The Kalash or Kalasha are the only pagan minority residing in the Chitral district of the province of Khyber. The Kalashas live in three valleys of Chitral namely, Rumbur, Brumbret, and Birir. The Rumor and Brumbret form a single culture due to their very similar cultural practices, while Birir being the most traditional one forms a separate culture. The number of Kalash has decreased so much so that only around 4000 people are residing in the valleys. The Kalashas are polytheistic and according to a renowned linguist Richard strand is of the view that the people of Kalash practice an ancient form of Hinduism which gradually developed locally and got influenced by the neighboring areas of pre-Islamic Nuristan. The inhabitants of the Kalash valley celebrate a number of festivals all year round. The three predominant festivals are as follows:
1. Jalam Joshi spring festival (05/ 06 Days 04/05 Nights)
Joshi festival marks the arrival of spring. People wear new clothes and women accessorize heavily, girls are sent to the hillside for dancing and singing. Women decorate their houses and collect milk from the cattle. Moreover, one-year-old babies and their mothers are also purified in this festival.
2. Uchal festival (04/05 Days 03/04 Nights)
The people of Kalash valley celebrate the famous annual harvesting festival Uchal with singing, dancing and paying homage to the nature for blessing them with barley and wheat harvest season. Special foods, cheese, buttermilk and corn bread, are prepared for the event. Women in traditional dresses perform dances
3. Phool Festival (05/06 Days 04/05 Nights
The Phool / Autumn Festival is an annual colorful two-day festival in Birir Valley celebrated with high spirit and zeal. The festival marks the reaping of grapes & walnuts harvests. The people sing songs in the local language and perform traditional dances throughout the two-day festival.
Chaumas festival (05/06 Days 04/05 Nights)
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 persons are not admitted; they must be purified by a waving 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”. 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 and snake through the village.
Chitral being situated in the northern most corner of Pakistan remains cut off from rest of the country in winter season for about 5 months but it does not shake the warmness of the heart of the people. They need no reason to celebrate which can be acknowledged by the different colorful festivals portraying unique culture and way of life of the people of Chitral.
After long severe winters, the arrival of spring is celebrated on 21 March by Ismailis called Nauroze with great enthusiasm and zeal.
The three Kalash valleys of Bumburate, Birir and Rumbur celebrate the Joshi festival in mid-May. Joshi is a four day festival and the most unique part of the festival is announcing the chosen life partner. This festival has been a great attraction to tourists around the world.
Jashan-e- Qaqlasht’ is the old-age festival of the people of northern Chitral with a history of more than 2,000 years. Raees rulers used to organize it in the remote past to be continued by the Kator dynasty, which not only assiduously patronized this particular cultural event, but also promoted other festivals e.g. Jashan-e- Shandur and Jashan-e-Chitral.
However, after the status of Chitral as an autonomous princedom came to an end in 1969, the festivals of the indigenous mountain communities ceased to be celebrated until 2003 when Jashan-e- Chitral for the first time was revived through the support of UNESCO after its discontinuation for 27 years and Jashan-e- Qaqlasht after abandoning for 35 years.
Baroghol Festival held in Baroghol Valley, which is 13,000 feet above sea level, located at the junction of Chitral, Wakhan and Tajikistan. Wakhan corridor- a buffer zone between Russian an
Nauroz literally means a new day, and it brings hope and joy at the onset of the New Year. Among ancient festivals, Nauroz is one that has been celebrated in the Persian World.
Shandur Top (el. 12,200 feet (3,700 m)) located in Chitral District, Pakistan. Shandur is often called the ‘Roof of the World’. The top is flat, a plateau and can be crossed between late April and early November. Historically, polo being the king of games was played between small kingdoms, villages and rival groups. From 1936 onwards polo tournaments were held annually at Shandur at the patronage of the British. The three-day Shandur Polo Festival has developed steadily in recent years into the massive celebration of mountain polo.
The adventurous Shandur polo match is held in July every year at the highest polo ground of the earth followed by traditional music which adds remarkable credit to the event. This is not the only sport event but Jashn-e-Chitral- a week-long festival celebrated in mid-September every year, and Boroghol Festival in July also features different events including swimming across torrential rivers, rock climbing, wild mountain polo, horse races and BuzKashi, yak race and yak polo, traditional wrestling and tug of war, shot puts as well as traditional dancing and singing.
No festival is complete without music and sports activity in it. It doesn’t require any age limit to be a part of the celebration because people of Chitral are sportsmen at heart.
People meet at these festivals and renew acquaintances. All the participants and spectators cheer and celebrate together. The festivals play an important role to keep the traditions intact as they bring together musicians, sportsmen and local residents to represent their culture and exhibit their strong connection with each other.
Chitral has an enormous potential of tourism ranging from cultural and heritage to hiking and ecotourism. Tourism potential in Chitral is no secret and the beautiful landscape and the unique cultural heritage give the valley a competitive advantage in attracting tourists.