I am Chinar, the king of all trees, the evergreen soulmate of Kashmir, standing tall since ages to guard this heaven on earth.
I grow as tall as 25 meters, with girth exceeding 50 feet in some cases. My deep roots provide me strength and stability like the ancient heritage of Kashmir. I figure notably in Kashmir’s literature, religion and romance. I am the poet’s inspiration, a lover’s passion and the common man’s solace. Islamic preachers who traveled to Kashmir four centuries ago from Central Asia and Persia have revered me. It is said that the oldest of my kind in Kashmir, is around 700 years old, which was planted by the Sufi Saint Syed Qasim Shah in Chattergam, in central Kashmir’s Budgam district.
The weary farmer, the Bakarwal with his flock of sheep, the tired biker and the awestruck tourist, all sit under me and seek moments of peace in their lives. Since times immemorial, I have been dotting most of the valley’s prominent shrines and mosques. I have been neatly placed in rows to pay respect to the wisdom of old saints and provide shade to the devotees, across Kashmir in all the shrines, most notably at Sultan-ul-Arifeen and Hazratbal, Bhadrakali Mata and Kheer Bhawani temples.
The four seasons in Kashmir follow the seasons of the temperate zone – spring, summer, autumn and winter. I am at my darkest green in summer, when my shade is at its most dense. Autumn is the season that celebrates the Chinar like no other. A large part of the magic of autumn in the valley is because of my leaves which change from gold to russet to scarlet to brown. Ridden with political uncertainties and Covid lock downs across the Valley, Kashmiri residents seek solace under me, before winter arrives and my colours fade.
Nature lovers assemble under me in villages, towns and the capital city of Srinagar to gaze in awe at the changing hues and swirling of my leaves, which are burnt to keep the traditional Kangri alive when snowfall takes over the landscape. Even the shape of my leaf is a five pointed “palmate, deeply lobed” leaf, not unlike the sycamore or maple and each leaf looks imposing in itself in summer. The five pointed leaves mine are often compared to a human hand with five fingers.
I have been standing tall and strong for hundreds of years. If I could speak, I could reveal secrets which are centuries old. I wish to tell how Lalla Ded contemplated under my shade and how the Mughal Emperor Akbar took refuge in my hollow trunk along with his 34 soldiers. I wish to narrate the story of the love with which I was planted in historic gardens of Kashmir and how generations of people have marveled at my beauty. I wish to tell how times have changed – what went by and what still remains. My heart aches when I see young boys falling for false narratives of hatred and violence. Losing their cherished lives or alienating themselves from love and peace.
I pray to God with all my leaves facing the heavens, to show youth of Kashmir the righteous path of wisdom and compassion.
‘Khoobsurat duniya ko banane ke liye, khoobsurati ko barbaad nahi karte mere dost, tujhe kya pata hai, kya hai Rumi aur kya hai Firdaus.’
In fact, Kashmir’s greatest poet, Muhammad Iqbal’s famous couplet, has been influenced by me.
“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)
Sir Iqbal takes motivation from my solidarity, strength and perseverance to drive home a beautiful message to all Kashmiris. The spirit of Kashmir is eternal and pure, it holds the centuries old indigenous tradition of communal harmony and religious syncretism. Aatish-e-Chinar rather truly defines the patriotism and pride of Kashmiris. The beauty of the Chinar is truly unfathomable. I have been an integral part of Kashmir’s rich history and Kashmir is incomplete without me. I hope that this legacy of mine never dies and that the Chinar trees always stand tall in all their magnificent glory as they have for centuries hither-to-fore.