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The Shajkaans of Kashmir

They have long been an integral part of Kashmiri cuisine, gracing humble meals and extravagant feasts alike
12:00 AM Apr 04, 2024 IST | KHURSHEED DAR
the shajkaans of kashmir
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With the advent of spring in Kashmir, a vibrant tapestry of colors emerges, accompanied by the fragrant breeze that carries whispers of new beginning. Amidst this spectacle of nature's renewal, there exists a humble yet indispensable element of Kashmiri culture – the "Shajkaans; a wild variety of edible fungus, botanically known as Geopora arenicola.

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For generations, the arrival of spring heralds a familiar sight in the towns and markets of Kupwara, Bandipora, Baramulla, and other far-flung areas of Kashmir. It is a time when women vendors embark on a journey, traversing the rugged terrain with baskets laden with a treasure trove of seasonal crops, chief among them being the Shajkaans.

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These wild mushrooms, delicately harvested from the bosom of the earth, symbolize not just sustenance but also resilience and ingenuity ingrained in the fabric of rural life.

I recently had the privilege of witnessing this timeless tradition unfold in the bustling market of Kupwara. Amidst the hustle and bustle of the marketplace, my attention was drawn to an elderly man surrounded by a throng of eager customers.

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His weathered hands skillfully arranged the "Shajkaans", each one a testament to the abundance of nature and the toil of those who harvest it. It was a poignant reminder of the profound connection between people and forest.

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Shajkaans are revered for their exquisite flavour and nutritional value. Rich in protein, vitamins, and minerals, they have long been an integral part of Kashmiri cuisine, gracing the tables of both humble households and extravagant feasts alike.

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Yet, beyond their culinary allure, the Shajkaans hold a deeper significance in the socio-economic landscape of Kashmir. For thousands of rural women, they represent a lifeline, providing a means of livelihood amidst the rugged terrain and harsh realities of agrarian life. From the arduous task of foraging in the wilderness to the intricate art of sorting and selling, these women embody the spirit of resilience and determination, defying societal norms with quiet dignity and grace.

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In the face of mounting challenges, it is imperative that we recognize the invaluable contribution of wild mushrooms like “Shajkaans” to the socio-economic fabric of Kashmir. Beyond their economic value, they embody a deeper ethos of sustainability, resilience, and cultural heritage that must be cherished and protected for generations to come.

In their humble existence lies a powerful message – that amidst the axe and jackboot of modernity, the roots of tradition run deep, sustaining not just livelihoods but the very essence of Kashmiri identity.

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