The majestic Chinars (Chinar trees) were brought to Kashmir by the Mughals under emperor Akbar who planted Chinars in the valley, after annexing the territory in 1586. Till date, hundreds of trees continue to stand tall at the site of the Hazratbal shrine in Naseem Bagh. Islamic preachers who travelled to Kashmir four centuries ago from Central Asia and Persia also revered the tree and hence, the Chinar trees figure notably in Kashmir’s literature and politics; religion and romance.
The name Chinar is derived from the Persian word that roughly translates to ‘What a Fire!’ This reflects the impressive orange-red autumn color of the Chinar. Its maple-like foliage and patterned bark provide it a distinction from other trees that line the Kashmiri landscapes. Women praying at the shrines, hoping to bring an end to their sorrows, can be seen seated under the Chinar trees that dot most of the Valley’s main shrines and mosques. Two major shrines in Kashmir — Sultan-ul-Arifeen and Hazratbal — have neatly-placed grandiose Chinar trees for the disciples.
Hindu worshipers equally revere the Chinar tree. The trees can be found in the goddess Bhavani temples in Kashmir, including the Khir Bhawani temple in Ganderbal. It’s not the Chinar during the summer, when it is all verdant, that is the main attraction, but the Chinar during autumn. For that is when its leaves acquire varied colorful hues of blood-red, amethyst, orange, brown and beige in a short period of time, somewhere around October end, and remain that way till the end of November. During this season Chinar leaves, in different bright colors, are observed, twisted and curled by the vagaries of the summer.The shedding of Chinar leaves, locally known as Buen, marks the onset of autumn and sets off a process of change in the Valley every year, with people wearing woolens and changing their food habits to suit the weather.
The Chinar takes around 150 years to grow to their full size. Chinars have hard wood, ideally suited for carvings, such as for use in carved doors, windows and furniture, for interior details and small ornamental objects. The trees are also known to have some medicinal properties and uses. Officially, there were 42,000 Chinar trees in Kashmir during the 1970s. However, the number had fallen to around 5,000 by the turn of the century. The oldest Chinar tree of Asia stands in Chattergam, Chadoora in the Budgam district of Kashmir. It is considered the largest Chinar tree in the World. Historically, the tree is assumed to have been planted in the year 1374 by saint Syed-Abul Qasim Shah Hamdani.
With the high levels of urban growth in Kashmir and the associated development pressure, a critical point has been reached to safeguard the Chinar heritage and the natural treasure it represents for the long-term future. Due to suffocation, rise in pollution levels, loss of access to water road widening and the urbanization of Kashmir, a steady decline is being observed in the growth of these ‘Royal Trees’. Strict measures have been put in place to avoid further decline and save as many possible Chinars. The horticulture department of Jammu & Kashmir is making up for the lost numbers again by planting around 14,000 more trees.
Despite, actions being taken at multiple levels to reverse the trend of the declining Chinar trees, additional efforts and awareness programs at all levels are required to educate the populace of Kashmir. These majestic and beautiful trees have been historically adorned and have added to the beautiful, plush landscapes of Kashmir, thereby meriting their preservation and maintenance.