A stately tree, Chinar (Platanus orientalis) is noted for its antiquity, splendour, cool shade, and royal appearance. The tree can reach a height of 30m and a circumference of more than 12m. The leaves are borne alternately on the stem, strongly 5-7 lobed with 12-20cm length and palmate or maple-like with long stalk, and the bark is greyish. Flowers are monoecious and unisexual, with thick spherical heads.
For millennia, the Chinar trees have been a vital element of Kashmir’s landscape, and they hold a great deal of historical significance. In fact, the oldest Chinar in Kashmir is said to have been planted in 1374 and is almost 600 years old. It is 14.78 meters tall and is located in Kashmir’s Budgam district. The tree was adored by Mughal Emperors such as Akbar, Nur-ud-Din Muhammad Jahangir, and even Aurangzeb. It has even been dubbed the “royal tree.” Following his conquest of Kashmir in 1586, the great Emperor Akbar is supposed to have planted over 1,200 Chinar trees. On Dal Lake, there is a small Chinar Island called ‘Char Chinar’. The island’s name comes from the fact that it has four Chinar trees planted on it. Emperor Jahangir erected these four trees in such a way that they will always cast a shadow on the island. They are among Kashmir’s most popular tourist destinations.
Mountain slopes, cities, and towns of Kashmir are surrounded by exquisite towering Chinars. The tree is also very popular among the locals, who enjoy sitting in its shade and soaking in the cool breeze. The soothing shade of a Chinar cannot be matched by a thousand permeable thatches.
In Kashmiri religion, politics, literature, and romance, the significance of the Chinar tree is very prominent. The tree is not only an important part of Kashmir’s history, but it also holds a particular place in the hearts of Kashmiris. The Chinar tree stands tall, bearing witness to countless natural disasters and enduring hot summer days, frigid winter nights, rainy spring showers, and brisk autumn breezes with grace.
The Chinar tree is locally known as ‘Bouin’ in Kashmir. The name comes from the Sanskrit term ‘Bhawani,’ which means Goddess. The Chinar trees, a religious emblem, can be found in the Kheer Bhawani temple as well as at other Goddess Bhawani shrines throughout Kashmir. These lovely trees can also be seen at Kashmir’s most famous mosques and shrines, such as Sultan-ul-Arifeen and Hazratbal.
Former Jammu and Kashmir Prime Minister Sheikh Muhammad Abdullah titled his autobiography ‘Aatish-e-Chinar,’ which means Flames of Chinar. ‘The Chinar Leaves’ was the title of a memoir written by Makhan Lal Fotedar, a famous leader of the Indian National Congress who was also a Kashmiri. This huge tree is also mentioned in literature like James Hilton Knowles’ ‘A Dictionary of Kashmiri Proverbs and Sayings’ and Sir Walter Lawrence’s ‘The Valley of Kashmir.’ Several poets have also contributed verses in praise of this magnificent tree.
The tree’s beauty is its deep green hue in spring and summer, which changes to a blazing red in the autumn. Chinar is a Persian word that means “fame, fire, and blaze.” Autumn is a season that honours the Chinar like no other! The Kashmiri Chinar tree is at its most beautiful when its brilliant red leaves, which turn the entire tree red, make a rustling sound as wind rushes through them, giving the whole scene a fantastic appearance. This scenery is impossible not to fall in love with, and to make one wonder at the beauty that nature has bestowed upon us.
The Chinar tree not only adds to the beauty of Kashmir but also has a number of additional benefits. It has, for example, many medicinal benefits. The Chinar bark possesses anti-rheumatic and anti-scorbutic properties. When the bark is boiled in vinegar, it can be used to treat dysentery and diarrhoea. The tree’s fresh leaves can be used to treat eye discomfort as well as conjunctivitis.
Even after they have fallen off, the tree’s leaves are still helpful. They’re used to generate charcoal for the Kashmiri firepot known as ‘Kangri,’ which is used to keep oneself warm on cold winter days.
The decline in the number of Chinar trees in Kashmir over the last few years is extremely alarming. Trees have been cut down by both the public and the government for road building and widening. Despite the government’s rules prohibiting the cutting down of these trees, it is disheartening to learn that unlawful tree falling continues.
The Chinar tree’s beauty is truly amazing. It is an important element of Kashmir’s rich history, and Kashmir would be incomplete without it. We sincerely hope that Kashmir’s Chinar heritage will live on and that the trees will continue to stand tall in all their glorious splendour.
The writer is a research scholar in Life Sciences. [email protected]