In times of going ‘Smart’, the authorities in Kashmir have chopped a decades-old Chinar tree at Poloview in Srinagar’s Lal Chowk.
It was “ruthless killing” for journalist Hakeem Irfan, who shared footage of the chopped Chinar tree on social media. He questioned the necessity to cut a Chinar tree to build Smart City. Perhaps, the tree was not that important for the authorities busy in making Srinagar the Smart City.
In fact, Chinar is not just a tree. It is Kashmir in itself. The tree has holistic bearing on Kashmir’s landscape — both geographical and political. It has been witness to Kashmir’s history, both written and unwritten, erased and painted, planted and factual — the majestic tree has testimony to everything. I always daydream about it speaking its heart out so that narratives built would crumble and facts come to fore.
Most recently, the Chinar tree located inside Dogra ruler Maharaja Hari Singh’s palace, popular now as The Grand Palace or The Lalit, is witness to Mahatma Gandhi and Hari Singh’s discussion. Both had talked for hours about the Kashmir’s future under the shade of that Chinar tree on that summer afternoon. It was in June 1947.
That Chinar tree inside the palace has also perhaps heard the conversations of British-India’s Last Viceroy Lord Mountbatten. It has seen Mountbatten taking those giant steps in the lawns of the palace.
Post 5 August 2019, this tree has witnessed foreign delegates’ group being briefed about Kashmir situation.
In 2018, when Kashmir’s own football club Real Kashmir played for the first time on their home soil in autumn that year, it brought cheer on the desolated faces of Kashmiris —marred by decades old conflict who watched the game amid groove of Chinars. The moment marked ‘green’ for Kashmir in autumn, in a similar way Chinar acquires varied facets in different seasons.
Its green leaves of summer turn blood-red with the arrival of autumn and finally yellow marking the onset of winter. Then, leaves again turn green announcing the arrival of spring— a freedom from harsh winter.
The tree having its origins in Greece is believed to have transcended into Kashmir during the times when trade would go beyond business transactions.
Chinar in Kashmir got a major impetus during aesthetic Mughals, who studded every garden they made in Kashmir with it. Locally known as ‘buen’, the centuries-old Kashmir Chinars are considered living testimony to 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 700 years old— Chinar is believed to be in Budgam’s Chattergam village with 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.
Recently, the authorities said several older trees have been found in Kashmir, one of which they said appears to be nearly 1,000-years-old and is located in Budgam. These older Chinars they said have a girth of over 50 feet.
Chinar can be found across valley’s shrines. Equally, Kashmiri Pandits also highly venerate the tree, with Chinars finding a place in many temples including famous Kheer Bhawani temple in Ganderbal’s Tulmulla village.
The politicians also have been fascinated by changing hues of Chinar. Kashmir’s popular politician Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah, who choose to join ‘secular dominion’, named his autobiography as Aatish-e-Chinar (Fire of Chinar).
Abdullah’s graveyard at Hazratbal also stands amid groove of Chinars. Another famous politician, Mufti Mohammad Sayeed, who joined hands with BJP to accede to the throne of Kashmir, also stands buried amid Chinars. He is buried at Dara Shikoh Chinar Bagh in his native Bijebehara.
Post-militant commander Burhan Wani’s killing in 2016, there was a trend of people marching towards encounter sites to help militants to escape. In fact, many believe it started from Kulgam’s Frisal village in 2017. The bloody gunfight had left six militants and a civilian dead. Later, it turned out that militants were hiding inside an underground hideout that opened over-ground into the hollow trunk of a Chinar tree in the village courtyard.
After ‘90s. when ‘guns and bombs’ became paradise’s new synonym, Chinar’s trunk provided a safe hideout for armed militants and their ammunition. In fact, Noefli buenee or Chinar bagh at Eidgah in Srinagar, where people used to offer special prayers in times of crisis, was converted to graveyard after ‘90s. The place, now known as Martyr’s Graveyard, is a memorial of people who laid down their lives for Kashmir’s ‘Azadi’.
Last year, the authorities announced they’d build the largest Chinar Park ‘Chinar Zaar’ on the foothills of Srinagar’s Zabarwan mountain range to mark 75 years of Independence. Also, the authorities said 75 Chinars were planted at the site to mark 75 years of the country’s independence.
In spring of 2021, the Indian Army with an aim to bridge gap with youth started a community radio station in north Kashmir — Radio Chinar. Also, Srinagar-based Army’s 15 Corps responsible for operations in Kashmir has got its name influenced by mighty Chinar. It is most commonly referred to as Chinar Corps.
The pellet victims post-2016 violence after narrating their ordeals to penmen in Srinagar’s Press Enclave could find their moment of solace from scorching sun under Chinars — a witnesses to decades old ‘pain of Kashmir’. Every month sitting under Chinars, scores of parents under the banner of Association of Parents of Disappeared Parents (APDP) would assemble in city center Pratap Park to seek whereabouts of their ‘loved ones’ who disappeared in thin air.
Kashmiris before the onset of winter gather fallen Chinar leaves and prepare firewood for kangris to sustain harsh winter.
Even Kashmiris commonly mention Chinar in their ridicule as well. A burly person is chided as ‘buenee ghod’(chinar trunk). A resilient woman or a mother is often referred as ‘shehaj buen’. Elders strictly advise children not to do any ridicule or pee under Chinar with 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 their pictures and videos shot in Chinar gardens. Often couples can be seen spending their moments of romance in Naseem Bagh, Nishat Bagh, Shalimar Bagh and other Mughal gardens dotted with Chinars.
Bollywood has also kept tryst with Chinar reflecting Kashmir’s grandeur. Yesteryears’ Bollywood movies, including Arzoo, Jab Jab Phool Khelei, Kashmir ki Kali, chose Chinar to show Kashmir’s scenic topography. While the new-era Bollywood movies such as Haider, Yahaan, Harud symbolised Chinar to show Kashmir’s conflict.
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.
Chinar finds a mention in poetry as well. The couplets of revered saint Sheikh-ul-Alam, known as ‘shruks’, and couplets of poetess Lalla Ded or Laleshwari known as ‘vokhs’ make mention of this magnificent tree.
Chinar also has impacted the Kashmiri arts and crafts with Kashmiri craftsmen often seen weaving designs of Chinar leaves on the shawls with those impeccable hands.
In 2015, some students inside Kashmir University campus marked their paintings on decaying Chinar inside campus. The shades of brush reflected decades-old images of war on their minds with thinkers reminded of famous Allama Iqbal couplet on Chinar.
‘Jis khaak ke zameer me hai aatish-e-chinar,
Mumkin nahi ki sard ho woh khaak-e-arjumand’
(The dust that carries in its conscience the fire of the Chinar, It is impossible for that celestial dust to cool down).