Kalash culture feeling the heat of modernity

CHITRAL : Away from the fevers and frets of life, a strange conglomerate of about 4,000 people dotting the picturesque countryside of Chitral valley, continues discreetly to battle with the temptations of modern life which apparently are impacting the Kalash culture.Not far from the main Chitral city which usually keeps humming with life activity, the mysterious people residing in isolation at the mountain tops, obscured by their rites and rituals, are now seen struggling to protect their beliefs, ideology and mode of living constantly at loggerheads with modern life style entailing mundane temptations.These people clinging to their centuries old traditions even are not exactly aware of their ancestry, leaving such a controversial issue for the historians to settle.

However, as the popular legend in the area goes on to say that few soldiers from the formidable legions of Alexander of Macedonia had settled in Chitral during their invasion of Indo-Pak subcontinent and this particular sect continued to inhibit the land as their predecessor.A muddy but atrocious serpentine road leads to the Kalash valley which runs through the town of Drosh and Chitral city and then turns to the left from Ayun village on Kunar river leading to one of the most fabled destination in the world.These mythical set of people inhibit three villages of Rukmu, Mumret and Biriu, commonly called Rambur, Bumburet and Birir in local Kalash language.These villages are situated at the hillside about 100 meters above the river.The Kalash Valleys have extensive forests of oak and Himalayan cedar growing on hilltops around the flowing streams, while the mouth watering fruits like walnut, apricot, pear and mulberry are found abundantly along these places.

To make the area a safe haven, the forefathers of Kalash people must have chosen the place which could protect them from the invaders and natural calamities.According to local people and journalists, their population has been shrinking; around 4,000 Kalash populations reside over these three places.A visitor in these days can find a sharp contrast to what he or she has heard or read as a changing picture will greet them.After living in obscurity for an unknown period, Kalash children are now studying in local schools, and are well conversant with Urdu and English languages.

The girls are making an extra mile by realising their plight when juxtaposed with their neighborhood and even prefer to be married in Muslim families.The basic values the Kalasha people used to attach with conjugal life is also circumventing change as the strong restriction barring females of the tribe from marrying people of other religion especially with Muslim youth has now become a source of blithe and good omen in the tribe.“In recent past, a number of girls have been married in Muslim families and the Kalash elders did not oppose it rather it was welcomed,” Afsar Khan, a local in the valley informed.According to local estimates, the ratio of tying knots with Muslim families touches at least four per cent.Mohammad Hammad Farooqi, a local journalist and guide, says that the Kalash girls are embracing Islam and even adopting Muslim names.“The centuries old names which these people have also underwent a sea change, as majority of girls liked to be called with names of Indian film actresses,” he said.

When asked how it came, Mr Farooqi pointed out to small dish antennas perched on rooftops of wooden houses.Chinggadi, an old head of the tribe with physical features of Greek mythology in Bamburat was leading her dancing troupe and she admitted in her ancient way of conversation a slight change in their life style.She also blames financial problems a reason slowly and gradually gnawing away the roots of their grandiose civilisation erected on centuries old obsolete practices.“We used to demand Rs25,000 to Rs30,000 for each dance performance but now it has plummeted to Rs7,000,” Chinggadi said.The number of visitors especially foreigners have dropped drastically who often were keen to learn about the ancient tribe and paid them for visiting their houses, watching cultural dances, for the unique apparels and even for taking photos.

The younger girls and females are no more shy of being filmed or pictured without their consent. The little girls straightway demand in advance for each snap shot.Moreover, they have also abandoned the practice of leaving the dead bodies open in the adjacent necropolis having rustic bones of Kalash ancestors.However, despite these changes, there existed a number of staunch followers of Kalash culture who preferred to wear “The Black Robes” and celebrate Spring season by singing and dancing on the roof tops.The women still perform other related rituals like Kirik Pushik, the festival of the first flower blooming, the Siu Wajik rite and Joshi, the main spring festival. – Dawn