets of poetess Lalla Ded or Laleshwari known as ‘vaakh’ make mention of this magnificent tree.

Few years back some students at Kashmir University made art on a decaying Chinar tree on the campus. Their strokes also reflected decades old images of war on their minds.