Kiki (Prashant) Mathawan: ‘Due to their fair skin color and light colored eyes they have long thought to have some connection with the Europeans and the most obvious connection is made with remnants of the Army of Alexander who decided to stay back in the beautiful Valleys and mixed with the local population’
The Kalash is a name given to a Group of people who exist in three isolated Valleys of Chitral in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa region of Pakistan. As of today Kalash people include people who follow Islam and another Group which still practices its ancient religion. As on the present day their numbers of those following the original religion are in a few thousands and they have been under threat since a long time though lately due to Government intervention they have been relatively free to go on with their lives and traditions as they have for thousands of years.
The Kalash are found in three Valleys near Chitral namely the Bumburet, Rumbur and Birir near the Kunar River. These River Valleys are extremely fertile and all kinds of mountain fruits grow here. They speak a language called the Kalash / Kalsha which belongs to the Dardic language Group of the Indo European language Group.
Due to their fair skin color and light colored eyes they have long thought to have some connection with the Europeans and the most obvious connection is made with remnants of the Army of Alexander who decided to stay back in the beautiful Valleys and mixed with the local population. There are other People/ Tribes in the Himalayas as well who claim to have a connection with the Greeks through the Army of Alexander and other claim to be direct descendants of the Greek soldiers.
The closest relatives of the Kalash are the Nuristanis (earlier this region was called Kafiristan as a reference to their beliefs) who were at the turn of the previous Century converted by the Afghans and they have embraced Islam and have done away with most of their religious and cultural traditions and have become more Islamised in a sense. Many of the Kalash were also hence converted. The remaining Kalash were able to stick to their way of life because of firstly the isolation of the Valleys where they exist as well as the fact that when the Durand Line was drawn they became a part of India as it was at that time. Hence the Afghans were unable to get to them to convert some of them. However over a period of time many were converted especially when the Taliban influence was strong and they were under a lot of pressure to give up their traditions especially their traditional beliefs.
The Kalash religion has been described as Animism but many similarities are seen with the ancient Vedic religion or in other words an ancient form of Hinduism with Animist beliefs thrown into it aplenty. It is probably the form of religion as it existed at the time when the Rig Veda was composed. However due to their isolation most probably they remained cut off from the post Rigvedic development of Hindu religion. The name of some of their deities are the same as the ones in the ancient Vedic religion. They have references to the ‘Devlok’ and one of their deities is called Indra.
The Kalasha celebrate a number of festivals including the most well-known one known as the ‘Chillum Joshi’ which attracts a lot of outsiders to flock to the Village and see the Kalash, especially the women in all their finery. Traditionally the woman wear black robes but on the days of the Festival all are ordained in multi-colour jewellery as well as very exquisite headgear. Two other important festivals of the Kalasha are the Uchau in autumn, and the Caumus in winter.
As of today the number of Kalash who still practice their ancient beliefs are believed to be numbered at around 3000 individuals and have been holding steady. They are also a big draw for tourists who converge in large numbers to see these extraordinarily beautiful people in the equally beautiful mountain settings.
Words: Kiki (Prashant) Mathawan
Photos: Syed Imran Schah
About the author: Kiki (Prashant) Mathawan is an occasional writer and Himalayan enthusiast who was born and spent formative years in living amidst the Himalayas in the most beautiful of its Vales, Kashmir.
His words: https://travelthehimalayas.com/kiki/