CHITRAL: Zerbali, hitherto a famous flowering plant grown in Chitral and second only to Ishperu Gulab, a local variety of rose, is almost extinct as people avoid growing it due to the wide space it covers.
Zerbali is the name of the plant as well as its deep yellow flowers. The plant is usually five to seven feet tall and three to four feet in diameter.
Shams-un-Nazar Fatimi, a retired professor, says zerbali flower is of central Asian origin which was introduced here by the traders of Tajikistan in 18th century when they used Chitral as route for trade as well as going to Arabia for pilgrimage until 1917.
People stop growing Zerbali plant as it covers wide space
He said central Asian traders used to bring different types of gifts to the rulers of Chitral, including flower plants, while passing through the area.
“Although zerbali has not been specifically mentioned but it is most likely it was one of the gifts of flowers presented to the rulers of Chitral,” he said.
Prof Fatimi said the popularity of the flower could be gauged from the fact that male members of family were named zerbali at their birth.
“With the abandoning of raising the flower plant, the custom of naming the newly-born children after this flower has also came to an end,” he said.
The poets of Khowar (Chitrali language) have been lavishly using the flower in their folk songs which are still popular among the people.
A line of a song of 19th century using zerbali is much familiar. “Denin zerbalian blok, Leniktu wor kasir” is the short phrase of the old song which is often repeated by the old and the young while passing through the Denin village.
Sher Mohammad, a former gardener of Shahi Qilla of Chitral, said zerbali used to adorn a large chunk of the royal garden and it was considered part and parcel of the gardens of royal forts situated in Mastuj, Drasun, Shoghor, Garam Chashma and Drosh.
He said due to its large size and the fashion of cultivating seed flowers, most of the zerbali plants were weeded out from the royal gardens where seed flowers of European countries were in dominance.
He said hardly any flower could supersede zerbali in fragrance.
The dark green leaves of the plant also give out sweet fragrance which is its special characteristic, while the paste of the leaves is widely used as cosmetic material and medicine to remove dark sports from face.
The extinction of the zerbali plant has also led to disappearance of a dove-sized migratory bird, cuckoo as it was mostly found sitting on the tree when it blossomed in May.
The flower is, however, still raised in upper parts of Chitral, including Karim Abad, Susum, Torkhow and Yarkhoon.
Yaqub Khan, a member of district council from Karimabad, said the zerbali plant lasted for 15 to 20 years.
Published in Dawn, May 23rd, 2019