The role of Kashmir Birch Bark unmatched in the annals of history in the world

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Bhushan Parimoo
Courtesy its bark, which made it possible to put down the ideas and thoughts events first time in the world by writing on it. Kashmira Bark is a papery sheet, thin, resistant to decay, and water due to the resinous oil it contains which makes it to preserve and keep the record written on it for centuries . The birch tree is a broad leaved a medium-sized deciduous tree reaching 60 feet tall (18m), and exceptionally to 130 feet (40m) with a trunk up to 32 inches diameter (0.8m). They live to about 140 years. Its bark is white, commonly brightly so, flaking in fine horizontal stripes, and often with small black marks and scars. The people of the Subcontinent consider it scared divine gift of Nature, while in Europe it is seen as symbolic to Venus’ perceived as the youthful Goddess of love and light. The birch tree is a cold climate high altitude vegetation found in the northern atitudes, growing at elevations up to 4,500 m (14,800 ft). beyond conifer forests, near snow covered and perpetual snowline and glaciersAs it needs moisture all the time , it thrives near and around snow ; depends less on rain but is prone to heat and humidity. Both male and female flowers are present on the same tree, though they develop separately. The bark is also known to be used for packaging material (particularly
butter), roof construction, umbrella covers, bandages, and more. It has medicinal values too for rheumatism, arthritis and gouty conditions diuretic relieve edematous conditions and urine retention and remove stones IUCN 2011 Red List of Threatened Species.
Kashmir had in plenty rich inexhaustible stock of Burza Kul, from one end to other of upper reaches of mountainous ring around Satisar, beside whole of Gilgit Unchecked widespread illegal cutting for use for firewood has threatened its very survival. There nothing in scheme of things with the forest department to save it. The present writer brought this dangerous situation to the notice of authorities in 2011 after Amarnath Pilgrimage impact assessment and again in 2012, under Save Himalayan Awareness Campaign on motor cycles covering 1500kms in 11 days from Jammu, to Valley via Mughal Road and on return via Sintham Pass. However , on both the occasion authorities showed inability to have conservation measures in place. On the contrary, the first high-altitude bhojpatra nursery was established in 1993 at Chirbasa, just above Gangotri, where many Hindus go on pilgrimage to the source of the sacred Ganges
River. Dr. Harshvanti Bisht, a Himalayan mountaineer, established the first nursery and continues to expand the reforestation of bhojpatra in the Gangotri area and inside Gangotri National Park. About 12,500 bhojpatra saplings had been planted in the area by the year 2000.In recent years; attempts have been made to ban the collection of bhojpatra trees in the Gangotri area. In the late 19th century Kashmir birch bark was still used in lieu of paper for the writing of sacred mantras, with the bark placed in an amulet and worn for protection.
It was in Kashmir ,though Birch is found at many cold places of the world, where the wise and the learned realized its potential as a writing medium and as such created a niche ; perhaps unmatched, envious and enviable place for us, We are proud of it. .
The birch or bhurja manuscripts were written in Kashmir on especially thin sheets of the inner bark of the Himalayan birch (Baetula Bhojpatr). They were written in Sarada haracter. In fact all books in Kashmir were written on bhurjapatra from very early times until after the conquest of the valley by Akbar who introduced the manufacture of paper in Kashmir. Following this, the use of birch bark for the purpose of writing was discontinued in Kashmir. Naturally, all birch manuscripts of Kashmir are not newer than the 16th century.
The oldest known birch manuscript of the world discovered in J&K, in fact in Asia, are the Gilgit manuscripts belonging to 5th-6th century. Popularly they are also called as Lotus Sutras. Much part of these manuscripts is at present housed in the National Archives, Delhi. Some supplementary fragments discovered later by Pandit Madhusudan Kaul Shastri in 1938 are presently kept in the Research Library, Lal Mandi, Srinagar. A few leaves are known to be in Oxford and some in Karachi Museum also. The Gilgit Manuscripts were discovered during the rule of Maharaja Hari Singh in J&K. They are the greatest gift of the Dogra Dynasty to the World Heritage. They were first
studied in 1940’s under the great guidance of veteran nationalist and patriot Shyama Prasad Mukherjee, the then the Vice-Chancellor of Calcutta University and later the founder of Jana Sangh, the present-day fore-runner of BJP.
Another famous birch manuscript of Kashmir is the Atherva Veda of Paippalada hakha. It was the only manuscript of this school of the Vedas existing anywhere in the world. Believed to be of the 16th century, it was owned by Pandit Keshav Bhat Zadoo, the illustrious grandfather of legendary Prof Jagadhar Zadoo, the first joint editor of the 6th century Nilamata Purana he published along with Ramji Lal Kanji Lal in 1924 from Lahore. This Kashmiri Atherva Veda on birch bark was taken on loan by the German
scholar Rudoplh Von Roth during Maharaja Ranbir Singh’s rule in 1875. However, it has never been returned to its land of origin or the owner or his descendants for almost 150 years now. Presently it is housed in Tubingen University in Germany and is considered as the greatest oriental manuscript in the Western Collection.
Another great birch bark manuscript is that of medical text discovered in Kucha
in Central Asia in 1890. It is called as Bower Manuscript named after its discoverer Captain Hamilton Bower who accidentally chanced to locate it when chasing to nab the murderer of Dalgaleish, a British explorer. Presently it is housed in the Oxford University. It is also dated to be of 5th century.
Another famous birch bark manuscript is the one known as Bakhshali Manuscript discovered in 1890’s near village Bakhshali in Yousafzai, District Mardan near Peshawar. It is an incomplete manuscript of about 70 pages dealing with the work of Mathematics. Presently it is also located in Oxford University where it was lodged in 1902.
Of the birch bark manuscript of 12 the century Kalhana’s Rajatarangini, it has never ever been discovered. It was believed to be in the possession of Pandit Chand Ram’s grandfather who had thrown it into River Vitasta to save it from defilement and desecration during the Afghan Rule in Kashmir. It was a common thing to do in those harsh times to save religious books from desecration by the tyrants. Rajatarangini has come down to us in a paper manuscript which belonged to the family of great Saiva Master Sivopdahyaya the grandfather of Pandit Keshav Ram in whose possession it was located for the first time in 1875 and later acquired in 1889 from his three sons in three parts for the use of first critical edition and translations published in 1892 and 1900 respectively. Nothing is known about this manuscript after 1892 when respective parts were returned to the three sons of Pandit Keshav Ram.
The oldest birch bark manuscript discovered in the valley is that of Munimata-Manimala. It belongs to 12th century and is written in Sarada character. Also famous are the birch manuscripts of Kalidasa’s Shakuntala. Presently it is housed in UK. Similarly
the Sabha Parvan part of the Mahabharata birch manuscript is lodged in the Yale University, USA. It was edited by famous American Sanskrit scholar Franklin Edgerton in 1943. A birch bark manuscript of Somadeva’s Katha Sarit Sagara belonging to the 16th century is also known to exist in UK. Another remarkable birch manuscript is thatof the Balabadhoni nyasa presently in the safe custody of National Museum, Delhi.
However, it is to be regretted that the community that produced such great
historical works on birch bark, at present are known to have no manuscripts of the type in their possession. The KP community must revive this great tradition, but before that the authorities need to save the birch tree itself. But does anyone listen?
— (Bhushan Parimoo, a jammu based environmentalist can be contacted on blparimoo @gmail.com)

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