Botanically called platanus orientalis, Boene or the Kashmiri Chinar is still resisting the onslaught of urbanization which is taking a heavy toll on the serene and soothing environment that Kashmir has had been known for the world over. This mighty tree is a witness to the socio-cultural upheavals which the Valley has gone through for about a millennium now! It is pertinent to note here that in the latest census at least one 1,000 year old Chinar has been located in Budgam. (Hindustan Times, July 23, 2022) It has also been found that the number of Chinars has decreased from 42,000 to 20,000 over the years. This is enough to explain that this mighty tree clearly falls in the list of “endangered species” now!
The Chinar is not just a tree vis-à-vis Kashmir. It has been (and continues to be against all odds) the socio-cultural (and even spiritual) identity of the Valley. Its lush green foliage supported by the mighty trunk has had been the site of relief not only for the traveler but also for the womenfolk carrying food to their men during the sowing and harvesting seasons. A clay (earthen) pitcher full of cool water would rest with the Chinar trunk (on a wooden stand) to quench the thirst of the stranger during the hot summer days. Anybody would find an asylum beneath the Chinar during bad weather.
Since plantation of trees has had been one of the cherished endeavours of the Kashmiri mystics (Rishis in particular), therefore, it is plausible to conclude that this tree has had a mystical sacred touch with it! It is no wonder then that both graveyards and crematories still abound with this tree. The Chinar still overlooks the banks of Jhelum and its tributaries. This is a clear proof of the fact that our ancestors never planted this tree without purpose. As a shade-giving tree, the Chinar still adorns the ways and highways of Kashmir.
However, the most peculiar thing about this tree is that almost all the road crossings in our countryside have a Chinar overlooking the particular habitation and it is quite interesting that every village has its own Chinar which, in a way, being a hallmark (read identity) of the village would become an introduction of that village. Thus it seems that the great-grand ancestor of the village would have planted the particular Chinar with a “vision and mission” just like nowadays institutions are established and a “vision and mission” document is written for them.
So, the particular Chinar which we are going to talk about presently could showcase (with differences indeed) the importance of most of such village Chinars. This Chinar (of the writer’s village) is called Akil Ju-wien Boene, that is, the Chinar of Akil Ju. Be it noted here that “Akul” used to be the popular form of “Akbar” and “Ju” stood (stands) for both a “caste” as well as an “elderly/respectable person!” As such, this ancestor of the northern part of this particular village had planted this Chinar on the crossing through which now cross the Sumbal-Baramulla road and the road from Palhallan to the Haigam Wetland which is known for the Siberian migratory birds. And, the “rafah-i amah land” (land for public good), called “khah charai” or the pasture land, stretched around the Chinar. This land would have naturally been under the control and supervision of this grand-ancestor of the village.
The socio-cultural significance of Akil Ju and thus of the Chinar planted by him is that all the institutions of the village, for the last 50 years, have sprung under the “shadow of this Chinar!” It was in the late seventies of the last century that the first government primary school was established by dint of the efforts of the village elders. This school thus became the harbinger academic uplift and intellectual development of the village. In 1982 the Chinar witnessed the establishment of another socio-religious institution, that is, Jama‘ Abu Hanifah. This mosque, since then, has played most significant role for the socio-religious cohesion and awareness of the village vis-à-vis the teachings and principles of Islam. Moreover, the mosque has become a kind of new identity of the village. One of the most influential morning/evening Islamic learning centres (maktab) emerged from this mosque. The only ‘Idgah (ground for Eid/Friday prayers) of the village is also an attachment to the premises of this mosque. This ground, besides hosting the Eid/Friday prayers for last 40 years, has hosted almost all the social gatherings convened for the benefit of the village.
The land earmarked by Akil Ju through his Chinar, in the early nineties, witnessed the emergence of a public educational institution by the combined efforts of the citizens not only of the village but of the neighbouring villages as well. This educational institution has indeed given a boost to education and has thus taken the academic profile of the village to new heights. A decade later, yet another public school got established under the shadow of Akil Ju’s Chinar. This school further strengthened and enriched the village educationally.
A few years later J&K Bank opened a branch at a stone’s throw from this mighty Chinar of Akil Ju and, as such, the Chinar became a witness to the economic progress of the village. This bank is now a hub of economic activity of the whole area. Since the village had been lacking infrastructure in healthcare, therefore, the government, last year, decided to sanction a hospital to the village. The hospital too is being constructed in the land which, some one and a half centuries earlier, as if, had been demarcated by Akil Ju to be watched over by his Chinar.
Alas, the Boene (Chinar), from the shadow of which almost all the important institutions of the village gushed forth, is now withering away! And, the crossing where now stands the bus/sumo stand of the village, has lost all the sheen and attraction because the Chinar of Akil Ju has lost the lush green foliage! A sensitive soul and an inquisitive mind can easily feel the agonizing pangs which this Chinar is going through and the case of other Chinars of Kashmir could not be too different. The elegy of our Chinars, smashed away by the monster of urbanization, could be heard by mystics (Rishis and Sufis) alone! Haven’t we lost these saints as well?
(The author is Assistant Professor Islamic Studies at GDC Kokernag. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org)