One of the famous couplets of the poet of East, Allama Iqbal reads: Jis Khaak Ke Zameer Main Ho Aatish-E-Chinar, Mumkin Nahin Ke Sard Ho Wo 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). The Chinar is a gigantic sized tree that grows abundantly in the Valley of Kashmir. It is famous for the colors of the foliage in autumn, when its red-gold and yellow leaves set the surroundings on fire, fuelling imagination and inspiring all who see it. Kashmir Life’s Bilal Bahadur offers some moments with chinars.
Commonly called the ‘booune’ in Kashmiri language, the Chinar is an integral part of Kashmiri culture. The large, palm sized, floral leaf is a common motif in the handicrafts of Kashmir. Papier-mache, embroidery, wood carving, utensils, carpets…everything seems to carry some note that reminds you of a Chinar leaf.
Chinar is a very large, widespreading, and long-lived deciduous tree. The native range of Chinar includes at least Eurasia from the Balkans to the Himalaya in the east. Its leaves are borne alternately on the stem, deeply lobed, and palmate or maple-like. It usually has flaking bark, occasionally not flaking and becoming thick and rugged.
The leaves and bark have been used medicinally. A fabric dye has been made from the twigs and roots. The timber, often called lacewood, is figured and valuable for indoor furniture. From earliest days, Chinar has been an important tree in Persian gardens, which are built around water and shade.
Platanus orientalis or oriental plane or chinar is a large, deciduous tree of the Platanaceae family, growing to 30 m (98 ft) or more, and known for its longevity and spreading crown.
Chinar is equally famous to the Iranian-speaking world as in Kashmir. The native range is Eurasia from the Balkans to at least as far east as Iran. Some accounts extend its native range to Iberia in the west, and to the Himalayas in the east. As it has been known in cultivation from early times in much of this region it can be difficult to determine if it is truly indigenous in peripheral areas.
Like other plane trees, its leaves are borne alternately on the stem, deeply lobed, and palmate or maple-like. It usually has flaking bark, occasionally not flaking and becoming thick and rugged.
In historic Kashmir, chinar was planted near Hindu holy places under names derived from the goddess Bhavani. Later in Muslim times it continued to be a major garden and landscape tree and dominates many historic gardens. For example, a famous landmark in Srinagar is an island on Dal Lake where four chinar trees stand, named Char Chinar.
The leaves will finally fall to the ground and become the chief source of charcoal for the locals who collect it from half burnt chinar leaves and fill their ‘kangris’ (earthen firepots woven in willow wicker).
The most important source of Sheikh Abdullah’s early life is his official biography Atish e Chinar, named after chinar.
Chinar trees are being felled rapidly in Kashmir, although a recent ban has been enacted to curb cutting. Chinar trees are now required to be registered and are considered National Property of the State. Registered Chinars are painted white at their base. Increased awareness means most old Chinars are protected and looked after; however, some new Chinars must be cut as their growth can cause damage to roads and houses. Most people now view the Chinar as a matter of national pride.
A 627-year-old chinar tree has been found at Chatargam, Chadoora, Badgam district, Kashmir. In repute it was planted in 1374 AD by an Islamic mystic, Syed-Abul Qasim Shah Hamdani.
As autumn, the golden yellow season of Kashmir, draws to a close, the majestic chinar trees are at their fiery best. Their crimson coloured leaves – so rightly dubbed ‘flames of the chinar’ – lend a fairytale glow to the scenic valley.
From green to yellow through crimson before they fall to the ground, the leaves of the chinar trees have fired many an imagination for prose and verse.
“Che Nar (What fire)?” – these words of a Persian poet who has visited the valley in the past are still resounding in the majestic chinar gardens of Naseem Bagh in the Kashmir University campus on the banks of the Dal Lake in Srinagar and other places.
Native to Persia, Italy, Belgium, America and Greece, chinar trees were planted on a large scale across the length and breadth of the valley by Mughal emperor Jahangir during his reign from 1605 to 1627 though the origin of the plant in Kashmir is believed to be much earlier than the Mughal period. Later rulers declared it a protected tree as it became a symbol of Kashmir’s heritage and beauty.