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Humshehri: Thinking Pakistan's History

Thinking Pakistan's History

Kalasha

Urdu Version

The Kalasha, living in the Chitral Valley of Pakistan, have mysterious origins and a distinctive way of living, language, culture, rituals and religion.

Introduction

The Kalash people or Kalasha are an ancient tribe of Pakistan. They live in the three valleys of Bumboret, Rumbor and Birir that come under the District Chitral of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

kalash1
Elderly Kalash women
(Manal Ahmad Khan)

The history of the origins of the Kalasha of Chitral is disputed with some historians marking them out to be descendants of the soldiers of Alexander the Great whilst others attribute an Indo-Aryan background to the tribe. Their mythology and folklore has similarities with those of Ancient Greece and Iranian pre-Zoroastrian traditions. The Kalasha themselves claim their first homeland to be Tsyam, a place no one has been able to locate.

Rituals, festivities and attire

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Traditional headdresses
(Manal Ahmad Khan)

The Kalasha are polytheists with their major deities being: Sajigor, Mahandeo, Balumain, Dezalik, Ingaw and Jestak. Nature plays an important role in their spiritual life. As a part of their religious practices they offer sacrifices, hold festivals, sing and dance to give thanks for their resources. Some major Kalasha festivals include: Chaumos, the grand festival of two weeks celebrated to welcome New Year; Joshi, celebrated to welcome the Spring; Uchaw, observed to safeguard good wheat crops; and Pul/Poh.

The Kalasha are also known as Siah Posh, with the word Kalash itself meaning wearers of the black robe. This can be attributed to the fact that the Kalash women usually wear long black robes with headdresses made of cowrie shells.

An endangered minority

Despite the pressures of modernization, the Kalasha have still managed to keep their ancient traditions alive without the aid of modern amenities such as phones or cars. The Kalasha are considered to be a critically endangered minority with a population of only about 4,000 today. Furthermore, owing to its unique cultural value, the Kalash Valley has been listed for consideration as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO.

Find out more

Books & Articles

Ali, Muhammad K. “Kalasha.” Ancient History Encyclopedia, 2011.

News

“Ancient Way of Life Threatened in Pakistan.” Al Jazeera. 15 July 2012. (video)

Rehman, Obaid U. “Kalash: Culture Shock.” Express Tribune, 26 June 2012.

Sikander, Taimur& Maureen Lines. “Embrace of the Kalasha.” Dawn. 20 May 2014.


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