Prof R D GuptaSaffron (Crocus sativus), the so-called ‘Red Gold’ of Jammu and Kashmir Himalayas, belonging to botanical family, Iridaceae, is of much commercial and economic importance. Saffron, infact, constitutes the second biggest cash crop after apple fruit in Kashmir.It is autumn flowering plant, rather a small shrub with scented flowers, which has been cultivated in vale of Kashmir since long.In Kashmir, saffron is, in fact, a legendary crop of well-drained plateau of Pampore. According to a famous legend, a Nag (snake) suffering from an eye problem went to a doctor in Padampur, the name of the town was later altered to Pampore. The doctor cured the Nag, and to show its gratitude or thanks the Nag gave doctor a bulb of saffron which yielded corns or bulbs for cultivation.This is, how, the cultivation of saffron came into existence in the area. Although, when exactly saffron cultivation started in Kashmir, is not precisely known yet the recorded account of saffron cultivation in Kashmir dates back to about 550 AD near 400 centuries earlier than its recorded cultivation in Spain by the Arabs. Indeed, it is believed that saffron originated in Asia Minor, Arabs who gave it name Zaffron, and began cultivating it in some conquered parts of Spain.Thus, saffron a native of Iran and Asia Minor, later on spread to several Asian and European countries situated on out-skirts of Srinagar.It is point to mention that currently Spain produces around 70 per cent of world’s saffron, while India takes second place. In India, Jammu and Kashmir is the main contributor with respect to saffron cultivation.In Jammu region, saffron is grown in Kishtwar area of Doda district, whereas in Kashmir region it is now being grown in number of other places apart from Pampore. It is also grown in Kinnaur area of Himachal Pradesh.Saffron has also a number of medicinal values. According to book, ‘Spices and Condiments’, saffron is a stimulant, warming in effect and dry in action, and as such assists in urinary, digestive and uterine troubles.The aromatic fragrance of saffron prompted European herbalist, Gerard to mention during 16th century, ‘Moderate use of Saffron is good for the head, and makes the senses more quick and lively, shake of heavy and drowsy sleep and make a man merry.’ Saffron is credited for several uses in pharmacy as colouring and flavouring agent, and also as an abortifacient.The crop is valued for its dry stigmas obtained from flowers, which actually constitute the saffron.The purple blossoms – arrogant flowers, some call them – are born by sun rise and die at sunset. Variously lauded as a flavouring, digestive, sedative, dye, hangover cure, exhilarant, the present uses of saffron are largely culinary.Madhur Jafery, a well-noted culinary expert in London once said, “While the taste is very subtle, saffron gives a dish an aroma at special occasions, I use it for its aroma which to me is headily sweet, and for its colour, which in India is thought very auspicious.” Arabs, the greatest saffron’s consumers use it to flavour lamb, chicken and rice dishes.In India, it is too used for colouring and flavouring of foods. The Kashmiri mostly employ saffron in various kinds of meat preparations, Kewah tea and Saffron Laddu making (sweet dish) vis-à-vis sweet rice.Held in reverence in the religious echelons by Jains, Hindus, Buddhists, saffron is also used in form of perfume strewn in Greek and Roman halls, theatres and baths. In Greek mythology, it was especially associated with the ‘hetaerae’, a professional class of Greeks sprinkled with saffron when kings made their entry into the city.It is remarkable to note that in ancient India a golden coloured water soluble fabric dye was distilled from saffron stigmas.Shortly after the demise of Mahatma Buddha, his priests made saffron the official colour for their robes.During various periods of history, saffron has been worth its weight in gold. Thus named as the ‘the real gold’, saffron is the world’s costliest condiment. What makes saffron so precious? There is always a measure of unsatisfied requirement for this delectable spice. The supply is limited, about 100 quintal (1 quintal = 100 Kg) a year in whole of world.The traditional Kashmiri saffron cultivating families dwelling in few villages of Pampore near about 10,000, would grow nothing else but saffron. And the saffron culture there, is closely associated with songs sung at the time of harvesting and drying.Apart from Pampore, cultivation of saffron has now extended in the districts of Badgam and Anantnag particularly the Chrari-Sharief plateau and Mattan area, respectively.Presently more than a lakh people are engaged in saffron production, out of which about 50 per cent are women.In Kashmiri, the saffron is known as Kong, in Hindi as Kesar and in Urdu as Zaffran. In Kashmir, the saffron growers are generally referred to as ‘Kong Zamindars’.As far as total area under saffron cultivation is concerned no definite figures are available but as per the old record, it appears that its area under cultivation has considerably declined during the last 4 to 5 centuries due to one or the other reasons.It is supported by the Mughal Emperor Jahangir’s Autobiography, which remarks, grooves on grooves and plants and plants of saffron were in bloom in Pampore area.The breeze in that place scented one’s brain. Similarly, in Aine-Akbari, Abul Fazal, one of the nine jewels of Akbar’s court, points out that, Saffron fields in blossom afford a panorama, enchanting enough to please the most fastidious. Huen Tsang too has gone poetic in describing the ethereal beauty of the saffron flowers present in Pampore.
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