This summer, I happened to attend the Kalashi Chilam Joshi festival during the period of Ramadan. This gave me the feeling that I had discovered something that few outsiders had seen before. This is not true. Kalashi festivals are famous throughout the world. It just so happens that during the period of Ramadan, very few people travel in Muslim countries, and this gave me the impression that not many tourists attend this event. In any other year, that is not the case. I feel very lucky to have gone at this time and had this much more personal experience.
Chilam Joshi is the most important Kalashi festival celebrated in May for four days. Chilam Joshi celebrations highlight the Kalashi cultural richness, the plethora of colors and the underlying message of peace. The women dressed up in traditional clothes of vibrant colors, gold, silver jewelers and elaborate headgear. Men wear traditional shalwar kameez with a woolen waistcoat.
Each year, the Chilam Joshi festival starts at Rumbur valley and then moves on to other valleys of Kalash. In this festival, Kalashi people pray for the safeguard of their fields and animals before going to their fields and for this purpose they used to spread milk on their Gods. The festival brought smiles on the unmarried Kalasha boys and girls faces who during the festival get an opportunity to choose their life partners. They announce their life partners name on the last day of the festival. They also often elope. This is an extremely sharp contrast to the more conservative Muslim communities living alongside the Kalashi tribes.
– Some say the people in these communities are descendants from the Greek armies of Alexander the Great, that marched through this area. Some of them stayed.
– Some say that the people in these remote valleys are the only descendants of Vikings in Asia. (This is a theory I tend to favor, as there is a shocking amount of blonde-hair and blue eyes in this area. Also, the pagan totems that the Kalshi people have used in their temples remind me very much of the Viking Gods that were worshiped in Iceland and Norway prior to their conversion to Christianity.)
– Some historians will argue as well that there were people living in these valleys for thousands of years before the time of Alexander the Great, or any kind of Nordic invasion. I am sure this is true, but it doesn’t mean that outsiders didn’t come in and mix and mingle at a later day. Looking at the stunning blue eyes and beautiful blonde hair of many the Kalashi, I tend to believe that Thor has some DNA floating around in this gene-pool.
Its architectural style, the designs of its carvings as well as its building material, follow precise traditional constructive rules.
Its altar is always oriented to the west, the origin of the Kalasha Tribe. Each house also has an altar dedicated to Jestak. The Kalasha people place their offerings or sacrifice their animals near this altar praying for health, wealth and good solutions to their problems.
The Jestakhan is the only roofed temple in the Kalasha valleys. All the other sacred places dedicated to other deities are open-air altars.
Marriages, funeral services, and other religious and social ceremonies take place under its holy “onjesta” roof. The most interesting ceremony is the winter festival Chaumos.
One of the aspects of the Kalasha community that western journalists and researchers continually misinterpret is the Kalasha Bashali or ‘menstrual house.’ A building near the center of town with a peculiarly small door and acts as a refuge for women when they are going through their menstrual cycle. Men are not permitted in this building for any reason.
Most often, this building has been seen by westerners as a place where women are restricted, confined, and exiled during their ‘unclean period’ and during birth. This is not true as Kalasha women are free to go or not go, but they actually prefer to go.
The bashali is more than a focal point of women’s community; it is an essential part of the entire community. At the heart of the bashali is the goddess Dezalik, who lives in the menstrual house and protects bashali women and their infants, especially during the difficult and dangerous process of childbirth.
* Here they relate directly with the goddess Dezalik and through their attention to her ensure the safe reproduction of the Kalasha community.
* Here women live as amilish ́ır, a community of Kalasha women with a common purpose. In the bashali, there is the opportunity to reconnect with women from other parts of the valley, women who otherwise would be known only superficially. Perhaps collective life inside the bashali serves as a basis for women’s collective action in other contexts.
* Here young women escape the constant scrutiny of in-laws, parents, and anxious young husbands and have the opportunity to make reproductive and marital decisions away from the intense social pressure of the village.
* Here women receive a respite from the day to day work at home and in their fields.
* Here there is space for laughter, affection, long lazy naps, extra cups of tea.
* Here they deliver babies and conquer their problems as a team. In other words, the bashali is a space where women experience an expanded sense of themselves as effective agents, as free people.
– They bury their dead above ground. Actually, they don’t really ‘bury’ the body, it is placed in an open coffin above ground at a cemetery area just outside the village. Animals can then consume the body.
– Throughout Pakistan, it is believed that Kalashi women are the most beautiful in the entire country.
Most tourists stay just outside of the village at the PTDC (Pakistan Tourism Development Corp.) Hotel, which removes you from the village center, and you miss the random daily activities of the people in the village. I stayed with a Kalashi family in their guest room, and this is something you can do as well if you choose to. There are MANY benefits to staying directly with a Karachi Family.
1. For the short time you are there, you are staying directly within the community.
2. The host family will have a chance to explain their unique culture and answer any questions you might have.
3. By staying directly with a Karachi family, there are fewer restrictions when and where you can go in the community.
4. Your interaction with the local police and intelligence officers is minimal, as the host registers you on your way into the village. (Normally, you must have compulsory visits with a police guard every day, to make sure you are not getting into any trouble.
5. The host can arrange for a local Kalashi driver in a 4-wheel-drive car to pick you up in the nearby city Chitral and provide a three-hour (very bumpy) shuttle into the village.
This is something you can do as well if you choose to do, feel free to contact my amazing host, he is VERY eager to make sure his guests are happy. An absolutely lovely human! You can tell him that Forrest, the American, sent you. 🙂
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