The Feisty Festivals of Kalash

The Kalash Valley is made up of three valleys. Birir is situated 34 km away from Chitral. Rumbur is 32 km away and Bumburet (the largest and most beautiful) is 36 km away. There are many colorful Festivals of Kalash that are celebrated in these valleys; however the three major ones that are celebrated from May-September are:

Festivals of Kalash (Spring): Chilam Josht/Yoshi

In the month of May this festival is celebrated and spans four days. It is after the whole valley wakes up after winter hibernation, and welcomes the spring. The major objectives of the festival are to bid farewell to the shepherds who are preparing to take their flock to receding pastures in the hills, to pray for the safety of their animals and fields. It is also to offer thank you to the God (Goshidai) who protects the herds.

Ten days prior to the event, milk is gathered from the goats, heated slowly to accumulate the cream (Balai) that forms at the top (which they use to make butter and cheese) and then stored. When the celebrations begin the milk is then distributed among family members for many days and it is known as ‘Gulparik’. Then the girls start preparing bread, which they take to ‘Gosh’ (it is the animal house). They also decorate it with walnut twigs and leaves.  Men and women also gather in the Gosh. They eat the bread with Balai and Lassi (a drink made with yoghurt and water). They all stay the night. The next day they picnic under the walnut trees, prepare bread and enjoy. They sprinkle milk over the walnut plant and a wild plant called ‘Besha-Jo’ which is decorated on the wall.

Then all of them gather in an open space and dance on the beatings of drums. On the third day, they also dance from morning to evening. The festival begins in Rumbur, moves on to Bumburet and ends in Birir.

Chilam Josht/Yoshi Festival 2018

Like every year, it took place from 13th to 16th May. It attracted a large number of foreign tourists which included French, Italian and Australian families as well. The provincial government of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KPK) and Tourism Corporation of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (TCKP) made the required arrangements so that the visitors who attended would face no problems. For instance this time all local hotels were fully booked, so a tent village was set up to accommodate all.

Kalash women warmly welcome everyone, and dry fruit was distributed. The festival was attended by senior officials as well almost after a decade.


Festivals of Kalash(Summer): Uchal/Uchao

This is celebrated in mid August, to protect the horticultural harvest.  Mahadeo (the Virile Warrior God who protects home, family, fruits, crops, birds and game animals) is invoked. Wheat or maize is collected from each house, which is then ground to make flour for preparing bread. A few boys are selected who bring cheese from the animal house, the ones who bring the most are sent to the sacred hunt of Mahadeo (females are not allowed). They carry the bread and cheese. First they light up branches and leaves of the Juniper, and make their offering to the God. On their return, cheese and bread is distributed among the people. Then finally 10 men are selected, they are appointed as guards against the early plucking of fruit such as the grapes and apples, nuts such as walnuts and crop such as lobia which are growing in the valley. Anyone who would attempt to pluck before the appointed time even from their own tree would be liable to give a penalty (usually in terms of goats). It is celebrated in the valleys of Rumbur and Bumburet.

Be Part of Uchal/Uchao Festival 2018

This year it will take place from 20th-22nd August. If you want to visit, you can book a tour with either of the following:

Hunza Explorers (www.hunzaexplorers.com)

Apricot Tours (www.apricottours.pk)

Tour Rangers (www.tourrangers.pk)


 

Festivals of Kalash (Autumn): Poh/Pul

It is celebrated at the end September to mark the plucking of the fruit. The exact dates are decided when the harvest is ready and the shepherds return with the livestock from the pastures.  A boy is selected; he takes a baby goat which is sacrificed uphill at Paraba which is the sanctuary of the God. Another baby goat is sacrificed near Paraba by the 10 people who guarded the fruits and crops. When the first boy comes down, and joins these men and the other boys, they taste the grapes and walnuts. However Pul commences, when the eldest person plucks a bunch of grapes from the vine accompanied by drum beats.

Fruit is gathered continuously for the next few days. Then there is a day of relaxation and celebration. Small girls wear a headwear of flowers, and they take part in a dance. The older girls collect flour from houses and prepare bread. While the men as well as women dance and drink wine (made from grapes) till night.

This only takes place in the valley of Birr. However no tourists visit because there are limited facilities of accommodation.


Reference:

Alauddin, Mohammad (1992), Kalash – The Paradise Lost, Progressive Publishers.

Hajra Saeed

Hajra Saeed has been writing for the past 21 years. During her career she has contributed to various leading newspapers and magazines, but currently writes for the special supplements of 'The Nation'. She has written on a wide array of topics; however areas of interest are social issues, religion, philosophy and presenting a positive image of Pakistan. Has experience in content writing, technical writing, screenwriting and teaching. Likes to read, do online courses as well as social work.