The origins of Kalasha


The Kalasha community of Chitral District has long captivated the imaginations of visitors and researchers. But one aspect which so far escapes and confuses historians and archaeologists is their origin. Beginning with the once popular and now abandoned account of their descent from the Macedonian troops of Alexander the Great, various theories have been put forward to explain the enigmatic identity of the Kalasha. But some more recent studies now suggest that their lineage may be closer to home than it appears at first glance.

The Alexandrian myth

The Kalasha community lives in three specific valleys of Chitral: Bumboret, Birir and Rumbur. The community is estimated to have over 3,000 residents, making it the smallest minority group in Pakistan.

A World Defense of Human Rights article titled “ Tribu of Kalash: The last Kafir ” describes the Kalash people as animists and nature worshipers who refuse to convert to Islam and states that their refusal to convert is the “ root cause of their marginalization in the region. “. The Kalash people, who do not even make up 1% of the region’s population, are considered “ethnically marginal” and demographically insignificant ”.

Creative: Ibrahim Yahya

According to this document, the Kalasha are the last people of “Kafiristan” – a region that once encompassed all of northwest Pakistan and eastern Afghanistan before being divided by the Durand Line – to be retained. elements of their ancestral cultural identity.

“Although some have long believed that they were somehow related to the Greeks who arrived in South Asia with Alexander the Great, there is little concrete evidence to support this suggestion,” said Professor Noorul Amin of the department. of pashto at the Islamic University of the College. “Even so, the Kalasha themselves came to believe that they were descended from a General Shalakshah of Alexander’s army,” he said.

According to Professor Amin, author of several books in Pashtun, the Kalasha retain their own religious beliefs, as well as their own identity, way of life and language. “The fair skin and blue eyes of the Kalasha people led to a popular assumption that they were of Greek descent, especially the descendants of the soldiers of Alexander the Great who followed him on his campaign to India. The assumption that the Kalasha people were of Greek origin has also been officially promoted in Pakistan, ”he noted.

Professor Amin explained that the Kalasha people settled in the region of Chitral during the reign of Cyrus the Great, another conqueror whose campaigns match those of Alexander the Great himself. “The Kalasha people had lived in the region of Chitral for over four thousand years,” he said, adding that for him the hypothesis that they were the descendants of Alexander had no credibility as they were already present in the region long before the arrival of Alexander the Great.

The “ Aryan ” hypothesis

According to veteran Chitral-based journalist Gul Hamad Farooqi, who has covered extensively all cultural festivals and other relevant aspects of the Kalasha people, these people are “Indian Aryans”.

According to Farooqi, the provincial archeology department, with the help of international archeology experts, had recently discovered a 5,000-year-old cemetery in the Shindor area of ​​Chitral. “Experts in their study of the cemetery had stated that the inhabitants of the area were Indian Aryans. However, the authorities do not force the Kalasha community to accept that they are not the descendants of Alexander the Great. The Kalasha people are proud to join forces with the great conqueror, ”he added.

A genetic study conducted in 2015 found no evidence to support the theory of their descent from Alexander’s soldiers. Interestingly, however, the study found that they shared a significant portion of genetic drift – a term used to describe a random effect that suppresses genetic variation in populations of living things – with a hunter-gatherer fossil. 24,000-year-old Paleolithic Siberian. The link is believed to refer to a certain lineage shared with the steppe pastors of the Yamnaya culture, who lived in an area known as the Pontico-Caspian Steppe.

It is believed that people of the Yamnaya culture migrated east and west in waves, settling in areas as far away as South Asia and Britain. Their migrations led to the proliferation of languages ​​classified in the Indo-European language family. In the Indian subcontinent, the Yamnaya migrants are said to have been among the ancestors of the “ancestral North Indians”, one of the many ancestral populations from which the modern inhabitants of the region descend.

According to the 2015 study, the Kalasha, due to their uniqueness, may have been the first group to separate from the ancestors of the modern population of the subcontinent around 11,800 years ago.

A tale for tourists

Renowned historian, author and scholar Parvesh Shaheen says he explained the origin of the Kalasha people in the third chapter of his book titled “Kafirstan”. “The Kalasha are indigenous people, but this theory that they are Greek is being encouraged, which is aimed at promoting tourism.”

Shaheen, who is the author of several books on the history of the Kalasha community, said Georgios Papandreou, former Greek prime minister, also visited the Greek community of Kalsha in the late 1960s when he was on an official visit to Pakistan. “The media reported that Prime Minister Papandreou spoke to the Kalasha in their language, which was an exaggeration. Since then, the theory about the Greek roots of the Kalasha people has been promoted, which is not based on evidence but simply to promote tourism.

The historian added that the Kalasha people, also known as the Waigali, are an indigenous people residing in the region, just like other ethnicities. “The only difference between them and the other communities is that they still practice their secular culture while the cultures of the rest of the ethnicities have changed over time. These people are considered unique for being the smallest ethnoreligious group in Pakistan with a distinct culture and religious beliefs, he informed.

The researcher explains that the religious beliefs practiced by the Kalasha people are referred to as animism or ancient forms of Hinduism. To question, the historian says that the key hypothesis regarding the ancestry of the Kalasha is that they are the descendants of Greek soldiers and this connection between the Kalash and the Macedonian king is perhaps best seen in history. well known to Rudyard Kipling, The Man Who Wants To Be King.

Shaheen, who has studied the Kalasha community and other indigenous peoples in the region for more than three decades, says: “It is an established fact that the Kalash are indigenous people who can migrate to the area, just like other communities. . The religion of the Kalasha is very close to Hinduism than it is to the religion of Alexander the Great, which is further proof that they are indigenous peoples, he explained.

The author of “Kafiristan Takreekh Nasal Zuban Saqafat Aur Sayahti Jayza,” says the people of Nuristan – the border province of Afghanistan – which is historically known as Kafiristan once had the same culture and religious beliefs before their conversion to Islam at the time of Afghan ruler Abdur Rahman Khan at the end of the 19th century.

Shaheen, originally from the Manglawar region in the Swat Valley, has been visiting the Kalasha community for over 30 years and has studied their way of life, homes, culture, food, clothing and the way they perform. their daily household chores. According to him, the way in which Kalash women behave and the rights they have is quite different from that of Muslim women in neighboring regions. Kalash women are allowed to marry whomever they wish, divorce their husbands and even run away, he explained.

Another belief, says the educator, among many Kalash is that their ancestors came to the area from a place called Tsiyam, which is also mentioned in their folk songs. The historian says that to this day no one has located the country or region of that name.

The challenge of modernization

Professor Amin of Islamia College University says that the Kalash culture has evolved over time due to its geography. Their folklore has changed.

“The Kalasha people have a particular culture, which is neither Greek nor local; they have developed their own culture, ”said the educator. The specialty of their culture is that they celebrate when someone dies while their spiritual leader is called Chilamche. When someone celebrates them in a marriage, they respect him more. They have no societal pressure and live a free life. “The Kalasha people have developed their own standards which are free in nature,” he added.

Professor Amin further says that the life of the Kalash community was affected when the world became a global village. The dressing of the Kalash men has changed as they now eat foods somewhat similar to what other locals eat.

A threat to the culture and way of life of the Kalash community has been observed in the recent past as Muslims living in the Ayoun region, which is adjacent to the Three Valleys of the Kalasha people, began to attract Kalash girls. in order to convert them to Islam after marrying them. However, most of these girls end up divorcing after a few years and are sent back to their people and when they resume their lives according to their own beliefs and cultures, they are threatened with leaving Islam. Several such incidents have occurred recently and the authorities must take measures to prevent them.

Another perceived threat to Kalash culture is modernization, Farooqi said. Young Kalashs sometimes move to larger cities to work and study, and due to the temptation of modernity and technology, there are concerns that they may abandon their culture.

Abdul Qahar, a resident of Lower Chitral, says that although modernization generally kills traditional cultures, this particular culture has not been affected so far. “The Kalasha people have exposed their culture to the rest of the world. The Kalash people love their way of life and are proud of their culture, which has certainly helped to preserve it for future generations, ”he said.

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