|Regions with significant populations|
|Chitral District, Pakistan|
|Ancient Hinduism, Islam|
|Related ethnic groups|
The Kalasha (Kalasha: Kaĺaśa, Nuristani: Kasivo) or Kalash, are an Indo-Aryan Dardic indigenous people residing in the Chitral District of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province of Pakistan. They speak the Kalasha language, from the Dardic family of the Indo-Aryan branch. They are considered unique among the peoples of Pakistan. They are also considered to be Pakistan's smallest religious community.
The neighboring Nuristani people of the adjacent Nuristan (historically known as Kafiristan) province of Afghanistan once practiced a form of ancient Hinduism adhered to by the Kalash. By the late 19th century much of Nuristan had been converted to Islam, although some evidence has shown the people continued to practice their customs. Over the years, the Nuristan region has also been the site of much war activity that has led to the death of many endemic Nuristanis and has seen an inflow of surrounding Afghans to claim the vacant region, who have since settled among with the remaining natives. The Kalash of Chitral maintained their own separate cultural traditions.
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The culture of the Kalash people is unique and differs completely from the various contemporary Islamic ethnic groups surrounding them in modern northwestern Subcontinent. They are polytheists and nature plays a highly significant and spiritual role in their daily life. As part of their religious tradition, sacrifices are offered and festivals held to give thanks for the abundant resources of their three valleys. Kalasha Desh (the three Kalash valleys) is made up of two distinct cultural areas, the valleys of Rumbur and Brumbret forming one, and Birir valley the other; Birir valley being the more traditional of the two. Kalash mythology and folklore has been compared to that of ancient Greece, but they are much closer to Indo-Iranian (pre-Zoroastrian-Vedic) traditions. The Kalash have fascinated anthropologists due to their unique culture compared to the rest in that region.
The language of the Kalash is a sub-branch of the Indo-Aryan group, itself part of the larger Indo-European family. It is classified as a member of the Chitral sub-group, the only other member of that group being Khowar. Norwegian Linguist Georg Morgenstierne believes that in spite of similarities, Kalasha is an independent language in its own right.
There is some controversy over what defines the ethnic characteristics of the Kalash. Although quite numerous before the 20th century, the non-Muslim minority has seen its numbers dwindle over the past century. A leader of the Kalash, Saifulla Jan, has stated, "If any Kalash converts to Islam, they cannot live among us anymore. We keep our identity strong." About three thousand have converted to Islam or are descendants of converts, yet still live nearby in the Kalash villages and maintain their language and many aspects of their ancient culture. By now, sheikhs, or converts to Islam, make up more than half of the total Kalasha-speaking population.
Kalasha women usually wear long black robes, often embroidered with cowrie shells. For this reason, they are known in Chitral as "The Black Kafirs". Men have adopted the Pakistani shalwar kameez, while children wear small versions of adult clothing after the age of four.
In contrast to the surrounding Pakistani culture, the Kalasha do not in general separate males and females or frown on contact between the sexes. However, menstruating girls and women are sent to live in the "bashaleni", the village menstrual building, during their periods, until they regain their "purity". They are also required to give birth in the bashaleni. There is also a ritual restoring "purity" to a woman after childbirth which must be performed before a woman can return to her husband. The husband is an active participant in this ritual.
Girls are usually married at an early age. If a woman wants to change husbands, she will write a letter to her prospective husband offering herself in marriage and informing the would-be groom how much her current husband paid for her. This is because the new husband must pay double if he wants her. For example, if the current husband paid one cow for her, then the new husband must pay two cows to the original husband if he wants her.
Marriage by elopement is rather frequent, also involving women who are already married to another man. Indeed, wife-elopement is counted as one of the "great customs" (ghōna dastūr) together with the main festivals. Wife-elopement may lead in some rare cases to a quasi-feud between clans until peace is negotiated by mediators, in the form of the double bride-price paid by the new husband to the ex-husband.
Kalash lineages (kam) separate as marriageable descendants have separated by over seven generations. A rite of "breaking agnation" (tatbře čhin) marks that previous agnates (tatbře) are now permissible affines (därak "clan partners). Each kam has a separate shrine in the clan's Jēṣṭak-hān, the temple to lineal or familial goddess Jēṣṭak.
The three main festivals (khawsáṅgaw) of the Kalash are the Joshi festival in late May, the Uchau in autumn, and the Caumus in midwinter. The pastoral god Sorizan protects the herds in Fall and Winter and is thanked at the winter festival, while Goshidai does so until the Pul festival (pũ. from *pūrṇa, full moon in Sept.) and is thanked at the Joshi (joṣi, žōši) festival in spring. Joshi is celebrated at the end of May each year. The first day of Joshi is "Milk Day", on which the Kalash offer libations of milk that have been saved for ten days prior to the festival.
The most important Kalash festival is the Chawmos (cawmōs, ghona chawmos yat, Khowar "chitrimas" from *cāturmāsya, CDIAL 4742), which is celebrated for two weeks at winter solstice (c. Dec. 7-22), at the beginning of the month chawmos mastruk. It marks the end of the year's fieldwork and harvest. It involves much music, dancing, and the sacrifice of many goats. It is dedicated to the god Balimain who is believed to visit from the mythical homeland of the Kalash, Tsyam (Tsiyam, tsíam), for the duration of the feast. Food sacrifices are offered at the clans' Jeshtak shrines, dedicated to the ancestors.
At Chaumos, impure and uninitiated persons are not admitted; they must be purified by a waving a fire brand over women and children and by a special fire ritual for men, involving a shaman waving juniper brands over the men. The 'old rules' of the gods (Devalog, dewalōk) are no longer in force, as is typical for year-end and carnival-like rituals. The main Chaumos ritual takes place at a Tok tree, a place called Indra's place, "indrunkot", or "indréyin". Indrunkot is sometimes believed to belong to Balumain's brother, In(dr), lord of cattle. Ancestors, impersonated by young boys (ōnjeṣṭa 'pure') are worshipped and offered bread; they hold on to each other and form a chain (cf. the Vedic anvārambhaṇa) and snake through the village.
The men must be divided into two parties: the pure ones have to sing the well-honored songs of the past, but the impure sing wild, passionate, and obscene songs, with an altogether different rhythm. This is accompanied by a 'sex change': men dress as women, women as men (Balumain also is partly seen as female and can change between both forms at will).
This includes the Festival of the Budulak (buḍáḷak, the 'shepherd king'). In this festival, a strong prepubescent boy is sent up into the mountains to live with the goats for the summer. He is supposed to get fat and strong from the goat milk. When the festival comes he is allowed for a 24-hour period only to have sexual intercourse with any woman he wants, including even the wife of another man, or a young virgin. Any child born of this 24-hour period is considered to be blessed. The Kalash claim to have abolished this practice in recent years due to negative worldwide publicity.
At this crucial moment the pure get weaker, and the impure try to take hold of the (very pure) boys, pretend to mount them "like a hornless ram", and proceed in snake procession. At this point, the impure men resist and fight. When the "nagayrō" song with the response "han sarías" (from *samrīyate 'flows together', CDIAL 12995) is voiced, Balumain showers all his blessings and disappears. He gives his blessings to seven boys (representing the mythical seven of the eight Devalog who received him on arrival), and these pass the blessings on to all pure men.
In myth, Mahandeu had cheated Balumain from superiority, when all the gods had slept together (a euphemism) in the Shawalo meadow; therefore, he went to the mythical home of the Kalash in Tsiyam (tsíam), to come back next year like the Vedic Indra (Rigveda 10.86). If this had not happened, Balumain would have taught humans how to have sex as a sacred act. Instead, he could only teach them fertility songs used at the Chaumos ritual. He arrives from the west, the (Kati Kafir) Bashgal valley, in early December, before solstice, and leaves the day after. He was at first shunned by some people, who were annihilated. He was however, received by seven Devalog and they all went to several villages, such as Batrik village, where seven pure, young boys received him whom he took with him. Therefore, nowadays, one only sends men and older boys to receive him. Balumain is the typical culture hero. He told people about the sacred fire made from junipers, about the sowing ceremony for wheat that involved the blood of a small goat, and he asked for wheat tribute (hushak) for his horse. Finally, Balumain taught how to celebrate the winter festival. He was visible only during his first visit, now he is just felt to be present.
During the winter the Kalash play an inter-village tournament of Chikik Gal (ball game) in which villages compete against each other to hit a ball up and down the valley in deep snow.
Kalash people are divided equally between the adherents of Islam and those that practice a form of ancient Hinduism. This form of ancient Hinduism practiced by the Kalash includes customs that were practiced by Rigvedic Aryans. Kalash have retained most of the Proto-Indo-Iranian religion (Indo-European religion). The Hindukush area shares many of the traits of Indo-Iranian myths, rituals, society, and echoes many aspects of Ṛigvedic, but hardly of post-Ṛigvedic religion. Kalash culture and belief system differs from the various ethnic groups surrounding them but is similar to that of the neighboring Nuristanis in northeast Afghanistan as they also once practiced Hinduism before their conversion to Islam.
The isolated Kalash have received strong religious influences from pre-Islamic Nuristan. The prominent and noted linguist Richard Strand, who is the sole modern authority on Hindukush languages spent three decades in the Hindukush. He noted the following about the pre-Islamic Nuristani religion:
"Before their conversion to Islâm the Nuristânis practiced a form of ancient Hinduism, infused with accretions developed locally".
They acknowledged a number of human-like deities who lived in the unseen Deity World (Kâmviri d'e lu; cf. Sanskrit deva lok'a-).
Certain deities were revered only in one community or tribe, but one was universally revered as the Creator: the ancient Hindu god Yama Râja called imr'o in Kâmviri. There is a creator god, appearing under various names, no longer as Father Heaven, but as lord of the nether world and of heaven: Imra (*Yama Rājan), Māra 'death' (Nuristani)  He (Yama rajan) is a creator deity called Dezau (ḍezáw) whose name is derived from Indo-European *dheig'h 'to form' (Kati Nuristani dez 'to create', CDIAL 14621); Dezauhe is also called by the Pashto term Khodai. There are a number of other deities, semi-gods and spirits. The Kalash pantheon is thus one of the last living representatives of Indo-European religion.
More importantly, there is an Indra-like figure, often actually called Indr (N., K.) or Varendr (K., waræn, werín, *aparendra). As in the Veda, the rainbow is called after him. when it thunders, Indra is playing Polo. Indra appears, however, in various forms and modern 'disguises' Indra appears in various forms, such as Sajigor (Sajigōr), also called Shura Verin. Warén(dr-) or In Warīn is the mightiest and most dangerous god. Even the recently popular Balumain (baḷimaín, K.) has taken over some of Indra's features: he comes from the outside, riding on a horse. Balumain is a culture hero who taught how to celebrate the Kalash winter festival (Chaumos). He is connected with Tsyam, the mythological homeland of the Kalash. Indr has a demon-like counterpart, Jeṣṭan, who appears on earth as a dog; the gods (Devalog, Dewalók) are his enemies and throw stones at him, the shooting stars.
Another god, Munjem Malik (munjem 'middle'; malék from Arab. malik 'king'), is the Lord of Middle Earth and killed, like the Indra, his father. Mahandeo (mahandéo, cf. the Nuristani Mon/Māndi), is the god of crops, and also the god of war and a negotiator with the highest deity. Jestak (jéṣṭak, from *jyeṣṭhā, or *deṣṭrī?) is the goddess of domestic life, family and marriage. Her lodge is the women's house (Jeṣṭak Han). Dezalik (ḍizálik), the sister of "Dezau" is the goddess of childbirth, the hearth and of life force; she protects children and women. She is similar to the Kafiri Nirmali (Indo-Iranian *nirmalikā). She is also responsible for the Bashaleni lodge.
There also is a general pattern of belief in mountain fairies now often called by their Persian name, Peri, but still called Apsaras in the Rājataraṅgiṇī, Suchi (súči, now often called Peri), who help in hunting and killing enemies, and the Varōti, their violent male partners. They live in the high mountains, such as Tirich Mir, but in late autumn they descend to the mountain meadows. The Jach (j.ac.) are a separate category of female spirits of the soil or of special places, fields and mountain pastures.
Noted linguist and Harvard professor Michael Witzel summarizes the ancient Hindu faith practiced by the Kalash with this description: "In myth it is notably the role of Indra, his rainbow and his eagle who is shot at, the killing of his father, the killing of the snake or of a demon with many heads, and the central myth of releasing the Sun from an enclosure. Ritual still is of IIr.type: Among the Kalash it is basically, though not always, temple-less, involving fire, sacred wood, three circumambulations, and the *hotṛ. Some features already have their Vedic, and no longer their Central Asian form (e.g. dragon > snake)".
During the 1970s, local Muslims and militants tormented the Kalash because of the difference in religion and multiple Taliban attacks on the tribe lead to the death of many, their numbers shrank to just two thousand. However, protection from the government led to a decrease in violence by locals, a decrease in Taliban attacks, and a great reduction in the child mortality rate. The last two decades saw a rise in numbers.
These deities have shrines and altars throughout the valleys, where they frequently receive goat sacrifices. In 1929, as Georg Morgenstierne testifies, such rituals were still carried out by Kalash priests, "ištikavan" 'priest' (from ištikhék 'to praise a god'). This institution has since disappeared but there still is the prominent one of shamans (dehar) The deities are temporary visitors. Mahandeo shrines are a wooden board with 4 carved horse heads (the horse being sacred to Kalash) extending out, in 1929 still with the effigy of a human head inside holes at the base of these shrines while the altars of Sajigor are of stone and are under old juniper, oak and cedar trees.
Horses, cows, goats and sheep were sacrificed. Wine is a sacred drink of Indr, who owns a vineyard- (Indruakun in the Kafiristani wama valley contained both sacred vineyard and shrine (Idol and altar below a great juniper tree) along with 4 large vates carved out of rocks) - that he defends against invaders. Kalash ritual is of potlatch type; by organizing rituals and festivals (up to 12; the highest called biramōr) one gains fame and status. As in the Veda, the former local artisan class was excluded from public religious functions.
However, there is a special role for prepubescent boys, who are treated with special awe, combining pre-sexual behavior and the purity of the high mountains, where they tend goats for the summer month. Purity is very much stressed and centered around altars, goat stables, the space between the hearth and the back wall of houses and in festival periods; the higher up in the valley, the more pure the location.
By contrast, women (especially during menstruation and giving birth), as well as death and decomposition and the outside (Muslim) world are impure, and, just as in the Veda and Avesta, many cleansing ceremonies are required if impurity occurs.
Crows represent the ancestors, and are frequently fed with the left hand (also at tombs), just as in the Veda. The dead are buried above ground in ornamented wooden coffins. Wooden effigies are erected at the graves of wealthy or honoured people.
Threats against Kalash culture
The Kalash are known as indigenous people of Chitral with their ancestors migrating to Chitral from Central Asia in the 2nd century BC. The Kalash were ruled by the Mehtar of Chitral from the 18th century onward. They have enjoyed a cordial relationship with the major ethnic group of Chitral, the Kho who are Sunni and Ismaili Muslims. The multi-ethnic and multi-religious State of Chitral ensured that the Kalash were able to live in peace and harmony and practice their culture and religion. The Nuristani, their neighbours in the region of former Kafiristan west of the border, were converted, on pain of death, to Islam by Amir Abdur-Rahman of Afghanistan in the 1890s and their land was renamed Nuristan.
Prior to that event, the people of Kafiristan had paid tribute to the Mehtar of Chitral and accepted his suzerainty. This came to an end with the Durand Agreement when Kafiristan fell under the Afghan sphere of Influence. Recently, the Kalash have been able to stop their demographic and cultural spiral towards extinction and have, for the past 30 years, been on the rebound. Increased international awareness, a more tolerant government, and monetary assistance has allowed them to continue their way of life. Their numbers remain stable at around 3,000. Although many convert to Islam, the high birth rate replaces them, and with medical facilities (previously there were none) they live longer.
Allegations of "immorality" connected with their practices have led to the forcible conversion to Islam of several villages in the 1950s, which has led to heightened antagonism between the Kalash and the surrounding Muslims. Since the 1970s, schools and roads were built in some valleys.[unreliable source?]
Being a very small minority in a Muslim region, the Kalash are under increasing danger from proselytising Muslim militants from just across the border in Afghanistan and their hardline interpretation of Islam.
In recent times the Kalash and Ismailis have been threatened with death by the Taliban, the threats caused outrage and horrified citizens throughout Pakistan and the Pakistani military responded by fortifying the security around Kalash villages, the Supreme Court also took judicial intervention to protect the Kalash under both the ethnic minorities clause of the constitution and Pakistan's Sharia law penal code which declares it illegal for Muslims to criticise and attack other religions on grounds of personal belief. The Supreme Court termed the Taliban's threats against Islamic teachings. Renowned pro-peace Pakistanis, such as Imran Khan condemned the forced conversions threat as un-Islamic 
Location, climate and geography
Located in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, Pakistan the Kalash people live in three isolated mountain valleys: Bumburet (Kalash: Mumuret), Rumbur (Rukmu), and Birir (Biriu). These valleys are opening towards the Kunar River, some 20 km south (downstream) of Chitral,
The Bumburet and Rumbur valleys join at Nuristan Province at about 4500 m.(1640 m), joining the Kunar at the village of Ayrun ( , 1400 m) and they each rise to passes connecting to Afghanistan's
The Birir valley opens towards the Kunar at the village of Gabhirat (, 1360 m). A pass connects the Birir and Bumburet valleys at about 3000 m. The Kalash villages in all three valleys are located at a height of approximately 1900 to 2200 m.
The region is extremely fertile, covering the mountainside in rich oak forests and allowing for intensive agriculture, despite the fact that most of the work is done not by machinery, but by hand. The powerful and dangerous rivers that flow through the valleys have been harnessed to power grinding mills and to water the farm fields through the use of ingenious irrigation channels. Wheat, maize, grapes (generally used for wine), apples, apricots and walnuts are among the many foodstuffs grown in the area, along with surplus fodder used for feeding the livestock.
The climate is typical of high elevation regions without large bodies of water to regulate the temperature. The summers are mild and agreeable with average maximum temperatures between 23° and 27 °C (73° - 81 °F). Winters, on the other hand, can be very cold, with average minimum temperatures between 2° and 1 °C (36° - 34 °F). The average yearly precipitation is 700 to 800 mm (28 - 32 inches).
Genetic analysis of Y-chromosome DNA (Y-DNA) by Firasat et al. (2007) on Kalash individuals found high and diverse frequencies of these Y-DNA Haplogroups: L3a (22.7%), H1* (20.5%), R1a (18.2%), G (18.2%), J2 (9.1%), R* (6.8%), R1* (2.3%), and L* (2.3%).
Genetic analysis of Mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) by Quintana-Murci et al. (2004) stated that "the western Eurasian presence in the Kalash population reaches a frequency of 100%" with the most prevalent mtDNA Haplogroups being U4 (34%), R0 (23%), U2e (16%), and J2 (9%). The study asserted that no East or South Asian lineages were detected and that the Kalash population is composed of western Eurasian lineages (as the associated lineages are rare or absent in the surrounding populations). The authors concluded that a western Eurasian origin for the Kalash is likely, in view of their maternal lineages.
A study of ASPM gene variants by Mekel-Bobrov et al. (2005) found that the Kalash people of Pakistan have among the highest rate of the newly evolved ASPM Haplogroup D,[clarification needed] at 60% occurrence of the approximately 6,000-year-old allele. The Kalash also have been shown to exhibit the exceedingly rare 19 allele value at autosomal marker D9S1120 at a frequency higher than the majority of other world populations which do have it.
A study by Rosenberg et al. (2006) employing genetic testing among the Kalash population concluded that they are a distinct (and perhaps aboriginal) population with only minor contributions from outside peoples. In one cluster analysis with (K = 7), the Kalash formed one cluster, the others being Africans, Europeans, Middle Easterners, South Asians, East Asians, Melanesians, and Native Americans. 
A study by Li et al. (2008) with geneticists using more than 650,000 single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNP) samples from the Human Genome Diversity Panel, found deep rooted lineages that could be distinguished in the Kalash. The results showed them clustered within the Central/South Asian populations at (K = 7). The study also showed the Kalash to be a separated group, having no membership within European populations.
The estimates by Qamar et al. of Greek admixture has been dismissed by Toomas Kivisild et al. (2003) stating that “some admixture models and programs that exist are not always adequate and realistic estimators of gene flow between populations ... this is particularly the case when markers are used that do not have enough restrictive power to determine the source populations ... or when there are more than two parental populations. In that case, a simplistic model using two parental populations would show a bias towards overestimating admixture”. The study came to the conclusion that the Kalash population estimate by Qamar et al. “is unrealistic and is likely also driven by the low marker resolution that pooled southern and western Asian–specific Y-chromosome Haplogroup H together with European-specific Haplogroup I, into an uninformative polyphyletic cluster 2”.
Some of the Kalash people claim to be descendants of Alexander the Great's soldiers; and a recent genetic analysis has substantiated this belief. A study by Hellenthal et al. (2014) on the DNA of the Kalash people showed evidence of input from modern day Germany and Austria between 990 and 210 BC, a period that overlaps with that of Alexander the Great. There also has been speculations that Kalasha forefathers might have been descended from ancient Middle East.[better source needed]
Historically a goat herding and subsistence farming people, the Kalash are moving towards a cash-based economy whereas previously wealth was measured in livestock and crops. Tourism now makes up a large portion of the economic activities of the Kalash. To cater to these new visitors, small stores and guest houses have been erected, providing new luxury for visitors of the valleys. People attempting to enter the valleys have to pay a toll to the Pakistani government, which is used to preserve and care for the Kalash people and their culture.
Appearances in popular culture
- The Kalash people's reputed connection to Alexander the Great is the basis of the famous Rudyard Kipling story "The Man Who Would Be King"; however, it takes place among the Kalasha of Nuristan, then known as Kafiristan, in nearby Afghanistan. The story was made into the film The Man Who Would Be King in 1975, starring Sean Connery and Michael Caine.
- The Kalash are briefly visited in the first episode of the 2004 BBC television series Himalaya with Michael Palin. The program featured some cultural background and current customs, highlighting the claim to be descendants of Alexander the Great as well as some of the stunning scenery of the Kalash homeland.
- A pivotal chapter in the World War II novel The Tenth Unknown by Jvalant Nalin Sampat revolves around the Kalash people and their unique customs.
- 2013 Census Report of CIADP/AVDP/KPDN. (2013). Local Census Organization, Statistics Division, community based initiatives .
- Minahan, James B. (10 February 2014). Ethnic Groups of North, East, and Central Asia: An Encyclopedia. ABC-CLIO. p. 205. ISBN 9781610690188.
Living in the high mountain valleys, the Nuristani retained their ancient culture and their religion, a form of ancient Hinduism with many customs and rituals developed locally. Certain deities were revered only by one tribe or community, but one deity was universally worshipped by all Nuristani as the Creator, the Hindu god Yama Raja, called imr'o or imra by the Nuristani tribes. Around 700 CE, Arab invaders swept through the region now known as Afghanistan, destroying or forcibly converting the population to their new Islamic religion. Refugees from the invaders fled into the higher valleys to escape the onslaught. In their mountain strongholds, the Nuristani escaped conversion to Islam and retained their ancient religion and culture. The surrounding Muslim peoples used the name Kafir, meaning "unbeliever" or "infidel," to describe the independent Nuristani tribes and called their highland homeland Kafiristan. The Nuristani are sometimes called Kalasha though this name is more appropriate for the closely related Kalash in the neighboring Chitral region of Pakistan. The differences between the Nuristani and the Kalash are religious as the Kalash mostly retain their ancient religious beliefs.
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|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Kalash people.|
- M. Witzel, "Kalasha religion"
- IUCN, the International Union for Conservation of Nature , Kalash Protection and conservation of an endangered Minority in the Hindu Kush
- Maggi, Wynne (2001). Our Women are Free: Gender and Ethnicity in the Hindukush (PDF). University of Michigan Press. ISBN 0-472-09783-0.
- BBC article on Kalash women
- Kalasha Heritage A website used by the Kalasha people to promote, conserve and protect the Kalasha tangible and intangible heritage
- Frontier Language Institute Kalasha dictionary
- Investigation of the Greek ancestry of northern Pakistani ethnic groups using Y chromosomal DNA variation