Socio-Cultural Life of the Kalasha People of Chitral: A Study of their Festivals.

Byline: Muhammad Kashif Ali and Muhammad Iqbal Chawla

Kalasha; the sole pagan tribe of Pakistan and indigenous people, live in remote north-western part of Pakistan in Chitral district of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. The Kalasha people belong to Indo-Aryan stock and they speak the Kalasha language (it is also called Kalasha-mun and Kalashwar); a language of Dardic group. The total population of Kalasha tribe is approximately four thousand. The Kalasha are strongly attached to their culture and religion. However, during 1970's and 1980's the Kalasha people and the valleys observed drastic changes like: means of communication, tourism, religious conversion, demographic, values, burial practice, and change in social institutions like bashali1 and budalak2.

The Kalasha community of Chitral is considered the most festive community of Pakistan as the Kalasha dastoor rotates around the festivals, throughout the year. Primarily, the Kalasha celebrate two types of religious festivals; one type is of purely religious festivals with rituals only, while the other type is mixture of religious and cultural ceremonies; a combination of rituals, singing and dancing.

Joshi: The Spring Festival

The spring starts in moorlands of Chitral region of the Hindu Kush in May and to welcome the spring the Kalasha community celebrates the Joshi (also called Zoshi) festival for three days. The people start storing milk when elders of the community announce the dates for the festivals. They start to store milk in their barns before ten days of the festivals. Later, the collected milk is distributed among the tribe-fellows.3 The first preparing phase of Joshi festival consists of ten days; the shepherds live in goat-houses and do not visit their homes for nine days. During the said days the shepherds clean the goat-sheds and all utensils.4 After the first phase of (ten days) the festival, young boys and girls fetch yellow flowers (Sophora Mollis) from the pastures and branches of walnut to decorate their houses, doorways, walls and also decorate barns and the Jestak han;5 the temple of Jestak.6 Practically, this is the first day of the festival.

On the said day the collected milk is distribut d among the tribe-fellows to celebrate the festival. The ceremony of distributing and drinking the milk is called chirik pipi.7 On the first day men visit the shrine of Shingmou8, they clean it, decorate it with new branches and offer some dried mulberries and walnuts to the shrine.9

During the Joshi festival the Kalasha women sing the melodic songs and they dance on the beats of the drums. Some songs are sung in the praise of Dramui who was a great hunter in past days10 while some songs represent affections and love. Second phase of Joshi represents the religious climax of respective festival. Many sacrifices are offered to Mahandeo11 deity and the Kalasha people pray for welfare of the community.12 With the start of second phase, celebrations of the festivals begin.

During the second phase of the festival a ceremony called gulprik is celebrated in which all those babies who born after the last Joshi are brought to highlands in each village with their mothers.13 They all are allowed to go even the most sacred place of the Kalasha; goat sheds or barns and an onjesta suda throws milk on them as a ritual to purify them. In this way in fact all the babies become the part of the Kalasha tribe.14 At the end of the celebration, the Kalasha elders sing the songs and dance. "The girls enjoy the Cha, an up-tempo dance in which groups of girls clasp each other's shoulders and dance in spinning circles."15

Joshi's third stage is celebrated for two days in the valleys. Different types of songs are sung and dances are performed during these two days. The songs attributed to love, tragedies and wars are sung by the community.16 The songs of Joshi festival reflect themes ranging from Kalasha history to romance.17 At the last day of the festival, elders sing Gatch: a very secret song, and all participants wave branches of walnut and they pray for abundance of milk of goats. Kalasha believe that fairies come to participate in this ritual and they also wave walnut branches.18

Indeed, the Joshi is very unique and fascinating festival which represents the religious and social behaviours of the community.

The Uchaw and Rat Nat Festivals

The thanks giving festival Uchaw (in Khowar spelled as Uchal) is celebrated in the month of August, each year. Before the celebration Uchaw another festival is celebrated for two months which is called Rat Nat, Rat denotes night while Nat the dance so, in this long festival, dance is performed in alternative nights.

The final dates of the festival are announced by the elders of the community. The Uchaw is held to ensure good crops of wheat. The first ceremony of the festival is performed at the sanctuary of Sajigor,19 in Rumbur valley. The shepherds climb down to the sanctuary from high pasture. They bring abundant cheese with them. Other Kalasha from the villages also gathered at the sanctuary and after religious rituals bread and cheese is distributed among the attendants, the food can only be eaten by males.20 Wheat breads, walnut breads and cheese are not only given to family member and married females of clan but also to neighbouring Muslim families.21 After this the festival starts, and continues till late night or till the next morning. All the Kalasha community makes marry; they sing songs and dance22 at the open place, which is called Gri23 in Kalasha and Charsu in Kho language.

Pul Festival

Pul (also spelled as Pho) the autumn festival is celebrated only in Kalasha valley of Birir in early October or sometimes in late September. The Budalak24 had been the key trait of the Pul festival. The Pul was associated to return of budalak and to mate with the Kalasha women of Birir valley25. The budalak is a lost institution of the Kalasha community.

According to history, Budalak had been used to gather his herd at the start of the summer season to left for the high pastures and returned in September/October at the time of Pul festival. The budalak, during the festival, was welcomed and he could choose any girl for himself.26 No doubt, the Pul festival is still celebrated in Birir, but without Budalak. It is held at the time of the grape and walnut harvest. The virgin boys crush the grapes, this ceremony has a prominent place in local customs. A. Raziq Palwal unveiled that after the harvesting and collecting all the grains, a male goat is sacrifice to Mahandeo.27

Another trait of this festival is fruit-picking rites; he said, "during my field visit in Birir Valley Mir Bacha Khan, qazi28 of Birir valley, explained that at the time of Uchaw (in mid of August), fruit picking is forbidden, for forbidding the term nagha is used. The nagha is lifted before the commencement of the Pul festival. The nagha is applicable on walnut, peach, grapes and pear, but not on apple because they grow apple in bulk. The watch-men are appointed to monitor and to prevent fruit picking before Pul until the nagha is called off. When nagha is called off a goat is sacrificed and all the people start fruit picking."29

Biramor Festival

The Biramor is rare and optional type of festival of the Kalasha people which is celebrated in winter, especially in the months of November or December. During winter, the Kalasha people have nothing to do, so, they celebrate festivities. Only a male Kalasha member can offer the Biramor.

Biramor is, in fact, a feast of merit; it is very important feature of the Kalasha society. Although this feast of merit is expensive and feast giver has to spend expensive commodities: like goats, cows, wine, cheese etc., and sometimes feast giver gives the dowry or gifts to relatives, even Biramor has important place in the Kalasha culture. The status of the feast of merit giver rises, the feast of merit is a symbol of the prosperity and generosity.

If a Kalasha tribe fellow wants to offer a Biramor, he has to publicize it in any festival or at any great gathering; he shows his intentions sometimes couple of years before and even sometime a decade before the Biramor. Usually he shows his intentions in a Biramor organized by any Kalasha member. Before publicizing the Biramor, the host obtains the consensus from...

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