Kalash (Kalasha), are a Dardic indigenous people residing in the Chitral District of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province of Pakistan.
The community considered unique because in Pakistan they are the smallest religious minority with a population of around 3000. They speak their own Kalasha language and celebrate their gods through music, dance and alcohol.
According to the Kalash Peoples Development Network (KPDN), the Kalash who ruled Chitral centuries ago maintained their separate cultural traditions and their language Kalasha belongs to the Dardic family of the Indo-Iranian branch.
Important fact about the Kalash community
• Sexes of the community mingle easily and their marriage can be sealed with a dance.
• Women of the community are free to move on to new loves.
• They do not mourn their dead; instead they celebrate it as “the completion of the journey” that begins with birth with three days of dancing, music and feasting.
• Their fair skin and light eyes, made academicians to speculate that they might have be descended from the ancient Middle East or even from soldiers of Alexander’s army, which conquered the area in the fourth century BC.
• Their traditional practice is Bashali, in which women are required to stay within home and not touch others during their menstrual cycle.
Fear of existential threat to the community
People from Kalash community attempt to get listed on the UNESCO’s Intangible Cultural Heritage List began in 2008 as they feared that their unique culture will not endure as their youth are converting to Islam.
Apart from this, their children take a compulsory class on Islam at the school but not about their own traditions. Due to which it practicing their culture is becoming more and more difficult for them.
They also fear from people of the region as they have to face their angers because they feel that the tribe’s un-Islamic practices unleashes natural disasters – floods and earthquakes – on the area as punishment.
Kalash women are termed as ‘The Black Kafirs’ because they usually wear long black robes, often embroidered with cowrie shells.
Due to these factors, they fear that they may lose their identity like the neighboring Nuristani people of the adjacent Nuristan (historically known as Kafiristan) province of Afghanistan. Nuristani people once practiced the same religion as the Kalash.
Kalash people and their cultural appearances are available in
• They have their mention in a Novella ‘The Man Who Would Be King’ by Rudyard Kipling. He in the novella shows their reputed connection to Alexander the Great. The story was made into the film with same title in 1975, starring Sean Connery and Michael Caine.
• They have a mention in a book ‘The Tenth Unknown’ by Jvalant Nalin Sampat. The pivotal chapter in the World War II novel revolves around the Kalash people and their unique customs.
• The Kalash are briefly visited in the first episode of the 2004 BBC television series Himalaya with Michael Palin.
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What: Fears existential threat