The Kalasha Valleys is situated in district Chitral of province Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KPK), Pakistan. Three valleys are said to exist in the region and are known to be inhabited by one of the oldest tribes of South Asia. The people of Kalasha are considered as the smallest religious community which is a part of Pakistan. Moreover, they are known throughout the world for their unique religion, culture, language and way of life. The people of Kalasha, even though in minority, are also known for the mysterious aura which they have created and carried on with for themselves for many years.
Below we mention a list of reasons why people of Kalasha valleys stand out and are labelled as ‘mysterious’ amongst the many tribes which exist in northern region of Pakistan.
The three valleys
Bumburet valley is known to be the largest valley of Kalash and is most appreciated by the tourists. The second largest valley, is the valley of Rambur and the smallest valley of Kalash is the valley of Birir. There are two ways to enter these valleys, either by foot or if the landslides permit, by road.
Origin and Descent
How the people of Kalasha came about to occupy the region and still succeeds to thrive in the cold, harsh mountains of Hindu Kush is a mystery. However, the three Pakistani populations residing in northern Pakistan Burusho, the Pathan, and the Kalash claim that the people descent from ancient Macedonian soldiers who were associated with Alexander the Great’s invasion of South-west Asia.
The language of Kalasha tribes is a sub-branch of Indo – Aryan group and it is itself a part of the Indo – European family, called Kalash. George Morgenstierne, a Norwegian linguist believes that in spite of the similarities which exist, Kalash should be considered an independent language.
Culture and religion
The people of Kalasha represent a unique culture and religion which is in fact completely different from the various contemporary Islamic ethnic groups that inhabit the Northwestern part of subcontinent. Most people are polytheists and believe that nature plays a significant role in their daily lives. Therefore, as a part of their religious traditions, the people of Kalasha valleys are known to offer sacrifices such as of goats and hold festivals in order to give thanks for the abundant blessings and resources they are showered with. However, it is also interesting to note that there are people who have converted to Islam and do so regularly, hence creating a division between the followers of Islam and the religion followed by the people of Kalash.
There are several customs practiced by the people of Kalasha vallesy and here we list a few:
- The Kalasha people (also known as the black kafirs) are anything but plain, their customs are rich and provide a sense of history. The men have adopted the famous Pakistani attire – Shalwar Kameez and the women can be seen to wear long black robes which are often embroidered with cowrie shells, while the children wear the smaller versions of the adult clothing after they turn four.
- The girls of Kalash are usually married off at an early stage, and are also given the choice of changing her husband whenever she likes. She can do so by writing a letter to her prospective husband and inform his future groom regarding how much her current husband paid for her, and the new husband is expected to pay the double if he wants to marry the girl.
- Another interesting aspect to their lives is that the people of Kalash do not tend to separate men and women or even frown upon the contact between the two sexes. The women, however, who are menstruating or are about to give birth are sent to live in a menstrual building, also known as the “Bashaleni”. When the girls/women are purified usually after taking a milk bath, they are allowed to interact with their husbands and family members.
Since the inhabitants of Kalasha valleys are polytheists, they have many deities to worship for. These deities have shrines and altars dedicated to them where they receive horse, goat, cow and sheep sacrifices regularly. There is also a role for the Kalasha boys, who are a treated as a source of awe. These prepubescent boys are sent to the high mountains for achieving purity. They tend goats for the month of summer. Moreover, the crows of the Kalasha valleys are seen as or represent the ancestors of the people. These crows are fed with left hand. Lastly, the dead are buried in open coffins with the belongings which are placed on one side of the grave.
The three famous festivals celebrated by the people of Kalasha include Utchal, Joshi or Chilimjusht and Chowmas. These joyful and colorful festivals reinforce the belief system of the people of Kalash, who hold these to welcome the seasons summer, spring and winter respectively, in order to pay tribute to their spiritual gods of nature.
The mystery of the blue-green eyed, olive-skinned Kalasha people lie in the fact that they strongly uphold their belief system even after the regular conversions to Islam that takes place amongst the people who belong to these tribes of Kalash. The people are eager to stay loyal to their beliefs, customs, rituals and also to stand out amongst all the tribes in northern Pakistan. Hence, Kalash is Pakistan’s only pagan tribe and its indigenous people are definitely the reason for its one of the remarkable cultures on planet.