Naseem Bagh, the chinar-laden garden in the heart of the University of Kashmir campus is a historic Mughal garden situated on the northwestern side of the Dal Lake close to the city of Srinagar In Jammu and Kashmir. It was laid out during the reign of Mughal Emperor Akbar in 1586. The garden was later expanded and improved by Emperor Shah Jahan, Akbar’s grandson, who oversaw the planting of over 1200 Chinar trees in the year 1686.
The chinar trees were laid out in a ‘Char Chinar’ design, with four trees in the corners of a rectangular plot, ensuring that someone in the centre would always be in the shade. It’s believed that the saplings were nourished with milk and honey. A canal was dug from the Zukrah canal (which no longer exists, near Batpora) to irrigate the lush green grass. This Mughal garden was named Naseem Bagh or the Garden of Breeze, due to the soft winds that passed through it.
In the past, the young people of Kashmir delighted in spending countless hours beneath the cool shade of chinar trees in Srinagar, while the gentle breeze from Dal Lake added to their comfort.
Naseem Bagh’s historical significance lies in its association with the Mughal dynasty, which ruled over a vast part of the Indian subcontinent. Naseem Bagh was a favoured retreat for Mughal emperors and nobility, providing a serene environment to escape the summer heat and enjoy the natural beauty of the region.
It has witnessed numerous historical meetings that have left an indelible mark on its storied grounds. One of the most notable gatherings was during the Mughal era when emperors and dignitaries convened within its lush confines to discuss matters of state and culture.
Emperor Jahangir, known for his love of art and beauty, held several gatherings in Naseem Bagh. It was here that he engaged in intellectual conversations with poets, artists, and scholars. His passion for nature and gardens found a perfect haven in Naseem Bagh’s tranquil setting.
Some accounts suggest that Emperor Jahangir nurtured the approximately 1,000 chinar trees that were planted in Naseem Bagh, presently the Kashmir University campus-with milk.
Additionally, the garden served as a backdrop for diplomatic and political discussions. During the Mughal rule, emissaries and foreign envoys met with the ruling elite of the region within the soothing confines of Naseem Bagh. These meetings often carried the weight of significant negotiations and agreements.
One of the significant political meetings held at Naseem Bagh took place in 1964 when Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru convened talks with Sheikh Abdullah, the then Chief Minister of Jammu and Kashmir. This meeting holds historical importance in the context of the region’s political landscape.
The discussions centred around the political situation in Jammu and Kashmir and its relationship with the Indian Union. The outcome of the meeting, often referred to as the “Naseem Bagh Agreement,” led to the “Kashmir Accord” or the “Delhi Agreement” between the Indian government and Sheikh Abdullah.
The accord solidified certain political arrangements, which included granting a special autonomous status to Jammu and Kashmir within the Indian Union while preserving its distinct identity and provisions. The agreement outlined matters related to the state’s jurisdiction, citizenship, and other aspects of governance.
This meeting at Naseem Bagh marked an important turning point in the political dynamics of Jammu and Kashmir.
It remains a historical moment that reflects the complex relationship between Jammu and Kashmir and the Indian Union, shaping the region’s political trajectory for decades to come.
Beyond political and diplomatic matters, Naseem Bagh also played host to cultural gatherings and artistic performances. Poets, musicians, and artists gathered to share their talents and contribute to the cultural vibrancy of the Mughal court. The combination of natural beauty and human creativity created an atmosphere conducive to artistic expression.
Its captivating allure has not only left an imprint on history but has also charmed its way into the world of cinema. Over the years, this enchanting garden has been chosen as a backdrop for several cinematic productions, showcasing its natural beauty and historical resonance to audiences far and wide.
As time flowed onward, the garden’s historical significance continued to attract visitors from various walks of life. Today, Naseem Bagh’s legacy lives on as a place where history was written, culture thrived, and nature’s beauty intertwined with human endeavors.
At present, Naseem Bagh is home to over 700 Chinar trees. Chinar Locally known as Booeni, which has drawn the attention of countless visitors to Kashmir, becoming a symbol of culture and heritage. Certain Kashmiri historians hold the view that the Mughal emperors introduced chinar trees from Central Asia. Chinar trees have played a significant role in numerous Bollywood films and songs. According to M S Wadoo, author of The Trees of Our Heritage, the largest and oldest chinar tree stands at Chattergam Chadoora in central Kashmir in the garden of Sufi saint Syed Qasim Shah’s shrine.
The deep significance attributed to Chinar trees by the Mughal Emperors is evident in a letter written by Aurangzeb to his Kashmir governor. He expressed sadness about a destructive fire that affected the Jamia Masjid in Nowhatta Srinagar. In the letter, he inquired about the condition of the Chinar trees in the mosque’s park. Upon learning that the Chinar trees had survived the fire, he felt relieved, thanked God, and noted that rebuilding the mosque might take a short time, but restoring the beautiful shade of Chinars in the park would require much longer.
However, a fresh preliminary census of majestic Chinar trees in Jammu and Kashmir has enumerated 18,000 trees with at least one third of them found diseased or damaged which may be lost in next 10 years, prompting a wave of worry among the experts.
As time has progressed into the 21st century, rather than preserving and caring for the Chinars, they are being exposed to litter and the surroundings are being altered with roads and structures in Naseem Bagh as well. Despite being designated for heritage preservation by KU in 2010, the garden has suffered the opposite fate, enduring significant damage and losing its original charm due to the construction of concrete structures that were justified as necessary for development. The trend started with the establishment of the Distance Education department and guest house, and it has continued unchecked, now including facilities like hostels, restrooms, eateries, and a parking area.
The natural expanse is rapidly shrinking, and soon there might be no garden space remaining.
The gradual decline of Naseem Bagh is a result of poorly thought-out plans and careless construction projects. The intrusion of concrete structures has stripped away the charm of this location. Unless this trend is halted, it won’t be long before Naseem Bagh fades into mere memory. It is imperative to cease construction within this heritage site and take immediate measures to revive its magnificence and safeguard its natural beauty.
In past Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah initiated the establishment of an engineering college within Naseem Bagh using wooden barracks, as regulations prohibited the use of stones, cement, and iron for construction in the area. However, over time, the serene landscape of Naseem Bagh underwent degradation due to the construction of concrete structures.
During Ex Vice Chancellor University of Kashmir, Reyaz Punjabi’s tenure, significant pruning of the chinar trees took place. This action led to a three-day hunger strike by prominent figures from Kashmir like zareef Ahmad Zareef, who fervently appealed to preserve the chinar trees. Regrettably, the historical significance of the site has gradually eroded due to the lack of seriousness exhibited by successive governments, which failed to comprehend the importance of preserving the historical heritage.
Naseem Bagh played host to transit camps, travelers, and even British soldiers, adding to its historical relevance and importance.
During World War I, world war II Naseem Bagh was used as a transit camp for wounded soldiers and refugees. The bagh (garden) was used to house and care for soldiers who had been injured during the war. It was also utilized as a place to provide temporary shelter and support for refugees who were displaced due to the conflict.
As time has progressed, Naseem Bagh has evolved into a haven for students seeking relief from the scorching heat of the campus during summer. It has become a vibrant hub of intellectual discourse, with students from various disciplines converging under the chinar trees. This amalgamation fosters a sense of community and camaraderie, promoting the exchange of ideas and friendships.
The captivating setting of Naseem Bagh inspires poets, writers, and artists, who find their creativity kindled by its natural beauty. The play of sunlight filtering through the leaves ignites the imagination, resulting in countless works of art that capture the essence of the human experience in nature’s embrace.
However, the passage of time has not been kind to Naseem Bagh. Neglect and unregulated construction have diminished its historical significance and natural charm. The need of the hour is to halt such development and restore the garden to its former glory, preserving its heritage and beauty for generations to come.