‘Bremiji’- The forgotten tree type
One of the most magnificent ancient trees of Kashmir has almost extinguished from its traditional habitats and there is every chance that the tree species might be extinct very soon.
Bremji (Celtis Australis)- is learnt to have been available in few varieties and was mostly grown in the graveyards and also adjacent to Sufi tombs. It has a slow but natural growth to the extent of a magnificent tree. This tree does not grow tall and rather grows in the umbrella shape and has a cool shade. One of its characteristic features is that it’s wood and roots are so soft and cool that in ancient time’s people preferred to plant it in graveyards with the belief that its shade and roots would help in providing a cool and peaceful environment to the buried.
This tree was hardly grown anywhere except adjacent to the tombs of Sufi saints and Muslim graveyards. About why this tree was not so commonly grown on other places, Peerzada Mohammad Shabir, a Sufi priest states, that during the ancient period these trees were highly revered by people of the vale and they would hardly cut it for the purpose of fire wood. He further says that Birmji tree is mostly associated with Kashmiri Sufi saints who are learnt to have meditated under the shade of this tree.
Moulana Noor-ud-Din, another Sufi scholar believes that planting of green trees in the graveyards is one of the Sunath (traditions)of Prophit Mohammad (Peace be upon Him). He said the Syed missionaries who arrived here in the 14th century AD to enlighten the flame of Islam in Kashmir valley while following the traditions of the prophet planted green and cool trees in their graveyards. The tradition was later adopted by their disciples as well who not only meditated under the green trees but also planted these trees in several graveyards.
Since there is a hadith documented in Muslim scripts which states that once Prophet Mohammad (Peace be upon Him) was traveling with his companions and as they reached a graveyard, the prophet (SAW) saw a man in the grave in severe pain and distress. The Prophet (SAW) asked for few green branches of palm tree that were made available to Him and he (SAW) planted the braches over the grave and later in his brief address to His companions said, since the man in this grave was in pain and distress and these green branches would provide him certain relief.
Later on this became the Muslim tradition, which also reached to Kashmir. However as no palm trees were grown here as such the Sufi missionaries preferred the Brimji tree which carried its distinctive feature of being cool and soft. In fact, few specimen of this tree are still seen in olden Mazar’s (Graveyards) of the valley. The historical graveyards of Malkh’a, Mazari Qalan, Mazari Sulateen exhibit a few rare magnificent Breimji trees.
Celtis Australis is learnt to grow more commonly in cooler climates. Its bark is smooth and grey, almost elephantine. The alternate leaves are narrow and sharp-toothed, rugose above and tomentose below, 5–15 cm long and dark grey/green throughout the year, fading to a pale yellow before falling in autumn. The apetalous wind-pollinated flowers, the fruit is a small, dark-purple berry-like drupe, 1 cm wide, hanging in short clusters, and is extremely popular with birds.
Scientists say that the plant prefers light well-drained (sandy) and medium (loamy) soils, including those nutritionally poor; it can tolerate drought but not shade. They further say that the Mediterranean climate is especially suitable for the plant.
Scientists view is no such different from Sufi’s experiences they say it is often planted as an ornamental tree as it is resistant to air pollution and lives for a long time. This may be the other reasons why it has been preferred in graveyards.
Hebraists say that this tree has medical importance as well; they say that the fruit of this tree is sweet and edible, and can be eaten raw or cooked. The leaves and fruit are astringent, lenitive and stomachic. Decoction of both leaves and fruit is used in the treatment of amenorrhea, heavy menstrual and inter menstrual bleeding and colic. The decoction can also be used to astringe the mucous membranes in the treatment of diarrhea, dysentery and peptic ulcers.
This kind of tree, no doubt, has a slow growth and cannot withstand the fast growing phenomenon of other trees.
As such, the plant growers do not prefer such plants in their respective nurseries. “We deal only with commercial plants and grow only those plants which are in demand in the market,’ said the proprietor of Sada Bahar Nurseries. He further said that “we grow different kinds of fruit and popular plants as these are being planted in heavy numbers in Kashmir orchards and vacant lands”. The plant growers and the government agencies involved in plantation drive should not forget the traditional trees altogether and should also provide certain space to local plants in their farms and nurseries.
Since carrying such a cultural, scientific and environmental importance, this tree has altogether been neglected here. Although thousands of plants of various kinds of trees are planted ever year on the vacant lands of the Kashmir valley but not a single plant of any traditional tree of Kashmir is being planted nowadays. This, many believe, is a grave negligence on the part of agencies involved in social forestry.
Not a single plant of any traditional variety is being planted anywhere in Kashmir lands, while on the other hand, the number of existing ancient trees has also considerably decreased. The Brimji tree has become the worst effected which is on its total verge of extinction.