Pran Nath Wanchoo

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Chinar Tree, "Bouin" of Kashmir - Symbol of Goddess Bhawani

by Pran Nath Wanchoo

Plane tree, any of the genus Platanus, is a deciduous tree, native to temperate regions (Greece-Fargana & Kashmir)-Palmate Leaves, pendulous burr-like fruit. Species include Oriental plane (P. orientalis) London plane (P. acerifolic) American sycamore (P. hispanica) or Buttonwood, Water Beach (P. occidentalis). These are the various species known to the world. Platanus (ancient Greek name) six or seven species are known in N. America, in south at Mexico and from SE Europe to India (L. H. Bailey, Standard Encyclopedia of Horticulture 1930. Macmillan coy. London).

According to Pliny (natural history) Plane tree was introduced into Italy around 390 B.C. It has been a favourite shade tree of Greeks & Romans who introduced it into SW Europe.

Webster's New International Dictionary (second edition-1935 USA) 3rd edition 1965 G&C Murreen coy Publishers Springfield MA USA-defines plane tree-palmate meaning resembling a hand with the fingers spread as having lobes (round projections) radiating from a common point-Hindi-CINAR, Persian CHANAR.

P. orientalis Kashmiriana - `BOUIN'-Chinar-Cinar Plane tree of Kashmir is also catalogued in USA as Platanus kashmeriana family Platanacea listed in the GEN. INDEX Dec 23, 1993-Plant names-PMS Data base, by genus (USA) (Plant records management system). It has more deeply lobed (hand palm shaped) leaves, makes an even larger more spreading tree and is very long lived. Attains over 100 feet (30m) height if not pruned, with grey-white bark which peels off in patches. The alternate leaves are upto 10 inches in length with long stalks. The flowers are borne in dense spherical heads. There are usually 2 fruiting heads on each pendulous stalk.

In Kashmir it is aboriginally known as `BOUIN' a broken down word of Sanskrit `Bhawani', the Goddess who has been worshipped in Kashmir since inception (time imemorial). The large hollow trunks have been used by meditators for meditation over time and are thus considered sacred and planted generally at places of worship.

The origin of the tree in Kashmir is by inference of the recorded evidence in literature deduced to be very ancient. It has been associated with `Maej Bhawani' - the Goddess of shrines in Kashmir like - Tulamla (Kheer Bhawani) District Srinagar Tekar (Kupwara District), Sharadaji (Keran) Kashmir, Kulwagishori (Kulgam). Devibal-Nagbal (Anantnag) and several other, invariably around a `Nag' (Spring). The Chinar Platanus orientalalis Kashmiriana is akin to the plane tree of the west (P. occidentalis) etc. yet it is different.

Some foreign travellers, who travelled in Kashmir valley during and before Mogul era have made mention of plane trees' (Chinars) existence in the valley. Akbar Nama of Abu-L-Fazl (History of the regin of Akbar including an account of his predecessors) translated from Persian by H. Beveridge ICS (Retd.) FASB volume III-Publishers-Rare Books, states :

Reference to the year 1589 June Page 329 Para 547 "on the 28th (Khurdad) he went to visit Shabbudin Pora (Shadipur). The planes (Cinaraha) there raise their heads to the sky and the verdure enchants the eye sight."

Page 956 Para 624 - "Srinagar the capital was brightened by his advent-on the way the soliders who had gone in advance, paid their homage. In accordance with orders, 34 persons entered into the trunk of a Cenar tree which had been hollow for ages. If they had sat closer, some more might have been accommodated ................"

Jesuit Preist Perre dU Jarric during Akbars time states-`that on the bank of the river, the waters of which flow through the lake, there is a species of very large tree, the trunk and leaves of which resemble those of Chestnut, though quite a different tree. The wood is very dry and has a grain like rippling water' (structurally and foliarly the chestnut has a resemblance with plane tree to a layman. This view also established the existence of Cenar, Plane tree then).

Likewise Kalhana does not mention `BOUIN' Bawani - CINAR, in his Rajtarangtani (12th Century A.D.) but does mention a large tree `VATA' which was then a sacred tree in rest of India resembling CINAR and mentions 1 Rt (BK V-101) that ancient trees are to be seen growing on the edges of the old canals (rivers) with marks of the boat ropes fastened by Nisadas. 2 BK IV-449-Jaipida "the day following he went - and awaited - beneath a mighty Vata-tree" (Vata means a very large treee in Sanskrit).

The species has been part of the geographic, rather plant, climatic growth of the region which thrived wildly amongst its kins of forest groves and foliages down through the slopes, nestling and penetrating into the village yards and enclosures in Kashmir.

Sir Walter Lawrence `the Kashmir Gazetteer (1889-1895 A.D.) Vol I Chap IV Flora, Page 79 mentions amongst the list of more common trees in the valley Platanus orientals, `Bouin' Plane or Chinar as a royal tree and like the walnut belongs to the state. Sir Walter Lawernce in his book `Valley of Kashmir' (1895) mentions of a boled Chenar in Lolab with a circumference (girth) of 63 feet 5 inches at about 5 feet from ground.

Francis Bernier a French physician who visited Kashmir in 1664 helps in establishing the fact that the majestic tree (plane tree) very much was a companion of wild forest tree and foliage of the Himalayan ranges and plains of the valley. He further establishes that the Chinar (plane tree) was not a part of Mughal Garden architecture then though poplars (aspens) were. `Lalla' 1320-1391 - called Chinar (plane tree) SHEAJ MAEJ (cool pleasant mother) synonym for `KASHEER'.

Sultan Sikander 1393-1416 A.D. ruled Kashmir and acquired notority as an idol breaker. He destroyed temples and shrines including those of Martand, Vijeshwari and Sureshwari. After their destruction he built mosques over the razed ground. The Hindu shrines were associated with plantings of `Bouin' plane trees in Kashmir; these too must have been dealt with in the same way as temple structures.

The rebuilding of temples and shrines including planting of `Bouin' Chenars and rehabilitation of Hindus was done by the great builder king of Kashmir, Zain-ul-abidin, 1420-1470 A.D.

Sultan Zain-ul-abidin gave a fillip to art and craft of Kashmir by inviting craftsmen from adjoining Samarkand. Paper machie, wood carving, embroidary etc. got a boost. The designs on these arts and crafts represented local fruit, flowers, leaves and twigs etc. Chinar leaf is most important of these impressions carried from ancient times to date, in wood carving, embroidary, Gabba and Namda making and needle work in Kashmir.

It is no doubt a beautiful majestic tree in its finest form every where in Kashmir. As a child I have drawn much pleasure from hiding in the hollow trunks of the magnificent specimens that occurred in gardens, camping sites and rural areas in Kashmir. At the confluence of rivers Indus and Jhelum (Vitasta) at Shadipur (Kashmir) known as `Prayag' a Chinar-`BOUIN' is growing since ages and this confluence is used for immersion of ashes (remains) of the dead by Kashmiri Hindus.

Late Shaikh Mohammad Abdulla an aboriginal Kashmiri has titled his biography Atish-e-Chinar whence by he too has established Kashmir synonymous with Chinar `Bouin'.

These facts should put at rest the belief that Moguls introduced `BOUIN' into Kashmir. Of course Moguls were great architects and they have made good use of Chinar trees in landscaping and Char-Chinarees.

The qualities, benefits and experiences of human relationship with this majestic tree grew through growth of human culture symbolising its magnanimous protective state with that of divine mother `Bhavani' and thus through the Kashmiri phonetic stance became `BOUIN'. One does not find another of this species growing this large and older anywhere in the world. Kashmir probably is singularly bestowed with this peculiarity amongst all the species of Platanus. The wood is heavy, hard, tough and of coarse grain generally. It is used for furniture and wood carving in a limited way, but is used in butchers' blocks, oil crushing well (mortars), hammers (hydraulic) for fixing down wooden poles for deep foundations in Kashmir besides firewood for bakers, furnaces and domestic heating stoves commonly.

I have not seen a Chinar (plane tree) in Kashmir withering away except when damaged mechanically. While the burning heat index (caloric value) of `BOUIN' Chinar is considered highest compared to other firewoods in Kashmir, the shade that a single tree `Bouin' provides in summer in Kashmir is the largest, coolest and healthiest. The tree with -stands moisture stress, wind and snow storms better than other trees in Kashmir. It is cool, hardy and grows luxuriantly upto 7000 feet asl in Kashmir. The plane tree (according to R. S. Hole-Manual of Indian Forest) "is able to withstand the injurious effects of coal smoke and grows well in smoky cities as do also as a rule Maples, Horse chestnuts and Elms" - (the aboriginal trees of Kashmir). The trees have been lately observed to be developing leaf spots on leaves causing yellowing and premature fall.

In Kashmir the propagation of Platanus (plane tree) is done through cuttings and rooted suckers in spring. Seeds are also used after stratification, but not commonly. In spite of government restrictions on felling of Chenar trees in the valley, the plant population has been declining over years of lawlessness in Kashmir.

A walk over fallen dry Chenar leaves makes a rustling musical sound until the dry leaves are gathered and burnt to make light charcoal for use in fire pots (Kangri's) in hard winter days.

Individual efforts have made it possible to grow Chenars-Platanus orientalis Kashmiriana in Jammu, Panchkula (HRY) and Shimla etc. in recent years. Late Dr. M.S. Randhawa (ICS) as Chief Adminstrator (Chandigarh)/Vice Chancellor PAU had obtained plane trees from Kashmir Department of Horticulture for being planted at Chandigarh and PAU Campus Ludhiana. Similarly, late Dr. L. S. Negi, Director Agriculture Horticulture H. P. Shimla had also procured plane trees from Kashmir Deptt. of Horticulture for being planted in Shimla. Couple of them do stand on the ridge Shimla.

Note : Supporting evidence establishing the aboriginality of Chinar in Kashmir is reproduced from Times News Network - Srinagar dated 7th Sept. 2001(Times of India) : Asias Oldest Chinar Discovered. "Srinagar : Researchers have found a chinar tree, which could be the oldest in Asia, in Chittergam Chadura village in Budgam district of Central Kashmir. The tree, which has a girth of 31.85 m at ground level and 14.78 m at breast height, was found on the premises of a mosque in the village, forest, officer Muhammed Sultan Wadoo, who made the discovery, said. It was believed that the Chinar was planted by Hazrat Syed Qasim sahib in 1374 AD and local people consider it to be holy, "Wadoo said. Earlier, a Chinar which was said to be planted by Dara Shikoh son of Shah Jahan, at Darashikwa Bagh in Bejbehara in Anantnag district in 1636 AD, was considered to be oldest Chinar in South Asia. The girth of the tree is 19.70 m at ground level. Wadoo recorded the girth of 1,055 chinars in Kashmir Valley and Doda districts during the last 30 years."

Source: Vitasta




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