The Kalasha (Kalasha: Kal'as'a, Nuristani: Kasivo) or Kalash, are indigenous people of the Hindu Kush mountain range, residing in the Chitral District of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province of Pakistan. They speak the Kalasha language, from the Dardic family of the Indo-Iranian languages, and are considered a unique tribe among the Indo-Aryan population. The valley consists of Birir, Bamburet and Rambur.
According to the linguist Richard Strand, the people of Chitral apparently adopted the name of the former Kafiristan Kalasha, who at some unknown time extended their influence into Chitral. A reference for this assumption could be the names kâsv'o respectively kâsi'o, used by the neighboring Nuristani Kata and Kom for the Kalash of Chitral. From these the earlier name kâs'ivo (instead Kalasha) could be derived.
The culture of Kalash people is unique and differs drastically from the various ethnic groups surrounding them. 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. Kalash mythology and folklore has been compared to that of ancient Greece, but they are much closer to Indo-Iranian (Vedic and pre-Zoroastrian) traditions. Nevertheless, Kalash people in their own traditions claim to be descendants of Alexander the Great's soldiers.
The language of the Kalasha is a Dardic language belonging to the Indo-Aryan branch of the Indo-Iranian 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. The Norwegian Linguist Georg Morgenstern who studied both languages wrote that in spite of similarities Kalasha is an independent language in its own right, not a mere dialect of Khowar. Currently about 5,000 people speak Kalasha and it is considered critically endangered by UNESCO. Badshah Munir Bukhari encoded the Kalasha Language in 2005. Working in close collaboration with various international researchers and linguists, Kalash activist Taj Khan Kalash organized the Kalasha Orthography Conference 2000 in Islamabad Pakistan. In 2004 he was able to raise funds to publish the first alphabet book of the Kalasha language based on Roman script designed by an Australian linguist, Gregory R. Cooper.
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 can't live among us anymore. We keep our identity strong. About three thousand have converted to Islam or are descendants of the 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.
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.
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.
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.
How to get there
The nearest airport to Kalash Valley is Chitral as domestic airport and Peshawar as International airport.
The valley is about 16 kms from Chitral and is only accessible by (4x4 vehicles). There is no frequent public transport for this remote area except few daily departures.