Whither Zainageer

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One of the major belts that Budshah made famous was the Zainageer in Sopore outskirts. He had built a palace and set up a vast canal to help people produce more food. More than 500 years later, the king lives in the folklore but the canal is in stress, Jibran Nazir reports

Squatting at the edge of his paddy field at Tujar Sharief, a village in Sopore outskirts, Mohammad Ramzan Lone, in his late sixties, oversees his sons plough their land, cultivating it for next plantation.

Lone doesn’t have to worry about water for irrigating his land this year which has otherwise been a concern for the farmers in this region. “There has been enough snow and rainfall this winter and there will be enough water in Nallah Zainageer (Zainageer canal),” he says. “There was scarcity of water for irrigating fields over last few years.”

Over the years, farmers in Kashmir have stopped growing paddy. They either constructed on their agricultural lands, turned it into brick kilns or utilised them for other non-agriculture commercial activities. The wiser of them have converted their erstwhile lush green paddy fields into apple orchards, partly because the fruit offers a better per kanal returns than rice could ever make.

Nallah Zainageer is one of the most cherished establishments of the Sultan after whom it was named.

Lone has been farming at his lands for his entire life and the produce would earn him enough to feed his family till the next harvest.

But his sons complain that they can’t manage exclusively with farming and thus they are forced to take up alternate sources of income. Families with small landholdings are under pressure to hunt for newer incomes as the land they own is too small to feed their families.

“We live in a strange time,” Lone laments, while expressing his worries. “My father managed a family of fifteen people by working on the same land and still save something. But today, the same land doesn’t provide enough.”

But Lone Sr also has his clear opinion regarding his involvement in agriculture. “Till I am alive, I won’t let anything but farming on my agricultural lands,” he stresses.

Lone lost a larger part of his crops in 2014 floods incurring debts which he is yet to pay. Although the floods didn’t cause much damage in this area but Nallah Zainageer had drained itself into Lone’s paddy fields damaging his crops. “We never received compensation from the government neither did they restore the embankments.”

On the contrary, this land, according to chronicles have recorded a similar deluge during the reign of Sultan Zain-ul-Abideen, around five hundred years ago that followed famines and draughts across Kashmir. The ruler opened government granaries to general public and exempted the debts it would incur on the general public after the shortage of food started triggering a crisis.

Later, learning from the natural calamities Zain-ul-Abideen got Kashmir’s entire irrigation and canal system of re-engineered strategically in 1451. A large part of the developments he brought are still existent and serve as a lifeline for most of the agriculture related activities.

In Tujar Sharief, water from Pohru canal gets collected in a large pond. This pond is also named after the Sultan, the Budshah Pond.

Nallah Zainageer is one of the most cherished establishments of the Sultan after whom it was named. During his reign he had developed a town around the Nallah and named it Zaingair. The erstwhile town is now a cluster of many small villages around Sopore, stretching from Sagipora in district Kupwara to north-western end of the Wular Lake at Watlab in district Baramulla’s Sopore.

This canal, originating as a sublet of Nallah Madhumatti at Sonawari in Bandipora district, serves as the most important source of irrigation in the entire Zainageer belt. Further sublets of Zainageer canal start from Botengu village spreads across the entire region.

When the water fell short for a vast belt of agriculture, Zain-ul-Abideen diverted Pohru canal into Nallah Zainageer. The Pohru originally flows from Lolab valley in the northeast into the Jhelum River at Doabgah, a village around five miles towards the east of Sopore town. He made its water flow through Nallah Zainageer.

In Tujar Sharief, water from Pohru canal gets collected in a large pond. This pond is also named after the Sultan, the Budshah Pond. In past, the entire village relied on this pond for drinking water and domestic purposes. However, the pond that provided this village and its adjacent places the basic requirement for survival, for more than six centuries, now wears a dilapidated look.

“It now looks like a large pothole covered with heaps of garbage,” Lone says. “During my childhood, we would directly drink its water but today it has become so filthy that we cannot even put our hands into the pond.”

Lamenting over its condition, Tariq Ali, an Australia based engineer hailing from this village, has formed a group of young boys who regularly volunteer to give their village a makeover.

“We went door-to-door to teach the importance of cleanliness and our ultimate aim is to restore Budshah pond to its original glory,” says Tariq. “It’s a very significant part of our history and culture. It needs to be preserved.”

The tradition of Nend Baeth (singing during manual de-weeding of agricultural fields) has also died a tragic death.

Interesting part of the story is that Kashmir has not been able to protect the inheritance. Most of the villages which are fed water by the canal are saying that it requires some investment for its de-silitation.

The canal was repaired and renovated at a cost of Rs 10.50 lakh during Dogra monarchy in 1935. It 1982, it was irrigating nearly 4775 hectors of land. Official records suggest that the 34 kms long tunnel was irrigating an area for 41 kms spread in 46 villages. There was a plan of up-rating and repairs of the canal, which, according to locals is still not been implemented. The plan envisaged improving its head capacity from 250 cusecs to 350.

Ever since the place came into being, people have always acknowledged the Sultan’s contribution towards the establishment of Zainageer.

“During my childhood,” remembers Lone, “when we worked in our fields, all men and women would together sing songs. Most of them had praise for Sultan Zain-ul-Abideen, addressing him as Budshah.”

The tradition of Nend Baeth (singing during manual de-weeding of agricultural fields) has also died a tragic death. Lone still remembers some verses from a Nend Baeth and he sings waving his hands dramatically.

Zain-ul-Abideen’s love and admiration for poetry and music has been accounted by several historians. “He was the first rural to have set up an independent music department in Kashmir. He also brought musicians from across central Asia to enrich Kashmir with this art,” says Naseem Badrani, a Kashmiri musician and a playwright.

But most of what Sultan has built in Zaingeer couldn’t be preserved. Although there is a little evidence left of the infrastructure that Sultan built during his half-a-century rule, the causeway he had built from Anderkote to Sopore in1452 is still intact.

In order to prevent future invasions the sultan built the causeway after he defeated his own son, Haji who had invaded Zainageer and attempted to usurp the throne from his father. The causeway provides an alternate route from Sopore to central Kashmir via Tarzoo.

Chak’s set afire Sultan’s palace twice but the king rebuilt it, better than the previous time.

The war has caused destruction in the entire Sopore town and nearby Zainageer. All the houses were burnt by the armies of Sultan’s son Haji. “After the war the Sultan apologized to the people who had suffered loss of life and properties and got all the houses and marketplaces rebuilt,” writes Muheebul Hassan in Kashmir Under Sultans. “In Zainageer a spacious palace was built and was surrounded by a picturesque garden. The Sultan adorned it with splendid houses for his officers, courtiers, and learned men.”

It was Zainageer-Sopore belt that suffered many times because of the revelry between the Shahmirs’ and Chak dynasty.

Chak’s set afire Sultan’s palace twice but the king rebuilt it, better than the previous time.

One of the Chak leaders has reportedly set ablaze to the Sultan’s palace in Zainageer and then fled to Trehgam, now a border village in north Kashmir’s Kupwara. Reacting to it, Sultan seized their land and properties. Chaks again attempted to set the entire Zainageer region on fire, but the Sultan eventually had all the Chaks, except women and children, executed.

 

 

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