Almonds in the life of Kashmiris

Almost all of you must have had a ‘motthh’, handful, of almonds handed over to you at some time in your life. Called ‘Badaam’ in Urdu and ‘Badum’ in Kashmiri, almond (Prunus dulcis) is a seed covered by a hard shell and an outer hull. Almonds have represented much more than being used as the best amongst the dry fruits.

Almond finds itself used metaphorically to signify beauty (especially eyes-‘badami aankhein’ ) in all forms of poetry and prose, or as an expression in the form of a motif in a variety of Kashmiri arts and crafts. Badam has represented a symbol of life, strength, promise as well as resistance. It symbolizes arrival of spring and has a mythological significance – finds its name in Bible and other sacred scriptures. Mughals had great affinity for it, it has decorated many royal regalia, crowns, garments as it is easy drawable for the designer, as well as embroider. It is even a fancied caste of many Kashmiris and even a garden is named after almonds.

We do have lot of almonds grown here, and early spring (May) is the time of almond bloom, a lovely scene cherished by many in the past but lost to the unending happenings of the valley. We even had a big garden laid in city centre by the name of ‘Badam Vaer’ where hundreds of almond trees were planted and the almond blossom was considered arrival of spring and celebrated as a festival of significance in Srinagar.

Badams are given on happy occasions as a good omen by one and all in Kashmir, to important guests, students passing exams, a student getting into a professional course, to the invitee for a marriage, on the engagement ceremony or marriages, amply presented to either the bride and the grooms family. Badams (seed/nut alone or with the outer shell) are given in varied ways, a handful(motthh) handed or splashed overhead, in a decorated bowl admixed with other dry fruits, as a badam lifafa (of half kg to 2 kg in weight), in an elegantly decorated basket (tokri) of varying sizes depending on the occasion (small or big). The women folk in every household always have a handful of badams, hidden from the menfolk, ready to be presented on any occasion.

Badum as a famous dry fruit (raw or toasted) is used in plenty by young as well as the old, to enhance memory for former and help in overall wellbeing for the latter. Many a time elders would have pointed to you the health benefits of badams, especially related to improvement in mental acuity. So few badams early morning or few soaked overnight in a glass of milk (sherbet-e-badam) and taken morning time is a frequent recommendation by our elders. Almonds as an additive is put in various tea preparations, the commonest being the famous kehwa (a form of green tea), served with grated almonds. Almonds are put in a variety of sweets including halwa, firnee, barfi and many deserts. From almond cakes and pastries, to almond puddings to local basrakh –  almond flakes (nibs) are splayed in these bakery items. Even in cooking, a special dish made either in homes or at marriage events called as ‘badam korma’ is famous, which has gravy laden with almonds.

Kashmir is famous around the world for its arts and crafts since times immemorial be it shawls, carpets, paper machie, tilia work, walnut wood work etc. There are many motifs used in all types of Kashmiri arts like water lily, cherries, apple blossoms, wood peckers, butterflies, cyprus cones. But ‘almonds’ as motifs have been used most common in artistic circles (that of a finely sketched out eye). In Kashmiri embroidery, almond has been done in thousands of variations (amygdaloid- almond like) on every product. Whether it is kani, pashmina, raffal or a sozni shawls, jamavars, bed spreads, dewan covers, screens, handbags, gabbas, namdas, table cloth, table mats, paper machie products, crewel, carpets or the wood carved items, almond as a motif is exclusively used. In all varieties of embroidery done by hand (ari, needle, sozni) either on borders or all overs in its spread- almonds (called bootis) in various sizes, shapes, patterns have been used as individual or at repeated intervals. Even the mirror images can be easily drawn and are used extensively.

We may have a deep plunge in the almond production, courtesy conversion of almond orchards to residential colonies, as well as California almonds being flooded into the market, but the essence of a Kashmiri badaam is different. In the artistic circles due to the global competition and need for change, chinar leaf, boteha (flower), human and animal forms (bulbuls, ducks, partridges, horses) are coming into fore nowadays. But Badaam as the ‘king of dry fruits’ and a ‘symbol’ of Kashmiri craftsmanship has to survive and all efforts should be laid forth to see that the almond production, utilization and its use in the arts and crafts is continued and also enhanced.

Dr Muzafar Maqsood Wani is Consultant Nephrologist, SKIMS,Soura