The Lost Legend of Kalasha Desh

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Back in the mythical arcades of the East in the mountains between Pakistan and Afghanistan is the Kalasha Desh. In Chitral region of Rumbur, Bumburet, Birir lives a community of people called Kalasha, whose origins are rooted in mythology and is the last of the animist tribes of central Asia. Writers started to acclimatize among those mythical valleys with stories such as The man who would be king by Rudyard Kipling.

There are only adventurous trails through gorges and streams in an island of ancient people, things, ideas, survivors costumes at the time landslides clinging to low mountains, connected by little pathways that skirt hanging aqueducts. The snow storms flood the Logorai Pass isolating them from the world.

Gods and love punctuate the story of this ethnic group, still surviving in an oasis surrounded by the Islamic world and its various conquests since the last two thousand years from Mahmud to thousands of horsemen army of Tamerlane, the celebrated descendant of Genghis Khan. Their existence is an anthropological puzzle, a miracle of survival in an extreme environment, and the only example of successful ethnic resistance. So they lock viable paths that lead to the high mountain pastures.



This is a mysterious ethnic land, in the heart of the Asian continent, which for us has always been a kind of myth. The ancient and legendary kingdom represents the thrill, love, poetry and all the feelings that they have inherited from the pagan civilization. This mythical land at the foot of the towering Hindu Kush mountain range is populated by the Kalash people, who live a libertarian utopia, and celebrate orgiastic rites amidst beautiful dances.

And here the myth takes root in the ground, as we fantasize of a land of the East inhabited by blond, fair-skinned people with blue eyes, who spends their time drinking and singing, and who sacrifices young male goats to a variety of gods amidst forests of pine, oak and walnut. The presence of the sacred grape vine immediately give a subtle mythological character of the valley, where young girls, leaning against low walls of stones play flute, who continue to fill the air with mild melodious music. Here are the Arcadian maidens, huts and pots.

Kalash boasts significant Sanskrit influences. The paleontologists call them Indo-Aryans, as historians of religions see in their pantheon indisputable affinities with Vedic gods, who, point out the similarity of some characteristics of the drum and winemaking culture with tribal elements. In addition to the god of Imra and Indr or Varendr, which corresponds to the Vedic Indra, as well as nature gods, the Kalasha know fertility and pastoral gods, demigods, spirits and demons living in rocks and trees. People standing in the religious center of the Dehar, reminds of the shamans of Siberia.

The original home of the Kalash was called Tsyam, but later folded more and more to the north, toward the rugged mountain valleys of northwestern Pakistan, where now they reside. Despite the difficulties in maintaining their ethnic identity in complete isolation, the Kalash people continue its resistance on multiple fronts.

The Kalash is an ancient population, who are radically different, both in culture and in religion, who have similarities with Vedic rituals of the Aryan people. The Kalasha in Chitral are probably a very old Dardian group of people, and the proper name of their language is Kalasha-mun. Many Kalasha therefore refer their descent to descendants of Greek settlers or to descendants of Greek soldiers of the army of Alexander the Great.



Finds of ancient artifacts testify to a Greek presence in the region but there is evidence of a much earlier occurrence of the Kalasha long before Alexander's invasion of Persia. Other theories about their origins refer to cultural and religious similarities with Greek or other European peoples. This led to the hypothesis of a more or less direct lineage from the proto Indo-Europeans.

Remarkably, there is no direct link to the Kalasha of Nuristan formerly Kafiristan Kalasha. Both ethnic groups originate from different branches of the Indo-Iranians, a division which was probably carried out several thousand years ago. The Chitral-Kalasha took their name from the Kafiristan-Kalasha, which extended their influence to a not exactly known time until Chitral. A proof of this assumption could be the Kalasha names.

The members of this population now has less than 1500 people, who reside in a limited and almost inaccessible part of the country, in three small valleys of Birir, Rumbur and Bumburet. Bumboret is an almost hidden valley into a gorge carved by a river created by a glacier and is located between two steep mountains covered with thick forests of oaks and cedars.

In a cultural context the thrill is sought in the products of cannabis, and among the Kalash still continues the ritual consumption of wine; also because, according to their myth, the first vineyard was born from the gaping mouth of a powerful shaman. The grapes harvested from vines are pressed only by male children and the wine obtained by fermentation, sour, full-bodied and slightly fruity, will be drunk at the solstice of winter, called Chaumos, during the days when they all get drunk to get closer to divinity. Interestingly, during the year the population has no wine consumption, which therefore assumes only a ritual significance.

Among people who relegates, sailing and represses its women resist their sexual mores, more relaxed and more joyful, manifested especially during the holidays, animated by supernatural male and female deities, revered as the protectors of the peaks, crops and horses. Only women still wear the old fashioned way. The female dress is called pyran.



They continue their funerary statues, the sacred jestak han, which are the temples, slaughterhouse and town hall. It is the seat of Jestak, of Goddess of wealth, who does not disdain and offers fertility during Chaumos, the Kalash ceremony which is celebrated during the winter solstice. Furthermore, the various aspects of life are assigned a corresponding divinity. For example, Jeshtak stands for the family, pregnant mothers and marriage.

Using a lunar calendar, people divide the year into unequal periods with the three traditional feasts of Joshi in spring, a celebration of fertility, Uchao in end of summer and beginning of autumn, when the shepherds come with cheese from the valleys and Chaumos at the winter solstice, which marks the day of slaughter of goats which is then offered to the gods as a group dance, accompanied by the sound of drums and flutes.

The last is perhaps the most important, because of the rigor of the cold season people rely the most on fervent longings and heartfelt prayers in hope that the white death lurks the usual regenerative promise. The Chaumos lasts about two weeks, and is designed as a series of acts of purification and propitiatory ritual to the visit of the great god of the generation Balumain and mahandeo, which takes place at the dawn of the longest night of the year. Balumain have the symbols of the sun, the light, horse and the raven. In addition, Khodai is used in Khowar, the word for God. This term has long adopted monotheistic features.



The Chaumos ceremonial calendar is well established. The first day people light fires everywhere with juniper wood, and burn the old and used baskets. Young men form processions to prance and neigh, to attract the god, which is always presented on horseback. From the beginning, it explodes obscenity, with all its vitality and, say: More dirty are our words and our prayers heartfelt, there is more gain in health and luck.

On the second day the women wash their hair and renew kupas, the beautiful adorned headbands made of shells, buttons and bells, that extends from the back like a long skirt, forms the traditional headdress, called susutr, while around the neck feature voluminous necklaces made of colored beads. The Kalash women wear short hair but leave some strands grow up to make long braids, one of which always part of the front. Since they cannot comb in homes, since it is considered impure, they must do so on the river bank.

In the stable bread is baked. The third day is reserved for really terrible insults among girls of different villages. It is a war of words that last well into the night, which is assisted by young males, ready to appreciate the fantasy of this or that. Then comes the day of cooking beans, that of the packaging of small goats with the bread and the repainting of the friezes that adorn the jestak han.

It follows with the day of the return of the dead to whom food is offered that closes the first stage of the festival. Then began seven days of abstinence, ablutions and purifications for everyone among men, women and children, during which all foreign beings must leave the Kalash valleys.

Finally, comes the day of the great sacrifice, when dozens of goats are slaughtered ritually before the Mahandeu, the altar of the great god, from four towering stone horse heads, carved with wood. At this point the young people who can feel the tremors are interpreted as signs of a possession, which reveals shamanic skills. The farewell to Balumain is celebrated by a procession of women, each with a peacock feather on kupas.

According to the ancient Vedic thought, the peacock represent immortality as well as being very prolific as the bird renewed every year the splendor of its eyes on the cosmic wheel of the magnificent iridescent tail.

Women, where they retain the vulva in wooden Dezalik, the temples of the Goddess of Childbirth. The gandau are wooden statues depicting the way ancestors used to protect the villages, fields and cemeteries.



The villages are like hundreds of years ago. Gathered around the temples, the Jestak, it is venerated Jesta, maternal energy that sustains the world. The temple is a mandala, a cosmogram and a time machine. In sunny days on the roof falls rays of light from diaphragmed spiral overlapping beams. It's a complicated sundial and on the day of the winter solstice, the beam of light kisses the statue of Jesta and detonates the great feast of Chaumos and attaches the highest places an aura of power and sacredness.

The valleys are so drawn by the energetic and spiritual level curves. A mid-mountain village is built in tiers, and on top of the stables of goats that sometimes house the suchi, the fairies who embody the fertilizing power of nature. Higher, instead enormous boulders radiate male strength and aura of Mahadeo and Balmain. The fairies reside in the pure land of the peaks, who protect Markhor (ibex), the dehar (shamans), kings and shepherds all naked and wilderness of the high mountains.

The sacred peaks are taboo place. It would be a desecration to ascend the pyramid of Mount Palar, home to gods and ancestors with golden palaces that are seen occasionally glistening in the sun. Death and madness punish those who offend nature polluting springs, cutting trees or brothers assassinating animals. In any case, it can be said that nature plays a significant and also spiritual role in the everyday life of the Kalasha.

The world is so divided between the sacred and the profane. All that is high and wild from mountains, wild animals but also goats and stables is pure while all that is down, and is not free and has been domesticated, the valley floor but also cows and chickens is unclean. The goats belong to a culture that preaches the nomadic life, the sanctity of the wilderness and the goat totem, in stark contrast to the farmers and sedentary people of India who belong instead to the culture of the sacred cow.

Here the goat is a treasure. The power of a man is measured by the number of his goats and the village chief is honored with the title of men of many horns. The symbolism of the goat appears everywhere in dances and fights to the sound of horns of goats, in embroidered tunics depicting stylized goats and in the makeup of women who tinge impressive horned eyebrows. They smile without chador and without veils in the most beautiful majestic kupas, a headgear made of wool, silver and shells and the eyes are tinged with black kohl and red elderberry sauce.

The rural hermit shepherds, who spend the whole summer in the mountain pastures are considered budalac or heroes. They say that the school of life which makes you become a real man is up there in the mountains, among goats and shepherds.

In the spring festival during the joshi there is the zabum dance lit by the roar of the drums. The body is shaken by a sacred tremor that they call umbulu. The look is in heaven. It is a naked and ecstatic dance inspired by the planetary movement to re-create order and harmony. It is fire that burns and sun rising again. Since no type of calendar is known to the Kalasha, the beginning of this feast is determined by the position of the sun. The first day of this national festival is called milk day. On this are milk sacrificial offerings, which have already been collected up to 10 days before the beginning.

The onjesta mosh, virgin children, begin to press the grapes in tin tubs. The work is then completed by older siblings. The must is preserved until December for the hangover of the ritualistic solstice celebration. The vine grows clinging to the walnut trees and the grapes ripen to dizzying heights. The cultivation of this grape alpine refers to a new legend.

The sacred grapes was perhaps brought up here by heroes which is an offer of ambrosia to Balumain, who at the end of winter returns here.

Chaumos, the feast of the winter solstice is a ritual to propitiate the return of the sun, heat and life. In the days of Eve are prepared shishao, a bread filled with nuts and cooked by young virgins, and kuturuli, sweets in the shape of female genitalia, which are offered to Kushumai, the goddess of the fields and love. And in the day of ditsh, the great purification, they will make bloodshed, fire and creek water ice and even fumigate juniper.

To protect the ritualistic purity the people sprinkle the blood of the sacrificial goat, blessed with juniper incense and purified with a nice stream bath. This fanaticism for purity is a smart care that strengthens the villages and culture. Purity and impurity is a highly complex component of the Kalasha religion, accompanied by numerous taboos and ceremonies. Taboos, baths and diets are antidotes against diseases and misfortunes. Dances and parties are a way to strengthen the group and alleviate social conflicts.

The chaumos is a political performance, which states the desire to resist any repression. All this is symbolized by the burning of a fort full of pine shingles of enemies and other demons. The holy night of the solstice is also the night of the sacrifices. Led by the mighty budalak, the shepherd kings in the mountains invoke Balumain by uttering, Give us the warmth of spring and the hot seed that impregnates the wombs of our women.

The most sacred place is the wildest and the god of the solstice chooses the land each year on a group of anthropomorphic rocks on top of a landslide. Every householder brings a goat to be sacrificed. The goat is sacrificed when her body is shivering, a sign that the gods take possession of the victim. The quake can infect dehar and young people most psychics fall into trance manifesting their shamanic vocation.

The shepherds come down to the village at first light bringing white goat cheese and pray in front of an open-air altar stained with the blood of countless sacrificed goats and decorated with carved heads of horses and men. At noon, the villagers gather in a meadow on a slope. Dressed in their finest clothes and headgear, the ancient women sing plaintive songs keeping with his arms around her waist, and dance in a circle to the overwhelming sound of a drum that continues until late at night.



The houses of the Kalash are embedded in the side of the mountain and are made of mud, logs and hundreds of dense stone slabs arranged in layers. In some houses there are no windows and in others are very small. Wealthy families have two-story houses. There are no bathrooms or running water there. Women are responsible for going to the river to fetch water necessary. On the roof of the houses, there is a hole that functions as a fireplace.

The women sit in front of the doors, in the morning sun, spinning with goat wool, while the girls wear golden flowers collected from the meadows. All wear embroidered garments and homemade hats hanging from one hand like manes.

The language of the Kalash has no alphabet, and is considered an Indo-Aryan type of the Indo-European family. It retains many loans from Sanskrit. Phonology has a somewhat atypical. Currently there are 5,000 speakers, and the Kalash language is considered endangered.

Another peculiarity in their religion is that the horse is of particular importance. In particular, many wooden depictions has a particular prevalence of horse representations. The dead are not buried but left in coffins and are dedicated wooden statues. Women are free and do not carry the chador.

The isolation here is such that very few had tasted the tea. It existed then in the whole territory only a dirt road, whereas in the other valleys are small paths often too steep and too steep for horses and donkeys, and passable only on foot.



The economy is based on agriculture and sheep farming in an economic system that ignores the currency to which the exchanges take place mainly according to the system of barter. The basic unit was the goat, a cow was worth about ten goats and a house cost six cows. Nothing is produced for sale, and any surplus goods is not private, and in fact redistributed fluidly among the population as established by the elderly.

Although most of the work is not done with machines, but by conventional manual work, the Kalasha operate an intensive agriculture. The wild and dangerous rivers that flow through the Kalasha valleys drive mills, and are also used for irrigation in agriculture by means of ingenious canal systems.

In exchange, the donor is provided with prestige items, such as assigning a privileged place in the meetings or the ability to carry certain weapons. Any disputes within the community were obliged to go before the council of elders, called Dù Nrài, before moving to the state courts. Their polytheistic religion has the worship of a large number of ancestral deities who are devoted the animated music festivals, dances, wine and animal sacrifices, and sometimes worship idols carved of wood representing their deities.

They live mainly on agriculture and pastoralism is still practiced like the ancient transhumance system, a seasonal and temporary migration of flocks and shepherds moving from pastures located in hilly or mountainous areas to those of the plains, and vice versa. Corn and wheat are the main crops in the valleys, while apricots, mulberries and walnuts, are collected and dried for the winter and the grapes are used to produce the wine.

While women work in the field, keeping watch and irrigating crops, men are responsible for the heaviest tasks like planting and harvesting the crop.



The Kalash culture do not implement any difference in treatment between men and women. Marriages arranged by parents are increasingly rare and always carried out with the permission of the couple. If two young people love each other, they are free to marry, even if the bride is engaged to another man, only that the second suitor has to pay twice the amount of dowry to the first.

Women are free to choose their husband and can also divorce at will. However Kalash women during the menstrual period, are considered unclean and are forced to live in bashalani, the appropriate buildings outside the village where they go during the period until they reacquire their purity. These buildings are also the place where women go to give birth.

Apart from this, women are very respected in society and have the same importance as men. In the Kalash tribe prevails liberal approach thanks to their culture and religion. Both men and women, working in the family farm, while some tasks are quite distinct. Women generally take care of the housework and the children, while the men involved in the commerce.
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