by M J Aslam
Kashmiris have a rich tradition of ending their daily fast at sunset in the holy month of Ramdhan with a sweet gelatinous drink of basil seeds. Locally it is called Babribeoul Treish. Treish means drinking water for quenching the thirst. Babribeoul Treish is drinking water mixed with basil seeds for quenching thirst.
In Kashmir, it is also popularly known as Kand Sharbat. Kand/Qund is a Persian-cum-Arabic word meaning candy, sweet. Sharbat is an Arabic word which means a floured drink of water and sugar or drinkable syrup.
Some bloggers have distorted Kand Sharbat to Kan Sharbat. It is a fact that some Kashmiris called it Kan Sharbat, which is a short version of Kand Sharbat. These bloggers have further written that Kan means pebbles and that the name Kan Sharbat is given to this beverage due to the presence of shining black basil seeds in it. However, etymology of the word Kan is totally missing in these blogs. It appears that these bloggers have fallen in line with common error or distortion of the word Kand to Kan which in Kashmiri means few pebbles or husked-rice-grains that still remain in rice even after winnowing and threshing. Kan are removed manually by women on a rectangular sieve, called Shuop.
Babribeoul Treish is differentiated from falooda as latter is usually served in the Indian subcontinent with ice cream on top of the glass and some nuts and fresh fruit chips mixed with the drink. Babribeoul Treish is prepared by soaking basil seeds in water for one to two hours. Once the seeds turn gummy, milk with raisin, small slices of, or grated, dried coconut, a hint of sugar and few drops of honey, as per taste, are mixed with it. It is flavoured with few cardamom pods and rose syrup drops. The drink is then thoroughly stirred with locally made cooper handle or big spoon in a big copper or glass jug in which it is prepared. The drink is then ready for serving in separate glasses of water to each family member sitting around a dastarkhan at the time of Iftar meals. After breaking their fast with this iconic Iftar drink, dates and fruits, Kashmiri Muslims immediately, thereafter, pray magrib Nimaz (sunset prayer). After the sunset prayers are offered, the family members re-assemble and sit around already spread dastarkhan for the evening meal at homes.
It is not served only within households. During Ramdhan, it is also served to the worshippers and all those present in mosques and shrines at the time of Iftar. Besides, the drink is also served in good quantity during funeral and condolence meetings, and ashura processions.
The black basil seeds are found in abundance in the valley of Kashmir especially during the holy month of Ramdhan. Some ‘writers’ have made imaginary claims in media that Babribeoul is after the name of Mughal Emperor, Babar. They attribute its introduction in Kashmir to Babar on the assumption that the name Babribeoul stands for Babar’s seeds. Babar is a Turkish word which means lion. Babar neither directly nor through any Governor or army commander ever visited Kashmir. It was the first time in 1540 AD, Mirza Muhammad Haidar Dughlat Beg fighting for Himayun, son of Babar, captured Kashmir, ten years after the death of Babar. So, without any historical evidence, such a claim appears figment of the imagination.
The recorded accounts of accredited travellers and geographers who have visited the valley during the last few hundred years show that Kashmiri Muslims were strictly following fast during the holy month of Ramdhan. But their chronicles are totally silent on the use of Babribeoul Treish during Ramdhan. Its use seems to have been of a recent origin in Kashmir, during the last one hundred years. Basil seeds do not grow in Kashmir for its plant is very sensitive to cold and it best grows in hot and dry conditions. They are exported from outside. Before partition, the trade of Kashmir, among other activities, was mainly conducted through Silk Route of Ladakh and Jhelum Valley Route, running along Jhelum River via Uri-Muzaffarabad-Rawalpindi. Bannihal Pass or cart road connected Kashmir late in 1956 after the construction of Jawahir Tunnel.
So, it appears that basil seeds might have been transported in Kashmir by merchants during the days of last two Dogra rulers. Reason is that Sir Walter Lawrence who had a good stay of several years in Kashmir and who has recorded in detail possibly all kinds of rituals and traditions of Kashmiris may not have missed to mention use of Babribeoul Treish, such a mega delight of Ramdhan specialty in Kashmir now, in his accredited work on Kashmir, if it was really in use.
In South Asia, Central Asia, the Middle East and Europe there are some folklore associated with basil seeds. The researchers have found that Sharbat [of which Babribeoul Treish is a variant], as a soft drink, was first introduced by Muslims to the world.
Babribeoul Treish is a wonderful cooling and quenching drink of Kashmir. It acts as an energizer-drink after day’s fasting during Ramdhan adding strength to the body. It is a coolant that reduces the body heat, controls body sugar levels, relieves constipation and bloating, relieves acidity and heartburn. It beats the dehydration during hot days of Ramdhan. Kashmiris add Qateer or granules of tragacanth or gum-arabic to Babribeoul Treish, usually if it is simmering hot outside, to prevent heat strokes, reduce urinary inflammation, improve digestion and avoid constipation.
(Author is a storyteller, author and freelance writer. He is a professional banker)