Chitral: Bringing Kalash back home

The Kalash or the Kalasha are the only pagan minority residing in the Chitral district of the province of Khyber. The Kalashas live in three valleys of Chitral namely, Rumbur, Brumbret and Birir. The Rumbur and Brumbret form a single culture due to their very similar cultural practices, while Birir being the most traditional one forms a separate culture. The number of kalash has decreased so much so that only around 4000 people are residing in the valleys. The Kalashas are polytheistic and according to a renowned linguist Richard strand, is of the view that the people of Kalash practice an ancient form of Hinduism which gradually developed locally and got influenced by the neighboring areas of pre Islamic Nuristan.

Kalash

The inhabitants of the Kalash valley celebrate a number of festivals all year round. The three predominant festivals are as follows:

1) Joshi spring festival(May 13-16)

Joshi festival marks the arrival of spring. People wear new clothes and women accessorize heavily, girls are sent to the hill side for dancing and singing. Women decorate their houses and collect milk from the cattle. Moreover, one year old babies and their mothers are also purified in this festival.

Joshi Festival

2)Uchal festival( August 20-21)

The people of Kalash valley celebrate the famous annual harvesting festival Uchal with singing, dancing and paying homage to the nature for blessing them with barley and wheat harvest season. Special foods, cheese, buttermilk and corn bread, are prepared for the event. Women in traditional dresses preforme dances.

Uchal Festival

3)Phool Festival(mid-October)

The Phool / Autumn Festival is an annual colorful two-day festival in Birir Valley celebrated  with high spirit and zeal. The festival marks the reaping of grapes & walnuts harvests. The people sing songs in the local language and perform traditional dances throughout the two-day festival.

Phoo Festival

4)Chaumas festival(December 7-22)

The most important Kalash festival is the Chawmos (cawmōs, ghona chawmos yat, Khowar “chitrimas” from *cāturmāsya, CDIAL 4742), which is celebrated for two weeks at winter solstice (c. Dec. 7-22), at the beginning of the month chawmos mastruk. It marks the end of the year’s fieldwork and harvest. It involves much music, dancing, and the sacrifice of many goats. It is dedicated to the god Balimain who is believed to visit from the mythical homeland of the Kalash, Tsyam (Tsiyam, tsíam), for the duration of the feast. Food sacrifices are offered at the clans’ Jeshtak shrines, dedicated to the ancestors.

Chaumas Festival

At Chaumos, impure persons are not admitted; they must be purified by a waving fire brand over women and children and by a special fire ritual for men, involving a shaman waving juniper brands over the men. The ‘old rules’ of the gods (Devalog, dewalōk) are no longer in force, as is typical for year-end and carnival-like rituals. The main Chaumos ritual takes place at a Tok tree, a place called Indra’s place, “indrunkot”. Indrunkot is sometimes believed to belong to Balumain’s brother, In(dr), lord of cattle. Ancestors, impersonated by young boys (ōnjeṣṭa ‘pure’) are worshipped and offered bread; they hold on to each other and form a chain and snake through the village.