A Neglected Cultural and Natural Asset: The Dying Pangs of the Chinar

A Neglected Cultural and Natural Asset: The Dying Pangs of the Chinar

AYAZ NABI MALIK & MOHD ASIF SHAH

Nowadays everywhere around, several debates and discussions are held regarding the importance of popular culture and consequences of environmental pollution. In these discussions and debates, the participants deliver sonorous and sumptuous speeches regarding the sustenance and maintenance of their culture and environment, which ultimately prove to be a mere lip service.
Ideally, every society holds its culture in high esteem. It is through culture that a nation or a society guarantees and maintains its perpetuation and longevity. However, with the advent and introduction of modernity and technology, people like Kashmiris have suddenly developed and cultivated a strange and disheartening modus operandi vis-à-vis their culture and heritage during the course of so-called development and progress. Several cultural and traditional symbols and “relics” like ‘Pheran’, ‘Samovar’, ‘Kangri’, ‘Khan Dress’, ‘Kasab’( elderly women headscarf ), ‘ Chinar tree’, among several others, have either been eschewed, disused or forgotten deliberately at the cost of preferring the so-called Modernisation and Brand-mania.
Consider the magnificent Chinar. This tree is a symbol of permanence, comfort, emotions recollected, unity of people , and so on. Since times immemorial, it has been exhibiting our Kashmiri culture and identity. In the days gone by, our elders would constructively use these trees for their routine get-togethers, for discussions, for easing and relieving themselves after hard labors under the umbrage and shade of these trees. They would also enact and stage religio-cultural activities like the Bhand Pather (traditional Kashmiri folk entertainment), preparation of the Peer Khairaat/ Bhandaar (local religious feast) under the domain of the Chinar tree. These activities would promise and ensure entertainment cum spiritual solace to the rural populace. Such was the magical charm provided by this magnificent and gigantic tree!
Kashmir valley is also known as the Reshi/Peer Vaer (Valley of Saints) because t saints always propagated a symbiotic harmony between Man and Nature. Sheikhul Aalam’s( the 14-15th century renowned Kashmiri saint and poet) wise saying ‘ann poshi teli yeli wann poshi’ underlines and recognizes the seminal pre-requisition of Nature (trees and meadows) for the prosperity and sustenance of mankind. But, nowadays we confine these sayings and principles only to books and banners as we keep going ahead with the practice of murdering and maiming the generous and benign Nature: trees like the Chinar, the Wall-nut tree, the forests and so on
From the environmental point of view, the Chinar tree plays a pivotal role in maintaining ecological balance. In the past, issues like global warming and hot temperatures were strange and unfamiliar occurrences in the valley. But now the tale has changed. We have fully tampered and tinkered with Nature and the consequences are there for everyone to see and face.
The Chinar enjoyed the high favours and patronage of the Mughals as they had recognized and valued its aesthetic and spiritual essence. The world famous Mughal Gardens have stood out as the centres of global attraction for their enticing and charismatic beauty springing from their systematically-planted Chinars. It is because of these glorious trees and their soul-soothing magnanimity that tourists from across the globe flock in numbers to these gardens. In September 2013, the German Embassy in New Delhi , in collaboration with the Government chose for their ‘stage’ not any grand, cosy and sophisticated auditorium as the venue for the live international musical concert (Ehsaas-e-Kashmir),but the soul-enthralling and Chinar-studded Shalimar Garden.
In the overall physical, cultural and mystical beauty of the valley, the Chinar has played a tremendous role. However, the equation is witnessing and undergoing a radical shift. The Chinar tree has now been fully ostracized and neglected by both the people and the government. In contrast to the past practice of using the tree for socio-religious harmony and spiritual solace, nowadays it is brazenly and unethically exploited for heating up the local Masjid Hamams , which in turn become hotbeds of rumbustious socio-politico-religious, domestic and nowadays primetime debates- hence fabricating the very society which our ancestors would always try to keep united and intact by ennobling the same tree.
Moreover, with the execution of the so-called developmental plans and projects in Kashmir, the ‘axe’ usually falls on forests, water bodies, flora and fauna, and the poor Chinar. Government and people are hell-bent on development at the cost of destruction and disrespect of our nature, environment and culture. While as the fully developed American and European nations highly revere, ennoble and celebrate their culture and nature with pride; by doing so they maintain a balance between their culture and development. For the sustenance of their cultural decorum, they do not insanely and despotically disturb the equilibrium of Nature and their culture. Instead, they maintain the status quo by bearing costly diversions and alternatives to go ahead with their developmental enterprise.
We are against development or modernity at the expense of distorting our Nature and culture as that development would one day render us without a cultural anchor to identify ourselves. The need of the hour is to develop vibrant social awareness regarding the overall importance of the Chinar in our culture and to prepare the mindset for voluntarily planting Chinar saplings.
The Government should also respect this rare and endangered cultural and botanical species while executing its development plans. Government, NGO’s, educational institutions, the civil society, religious preachers, media and all other stakeholders should realize their calling and responsibility in order to protect this waning and wailing Chinar tree. We cannot- as a society and culture- afford to neither we must not merely watch helplessly the withering of the Chinar and witness it die a slow and painful death.
—The authors can be reached at: ayazenglish.ku@gmail.com and khushasif25@gmail.com

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