Kalash valley, known as Kalasa or Kalasha Valley, is a remote region in the mountains along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border. The area is home to the Kalasha people, who are said to be descendants of the armies of Alexander the Great. The Kalasha are distinct from the rest of Pakistan’s population, and the Valley consists of three separate valleys. The Kalash Valley is known as “The Valley of the White Women” because of its many widows. The Kalash people are Buddhist people who live in this Valley.
The people are considered unique among the people of Pakistan. With a population of around 3,000, they are Pakistan’s smallest ethnoreligious group. They traditionally moral the religion some writers characterize as a form of Ancient Hinduism. During the 20th century, an attempt was made to arm Kalasha villages in Pakistan to convert to Islam. However, the people fought, and once pressure was removed, the considerable majority resumed the practice of their religion. Nevertheless, some Kalasha has converted to Islam, despite being deserted afterward by their community.
The term “Kalash” refers to many distinct people, including the Vi, the ima-niei, the Vnt, and the Ashkun- and Tregami-speakers. The Kalash people are considered indigenous to Asia, with their ancestors having migrated to Chitral valley from another location, possibly further south – a place the Kalash calls “Tsiyam” in their folk songs and epics. Some Kalash traditions consider the various Kalash people migrants or refugees. Some also consider them to have been descendants of Gandhari people.
The first recorded Islamic invasions of Nuristan occurred in the 11th century when the Ghaznavids conquered the region. The people of Nuristan were first mentioned in historical records in 1339, during Timur’s invasions. Nuristan was forcibly converted to Islam in 189596, although some evidence suggests that the people continued to practice their traditional customs. The Kalash people of Chitral have also maintained their separate cultural traditions.
The Kalash language, also known as Kalasha-mun, is an Indo-Aryan language. Its closest reciprocal is the neighboring language Khowar. Kalasha was previously spoken over a larger area on the south side of Chitral, but it has lost ground to Khowar and is now mostly confined to western valleys.
The Kalash people have a unique culture that differs in many ways from the other Islamic ethnic groups in northwest Pakistan. They are atheists who follow a sect of Hinduism. Nature plays a significant and spiritual role in their daily life. As part of their religious tradition, they offer sacrifices and hold festivals to thank for the abundant resources of their three valleys. Kalasha Desh made up of the Rumor, and Bumburet valleys, is home to two distinct cultures. Birir Valley is the more cultural of the two.
Kalash folklore and mythology have been compared to that of ancient Greece. However, they are much closer to Hinduism in some parts. The Kalash have absorbed anthropologists due to their different culture compared to the rest in that region.
Customs & Traditions:
The Kalash people, a non-Muslim minority in Pakistan, have seen their figures dwindle over the past century. It has caused some controversy defines the ethnic attributes of the Kalash. The leader of the Kalash, Saifullah Jan, has stated that those who convert to Islam are no longer welcome among the Kalash people. He cites the need to keep their identity strong as the reason for this exclusion. About three thousand Kalash people have converted to Islam, still, live near Kalash villages, and protect their language and aspects of their ancient culture. By now, sheiks make up half of the total Kalasha population.
The Kalasha people of Chitral are known for their traditional black robes, often embroidered with cowrie shells. This distinctive dress has earned them the nickname “the Black Kafirs” among their neighbors. While the men of the Kalasha community have adopted the Pakistani shalwar kameez as their everyday wear, children typically wear minor versions of adult clothing from age four onwards.
The Kalasha people of Pakistan have a unique culture in which men and women are not separated, and there is no stigma around physical contact between sexuality. However, girls and menstruating women are sent to stay in the “bashaleni,” the building of the menstrual village, during their menstruation. They also need to give birth in the bashaleni. A ritual reviving “purity” to a woman after childbirth must be performed before she can return to her husband. The husband participates fully and with great enthusiasm.
Girls are initiated into womanhood early, typically around four or five. They are then married off at around fourteen or fifteen. If a woman wants to change her husband, she must write a letter informing her prospective husband of how much her current husband paid for her. The new husband must then pay double if he wants to marry her.
The historical religious practices of the neighboring Pahi peoples of Kashmir, Nepal, Uttarakhand, and Himachal Pradesh are the same Kalash people as they “ate meat, drank alcohol, and had shamans.” In addition, the people of Pahi” had rules of clan exogamy that produced a fragmented system closely resembling the Kalasha one.”
Kalash Valley Festivals:
The festivals worldwide have their excitement, but the events that stand out among the Kalash are their three main festivals. The three main festivals of Kalash, known as “khawsáṅgaw” are;
- The Chilam Joshi
- The Schau
- The Caumus
The pastoral god Sorizan safeguards the herds in autumn, fall, and winter and is thanked at the winter festival. Goshidai does so until the Pul festival and is thanked at the Chilam Joshi festival in spring.
The Chilam Joshi
The Chilam Joshi festival begins in the mid of May and is celebrated for ten days to enjoy the arrival of spring. The Kalash believe that the god Chilam Joshi came down from the heavens to visit them and blesses their herds. Men dress up in traditional black robes, and women wear colorful dresses. There is a lot of traditional dancing and singing, and the celebrations culminate with a grand parade through the villages.
The Schau festival is celebrated in late summer or early fall. It is a time of harvest and thanksgiving and celebrates the goddess Uchau who assists farmers with their crops. The festival includes processions through the villages, music performances, and horse races.
The Kalash people of Pakistan celebrate the Caumus or Chawmos festival for two weeks at the winter solstice. This festival marks the end of the year’s fieldwork and harvest and is dedicated to the god Balmain. There is much music and dancing during the festival, and goats are killed for food. It is believed that Balmain visits from the mythical homeland of the Kalash, Tsyam (Tsiyam, tsam), during the festival.
The main Chaumos ritual occurs at a Tok tree, Indra’s place, or indrunkot. This sacred spot is sometimes believed to be the property of Balumain’s brother, In(dr), who is the lord of cattle. The men are divided into two groups: those who sing the well-honored songs of the past and those who sing feral, passionate, and obscene songs with an altogether different rhythm. A ‘sex change accompanies it’: men dress as women, women as men.
During the winter, the Kalash people play an inter-village tournament of Chikik Gal (ball game). In this game, villages challenge each other to hit a gal up and down the Valley in heavy snow.
The Kalasha traditional music repertoire consists mainly of flute instruments, singing, poetry, clapping, and the rhythmic playing of drums. The Kalasha people of Pakistan play music using a variety of instruments, including the wac and dau.
The wac is a small hourglass-shaped drum made from chizhin, kuherik, or az’a’i wood.
The dau is played with a giant drum called a du, which provides a deeper sound. The two drums are used together in Kalasha dances.
Religion & Deities
The Kalash people are practitioners of the traditional Kalash religion, a sect of Ancient Hinduism. However, a minority of people have converted to Islam. Michael Witzel mentioned that the Kalash religion shares “many of the attributes of myths, society, ritual, and echoes many aspects of Hindu Rigvedic religion.” Kalash’s culture and belief system differ from the ethnic groups surrounding them. Still, they are similar to those practiced by the neighboring Nuristanis in northeastern Afghanistan before their forced conversion to Islam.
Michael Witzel, a renowned authority on ancient Hinduism, describes the faith adhered to by the Kalash as having been influenced by both pre-Vedic and Vedic traditions. Likewise, the isolated Kalash people have received solid religious influences from pre-Islamic Nuristan. Richard Strand, an expert on languages of the Hindu Kush who spent three decades in the region, noted the following about the pre-Islamic Nuristani religion:
“Before their conversion to Islam, the Nuristani people adept a form of ancient Hinduism infused with local traditions and beliefs. In addition, they acknowledged several human-like deities who lived in the unseen Deity World.”
The Harvard philologist Michael Witzel summarises the faith practiced by the Kalash with this description: “The Kalash people have a rich mythology that includes stories of Indra, rainbow, and eagle, the killing of his own father, the killing of the snake with several heads, and the myth of releasing the Sun from an enclosure. In addition, there are echoes of the Pura myth, and there is the periodic elevation of Yama Rajan (Imra) to the sky god. This mythology forms an important part of their religious beliefs and practices.”
Notably, the division between two sets of deities (Devalog) and their intermarriage has been preserved in the Chaumos festival. This dichotomy is still re-enacted in the festival’s rituals, which involve fire, sacred wood, three circumambulations, and the *hotr. Some features of the festival have already taken on their Vedic form rather than their Central Asian form.
The diety Mahadeo is one of the main gods worshipped by the Kalash people. However, the Kalash people also worship several other deities, including Mahadeo, a god associated with fertility and rain; Sirona, a goddess of the mountains; and Durga, who protects mothers and their children. They also perform religious ceremonies involving fire, sacred wood, three circumambulations, and the *hotr.
The ancient Hindu god Yama Raja, called Imr’o in Kmviri, was universally revered as the Creator. He is a creator deity called Dezau (ezw), whose name is obtained from the Indo-European word *dheig’h ‘to extract’; Dezauhe is also called by the Pashto word Khodai. There are several other deities of Kalash, semi-gods, and spirits.
According to Michael Witzel, a figure in Kurdish mythology is similar to the Hindu god Indra. This figure is often called Indr (N., K.) or Varendr (K., warn, wern, *aparendra). Like in the Vedas, the rainbow is said to be named after him. It is believed that when it thunders, Indra is playing Polo. However, Indra appears in various forms and ‘disguises,’ such as Sajigor (Sajigr), also called Shura Verin. The shrine of Sajigor is located in Rumbur valley.
Munjal Malk is the Lord of Middle Earth who, like Indra, killed his father. Finally, Mahadeo is the god of crops and war and a mediator with the highest deity.
Sestak is the goddess of domestic life, family, and marriage, whose lodge is the women’s house (Jake Han). Dezalik, the sister of “Dezau,” is the goddess of giving birth, the heart, and the life force. She protects children and women and is similar to the Nirmali. She is also answerable for the Bashaleni lodge.
Suchi, Varōti and Jach
Some people in the mountains believe in fairies called Suchi (si) and their violent male partners, Varti (called vtaputr in Sanskrit), who is said to help hunt and kill enemies. This belief is reflected in the later Vedic distinction between Apsaras and Gandharva. People believe these beings live in high mountains, such as Mount Kailash or Tirich Mir, but they descend to meadows in late autumn. There is also a separate category of female spirits called Jach (j.ac.), who is said to be associated with the soil or special places, fields, and mountain pastures.
Krumai is also the goddess of the mountain Terich Mir. She is said to appear as a wild goat and is associated with childbirth. In one myth, she confused other gods and was chased by Imra. Krumai is said to have jumped up the river and run up the bluff, causing the cliff’s shape with her hooves. She then revealed her proper form and prepared a feast for the other gods, who accepted her into their pantheon.
The Kalash people have shrines and altars dedicated to their deities throughout the valleys. These deities frequently receive goat sacrifices. In 1929, Georg Morgenstierne testified that Kalash priests still carried out such rituals. The institution of the priest has since disappeared, but there is still the prominent role of the shaman (dehar). Witzel writes that the deities are seen as temporary visitors in the Kalash ritual, as in the Vedic ritual (and in Hindu Pj).
There is a unique role for prepubescent boys in this community, who are treated with special reverence. It is because they combine pre-sexual behavior with the purity of the high mountaintops, where they tend goats for the summer months. Purity is stressed and centered around the chancel, goat stables, the gap between the hearth and the house back wall, and in festival periods. The higher up in the Valley a location is, the purer it is considered.
In contrast to the purity of Hinduism, women, as well as death and decomposition, are impure. Therefore, like in the Avesta and Veda, many cleansing ceremonies are required if impurity occurs.
Responsible tour of Kalash Valley
The Kalasha Valley is a naturally and culturally beautiful area. However, beauty can easily be eroded by the onset of mass tourism. To help preserve the beauty and to educate travelers about the importance of respecting the locals and culture, we have put together a responsible guide;
Several accommodations are available to visitors in the Kalasha valleys, including hotels, guesthouses, and homestays. Staying at one of these establishments helps to ensure that tourism dollars benefit the local community directly.
It’s always best to ask before taking photographs, especially of the Kalasha people. The women, in particular, are gorgeous, but many don’t like having their pictures taken by strangers (except during festivals). There have been tensions growing between the Kalash and outsiders, partly because some tourists arrive and start taking photos of women and children without asking permission or showing any consideration.
Instead of trying to sneak pictures, it’s better to make friends with the people first, talk for a while, and then ask if it’s okay to take a photo.
Fruits and Vegetables
Plenty of local fruits, vegetables, and nuts are growing around the valleys – snack on those instead of contributing to the increasing plastic waste problem. Plus, collect your trash and dispose of it properly – don’t leave it on the floor for someone else to deal with.
If you plan on drinking the local wine, please do so responsibly. It’s considered poor form to show up as a guest in someone’s home and then get drunk, loud, and destructive on their alcohol. If you can’t handle your drink, don’t drink, or at the very least, limit your consumption. It also means there will be more for those who can control themselves.
The Kalasha valley is a beautiful and culturally significant area. Please respect the locals and their culture, and don’t ruin the area’s beauty with irresponsible behavior. Check out our responsible guide if you want to learn more about the Kalasha people and their culture. Before planning to visit the Valley, be sure to check the current travel advisories. Then, contact Crossroads Adventure to arrange a healthy tour at firstname.lastname@example.org.