chilam joshi festival in kalash valley

Journeying through Tradition: Celebrating the Chilam Joshi Festival in Kalash Valley

The Kalasha Valley or Kalash is a valley in Chitral District in northern Pakistan. The valley is surrounded by the Hindu Kush mountain range. The inhabitants of the valley are the Kalash people who have a unique culture, language and practice a form of religion that is connected to their surroundings such as mountains and rivers. chilam joshi festival in kalash valley

The Kalasha or Kalash are the only pagan minority residing in the Chitral district of the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province. They form the smallest minority community in the Islamic Republic of Pakistan. chilam joshi festival in kalash valley

Although the Kalash people were once large in number, around 200,000, the number has dwindled to the point where only a handful of Kalash remain – about 3000 to 4000. The dramatic decline in the Kalash population is related to their forced conversion. pagans to Islam. chilam joshi festival in kalash valley

Even in the current scenario, the tiniest pagan minority is hardly given any rights and is not recognized as a separate entity. Only a handful of foreign NGOs are working for the development and progress of this area and tribe.

chilam joshi festival in kalash valley

The Kalash live in three valleys of Chitral, namely Rumbur, Brumbret and Birir. The Rumbur and Brumbret form a single culture due to their very similar cultural practices, while the Birir, who are the most traditional, form a separate culture.

The largest and most populated valley is Bumburet (Mumuret), where the road leads from Ayun in the Kunar valley. Rumbur is a side valley north of Bumburet. The third valley, Biriu (Birir), is a side valley of the Kunar Valley south of Bumburet.

Kalash are white skinned people with golden brown hair and blue eyes.


The origin of the Kalash still remains unresolved, as their history is shrouded in many theories, mysteries and controversies. Of these many theories, three carry great significance and are considered the closest to reality.

Biggest of all, the Kalash have a romantic view of being descendants of Alexander the Great. On the other hand, many historians believe that they are an indigenous tribe from the neighboring region of Nuristan also called Kafiristan (the land of the Kafirs). 

It is believed that in 1895, Amir Abdul Rahman, the king of Afghanistan, conquered the Nursitan region and forced the people of the region to convert to Islam. During that time, many people fled to Chitral to avoid conversion. 

A third theory claims that the ancestors of the Kalash migrated from a distant place in South Asia called Tsiam. Tsiam is considered to be the traditional home of these people. Kalasha folk songs and fables indicate the existence of Tsiam and that their roots belong to this region.

chilam joshi festival in kalash valley


The Kalash language is Kalasha and is a Dardic language (a subgroup of Indo-Aryan languages spoken in northern Pakistan, eastern Afghanistan and Azad Jammu and Kashmir). chilam joshi festival in kalash valley

The language is spoken by a handful of approximately 5,000 people and is considered critically endangered by UNESCO. The Kalasha language has no proper script; however, there have been recent developments in introducing a formal script for the language.


chilam joshi festival in kalash valley

The Kalash people are very particular about their religion and will cut ties with anyone who converts to Islam. Converts are not allowed to be part of their community after conversion. They maintain a strong identity.

The Kalash people are different from the people of the surrounding areas in many ways. There is no separation between men and women in the Kalash and they are allowed to keep in touch and communicate without a finger being raised. 

In addition, Kalash females are sent to live in bashaleni when they are considered impure, such as during childbirth and other occasions. These women are only able to live in this place after they have regained their purity and gone through the ritual of restoring purity. chilam joshi festival in kalash valley

Kalash women wear long black loose robes with colorful embroidery and cowrie shells. These women also wear colorful beads and necklaces, further distinguishing them from other women of the Chitral region. They complement their black robes with colorful long knitted headpieces. Kalash men, on the other hand, have adopted Pakistan’s national dress, the shalwar kameez, and are often found wearing vests over it. They also wear hats common to the northern region of Pakistan.

The Kalash people march to a different drummer. Their customs and traditions are as different as night and day, especially in relation to the concept of marriage. Runaway marriage is more common in the Kalash Valley and is also common among women who are already married to another man. In fact, wife elopement is considered one of the great customs of the Kalash people.

chilam joshi festival in kalash valley

When a man and a woman marry, the man pays the woman’s family a certain amount to have her. When a woman wants to leave her current husband and marry another man, she offers herself to that man and tells him how much her current husband paid for her. In order for a man to marry an already married woman, he must pay double the amount for her. chilam joshi festival in kalash valley

Religion of Kalashi People

The Kalash are polytheists and believe in 12 gods and goddesses. Renowned linguist Richard strand is of the opinion that the Kalash people practice an ancient form of Hinduism that gradually developed locally and was influenced by neighboring areas of pre-Islamic Nuristan. chilam joshi festival in kalash valley

They believe in a number of gods eg Yama Raja also called Dezau and Khodai who is the creator deity. Another god is Balumain, who is a cultural hero and taught the Kalash people how to celebrate the winter festival. Other gods include Destak, Munjem, Dezalik.

What to do in the Kalash Valley

chilam joshi festival in kalash valley

The most obvious answer is… learning about Kalash culture, of course!

Cultural Museum

The local Kalasha Dur Museum is a fantastic place to start your education. Bumburet Valley’s attractive cultural museum will provide you with all the basic information you need before heading to the valley.

Keep moving and see what happens

However, if you visit outside of festival time, there isn’t much in the way of official stuff. Valleys are a place to sit and enjoy a bit of nature, not run around sightseeing. While away the hours chatting and hanging out with the locals. Trek up and down valleys. Try to learn something about their culture, not check off the sights on the list.


Like all other religions, Kalasha has various religious rituals and practices. In the Kalash, rituals are a means of generating economic activity and they are gift-giving festivals. 

Numerous gods and goddesses have shrines and altars throughout the valley where goats are regularly sacrificed. Believed to be their ancestors, crows are often fed with the left hand in a number of places including tombs. 

In addition, the Kalash people do not bury their dead underground, but their coffins are left outside. They believe that the soul was excited to leave the human body and reunite with already departed souls. For this reason, they celebrate the funeral of a dead person with singing and dancing rather than mourning their bodies.

Local guides in the Kalash Valley

There is no better way to learn about the valleys than with a local guide! UNESCO recently trained a group of Kalash guides in an effort to promote more responsible and culturally sensitive tourism in the region. Best of all, there are both male and female guides in the group! chilam joshi festival in kalash valley

chilam joshi festival in kalash valley

Chilam Joshi Festival in Kalash Valley

The people of the Kalash Valley celebrate a number of festivals throughout the year. The three predominant festivals are as follows:

  • Joshi: Chilam Joshi festival is celebrated in May and marks the arrival of spring. People wear new clothes and women are heavily supplemented, girls are sent to the hillside to dance and sing. Women decorate their houses and collect milk from cattle. One-year-old babies and their mothers are also purified in this festival.
  • Uchau: This festival is held in mid-August at the Mahandeo altar, where newly made cheese is brought from the pastures. Dancing and singing are again an integral part of the festival. chilam joshi festival in kalash valley
  • Caumus: It is the most important festival held in mid-December.


chilam joshi festival in kalash valley

The Kalash people have a rich culture and are very strong in their identity. These people stand out from the rest of the tribes, cultures and communities in Pakistan due to their distinct culture, religious practices and festivals. 

The area known as Kalash Valley enhances the serene beauty, lush green valleys and fruit farms, making it an ideal tourist spot not only for its scenic beauty but also for its cultural diversity and religious sites. Despite all the positives, the fact remains that nothing is being done to develop the area and invest in tourism. 

The Kalash Valley faces discrimination on many fronts, be it economic development or recognition as a separate religious entity. The area lacks proper infrastructure, which separates it from the rest of the world and results in the underdevelopment of the region.

To realize the full potential of the Kalasha Valley, we need to make a concerted effort to develop and make it accessible to attract tourism and boost the economy of the region.

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