The Kafir, Dancing Faeries of KALASH
Chitral Travel Blog› entry 2 of 2 › view all entries
In all the languages spoken in Pakistan, Kafir means "Infidel" and Kafiristan means "Land of the Infidels." (Kafir also means "infidel" in Arabic.) Yet, ironically Kafiristan in Pakistan is believed to be a paradise located in the northwest part of the country: lakes, waterfalls, green forests teeming with wildlife, snow and a mellow sun, but it is not just the place itself that fascinates; it is the women of Kafiristan, part-fairy and part-human whose beauty, as the story goes, can make a man lose his religion. "When a Kafir woman drinks water, you can see it streaming down her throat. One can count the veins on her body," is the standard text regarding the Kafir woman's delicateness. They are believed to be whiter than white
Kalash is the most famous pagan tribe of Chitral-the northern district of the Pakistan's North-West Frontier Province (NWFP). They practice an ancient religion and lead a centuries old way of life. The three valleys where they live are known as Kalash gooni among the Local and Kafiristan among the outsiders. The three Kalash valleys Bumburet, Rumber and Birir are situated to the South West of Chitral town at distance of 40, 43 and 36 kilometers respectively. The population of Kalash is estimated to be 3660 souls according to latest count. The remaining Kalash tribe of the valleys live in unique houses made of local stone and wood which are stacked on top of one another against the hills so the roof of the lower house is the veranda of the upper.
The Kalash worship the many gods of Kafiristan like Balomain, the heroic demi-god of the Kalash whom the Choimus Festival celebrates. Balomain's spirit is said to pass through the valley counting the people of the Kalash and collecting their prayers returning them to Tsiam, the mythical land of the Kalash. The Kalash are infamous for their festivals; these folks know how to let their hair down in style. There is much dancing where the elders chant legends with drum accompaniment and the women dance round outside. Locally brewed mulberry wine is drunk in copious quantities, although the festival dates are rarely set in stone as they depend on the harvest so if you're running short of time you may be disappointed.
Just before the main festival, seasonal foods are offered to the ancestral spirits and a kotik, light for the ancestors, is lit. After this ritual the food, considered impure, is offered to the elderly women to be eaten. During the festival, purity is paramount and celibacy is enforced throughout the days of the event so all the people will be in pure mind when Balomain visit the valley. All the people must be cleansed in a ritual bathing the week before the festival begins. During the men's purification ceremony, they must not sit down at all during the day and at night the blood of a sacrificed goat is sprinkled on their faces.
Special dance halls exist for the purpose of dancing at festivals. They are decorated with ornate carved wooden pillars and goat-like figurines. The music and dance is a performance of set songs: the Cha or clapping song is the simplest song with a lilting dance, sung by the elders, with an energetic round dance and the women cry like goats. The drajahilak songs are long and slow, sometimes one song can last up to 2 hours and it is a kind of solo and chorus using improvisation and variation techniques. The Dushak combines the styles of Cha and Drajahilak, presenting both traditional songs and new compositions. The dancing involves side stepping, fast and rhythmical. During the festival prayers, a procession is made to a high plateau outside of the village in Balanguru where the long night of dancing begins. The festivals continue for many more day moving on to different locations within the valleys.
Origin and History
There are two theories on the origin and early history of the Kalash. Popular theory is that they are descendants of one Shalak Shaw, a General in the invading army of Alexander the great. Another theory is that the Kalash Originated from Tsiyane a country in the Tibetan belt. They shifted to Afghanistan in the early Christian era.
The Kalash believe in God they call "Deziao".
Rare opportunity seized by any tourist to see the colorful Kalash dance is that of a festival day.
Joshi or Chilimjusht (14th and 15th May):
This festival is held in spring, when girls pick the first flower of the season. The days are marked by the dancing, visiting each other, exchanging flowers, milk and milk products and amusing dances in fairyland.
It is celebrated to mark the harvest of wheat and barley.
The Kalash are famous for their indigenous wisdom. Their poetry, proverbs and folk tales are rich in realities of the universe and life itself. They are famous for their witty remarks and sharp responses. Once the ruler of Chitral built a beautiful house inside his fort. His subjects started congratulating him by saying "Sir, nobody on earth can build such a magnificent house" just to please the ruler. A Kalash elder happened to attend such an audience but did not congratulate the ruler. He asked the Kalash elder to comment on the beauty of the houses. The Kalash remarked "Sir, there is a fault". What is the fault?" the ruler asked in "Sir, the life of an owner is always shorter than the life of the house no matter how much beautiful that may be" the Kalash elder told his ruler.
The Kalash ritual of prolonged rains
This rituals hints at same clues to the origin of the Kalash When the summer or winter rains are prolonged and life becomes difficult for hummans and animals, the Kalash take out a precession with some of the their belongings on their heads & backs . they ascend the mountains singing a folk song, "O Deziao , if this rain continues, we would not be able to keep you Kalash goomi green and prosperous. We would no longer live here. We will go to our ancestral land of Tsiyam". Anthropologists and historians have located the lat of Tsiyam in the vicinity of Tibet and Laddakh, where the Kalash rituals are still practiced.
Famous Kalash Kings
The Kalash were historically predominant people of Chitral.
In Kalash belief and mythology there are many characters how are represented in wooden effigies, though simple in art and craft each 'Effigy' is a symbol of Kalash religion. Human's character is either a tribal hero or one of the great ancestors. Animal's character, like the effigy of horse reflects the Kalash beliefs in animism.
A winter festival celebrated to welcome the New Year.
Kalash society is based on a joint family system on patriarchal basis. They lead a simple life free from hypocrisy, violence and other social evils, they never tell a lie, steal or quarrel. Though women are considered impure, yet they are not look down upon, Kalash women join the men in farming activities, as well as in singing and dancing. Girls are free to choose their life partners and have a right to divorce. Head of the village is called " Asuqal "they use the solar calendar and their elders are expert in forecasting weather.
Kalash Dresses and Cuisine
Dresses are the most popular symbols of the Kalash culture. Normally black in color, the Kalash female dress is decorated with beads and corals. The famous cap worn by the Kalash women & girls is called "Kopest" and it is long enough to cover the head down to the back Women's shirts cover the whole body down to the feet and it is tied around the stomach by a special belt called "Chehare" the Kalash cuisine consists of soups and breads of various kinds and tastes.
One of the amazing skills of the Kalash artisans is the art of construction in Kalash architecture, multi-stored houses are constructed with the help of wooden pillars and stone walls supported by wooden staircases, carvings on pillars and dome like ceilings are some of the best examples of the Kalash craftsmanship.
Kalash Songs, Music and Rituals
For Kalash, singing and dancing is not only a source of entertainment, but also a part of the religion. Mucis is part of their life. The young and aged, men and women, elite and commoners all get together to sing and dance. Apart from routine practice and festivals, death in the tribe is also an occasion for singing and dancing. This is perhaps the most interesting and unique phenomenon that the kalash celebrate death rituals with singing and dancing. The duration of the rituals depends upon the socio-economic position of the dead person or his/her family. The rituals can continue for a week if the family can afford hospitality wheat, meat and butter- to the people gathered from all the three valleys. This is why there is proverb in local language that ' when a Kalash is buried his wealth is dug out and when he is alive his wealth is buried' the burial however takes place when the rituals are over.
Kalash indigenous Wisdom