Temples of the Kalasha religion

Most anthropologists believe that a good deal of the Kalasha religion may have been borrowed from Is

Most anthropologists consider the Kalasha Religion to be polytheistic, because it has many deities. In Rumbur, however, where the people are more progressive and there is a stronger belief in the monotheistic concept of one single creator of the universe, Saifullah Jan, the official representative of the Kalasha, says the Kalasha do believe in one supreme god. This god goes under various names such as the Persian KHODAI (used mostly in Birir) and under the name of DEZAU. There is also an intermediary named BALAMAHAIN, who rides upon a horse and is a messenger of DEZAU. Most anthropologists believe that a good deal of their present day religion may well have been borrowed from Islam.

There is also a nether or underworld which has association with the myth of the world standing on the head of a bull. Earth quakes are associated with the roar of an angry bull. Ancestors are believed to exit into this underworld, called Palaloiy, which is connected to the present world by a metal pillar, believed to have been situated at the site of an ancient Kafir temple in the Parun valley, the spiritual center of Kafiristan. Perhaps because the Kalasha have a purely oral tradition, they appear to have relatively little religious mythology. The ancient temple in the Parun valley also has significance to the Kalasha, as being the site visited by the Kalasha king Raja Waiy, during the late 15th or 16th century on one of his expeditions to Kafiristan. He was accompanied by a legendary Shaman, Nanga Dehar, who, in a state of trance discovered that the gods wished to be taken to the Kalasha valleys so that they might continue to be worshipped and receive their sacrifices.

This story gave birth to sacred sanctuaries in the valleys and religious rites. On the return from Kafiristan at the Ganglewat Pass, Nanga Dehar gave Raja Waiy two or three arrows (Stories conflict on the number and colures) and told him to shoot them down into Rumbur. Where one landed higher up, the shrine to Sarjigor was built on the spot where another landed, the Bashali House was built.

While the alters, dedicated to major deities such as SAJIGOR (forbidden to women as they are regarded as impure), are built in the open on a plinth of stones and decorated above with rough wooden carvings of horses, heads, the alters, dedicated to JESHTAK (the goddess protector of the family), are housed in wooden temples called HAN where ceremonies such as weddings are held. The portals of the temples are carved with intricate geometric and lattice-type designs, and inside, the four heavy cedar pillars are engraved with cloven hooves symbolizing the BALAMAHIN coming on his horse (in the west, cloven hooves are symbolic and ascribed to Pan –an Arcadian deity and thence in Christian mythology to the devil).

According to most anthropologists, these carved designs originated in Nuristan, although Darling believes the origin of some of them may go back even further to a place the Kalasha call Yarkhan (d) (Now in China), one such motif was supposedly engraved onto a slender metal pillar which was said to lead down into the underworld called PALALOIY, the final resting place of the ancestors. The alters in the temple are usually decorated by wooden plaques, ornamented by two carved goats, heads and two horses, heads and adorned with branches of holly oak according to professor Paolo Graziosi, goats are sacrificed in front of the alters and their blood, along with some milk, is thrown over the sacred plaques. Every clan has its own alter dedicated to the household goddess: JESHTAK. If it is a small clan member's house, it is in the sacred space between the earth and the rear wall.

Maureen Lines was born in North London and has worked with the Kalash people in Pakistan for many years. She is the author of The Kalasha people of South Western Pakistan.
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Justin Trudeau points the way forward for European politics

Is the charismatic Canadian Prime Minister modelling the party of the future?

Six months after Canadian election day, Justin Trudeau’s Liberal party continues to bask in the glow of victory. With 44 per cent of support in the polls, the Liberals are the most popular party amongst every single demographic – men and women, young and old, and people of all educational backgrounds. 

While most European mainstream parties only dream of such approval, this is actually a small dip for the Liberals. They were enjoying almost 50 per cent support in the polls up until budget day on 21 March. Even after announcing $29.4 billion in deficit spending, Canadians overall viewed the budget favourably – only 34 per cent said they would vote to defeat it.

Progressives around the world are suddenly intrigued by Canadian politics. Why is Justin Trudeau so successful?

Of course it helps that the new Prime Minister is young, handsome and loves pandas (who doesn’t?) But it’s also true that he was leader of the Liberals for a year and half before the election. He brought with him an initial surge in support for the party. But he also oversaw its steady decline in the lead up to last year’s election – leadership is important, but clearly it isn’t the only factor behind the Liberals’ success today.

Context matters

As disappointing as it is for Europeans seeking to unpack Canadian secrets, the truth is that a large part of the Liberals’ success was also down to the former Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s extreme unpopularity by election time.

Throughout almost ten years in power, Harper shifted Canada markedly to the right. His Conservative government did not just alter policies; it started changing the rules of the democratic game. While centre-right governments in Europe may be implementing policies that progressives dislike, they are nonetheless operating within the constraints of democratic systems (for the most part; Hungary and Poland are exceptions).

Which is why the first weeks of the election campaign were dominated by an ‘Anybody But Harper’ sentiment, benefitting both the Liberals and the left-wing New Democratic Party (NDP). The NDP was even leading the polls for a while, inviting pundits to consider the possibility of a hung parliament.

But eight days before election day, the Liberals began to pull ahead.

The most important reason – and why they continue to be so popular today – is that they were able to own the mantle of ‘change’. They were the only party to promise running a (small) deficit and invest heavily in infrastructure. Notably absent was abstract discourse about tackling inequality. Trudeau’s plan was about fairness for the middle class, promoting social justice and economic growth.

Democratic reform was also a core feature of the Liberal campaign, which the party has maintained in government – Trudeau appointed a new Minister of Democratic Institutions and promised a change in the voting system before the next election.

The change has also been in style, however. Justin Trudeau is rebranding Canada as an open, progressive, plural society. Even though this was Canada’s reputation pre-Harper, it is not as simple as turning back the clock.

In a world increasingly taken by populist rhetoric on immigration – not just by politicians like Donald Trump, Nigel Farage, Marine Le Pen and other right-wingers, but also increasingly by mainstream politicians of right and left – Justin Trudeau has been unashamedly proclaiming the benefits of living in a diverse, plural society. He repeatedly calls himself a feminist, in the hope that one day “it is met with a shrug” rather than a social media explosion. Live-streamed Global Town Halls are one part of a renewed openness with the media. Progressive politicians in Europe would do well to take note.

Questioning the role of political parties today

Another interesting development is that the Liberal party is implicitly questioning the point of parties today. It recently abolished fee-paying, card-carrying party members. While this has been met with some criticism regarding the party’s structure and integrity, with commentators worried that “it’s the equivalent of turning your party into one giant Facebook page: Click ‘Like’ and you’re in the club,” it seems this is the point.

Colin Horgan, one of Trudeau’s former speechwriters, explains that Facebook is “literally a treasure trove for political parties”. All kinds of information becomes available – for free; supporters become easier to contact.

It was something the Liberals were already hinting at two years ago when they introduced a ‘supporters’ category to make the party appear more open. Liberal president Anna Gainey also used the word “movement” to describe what the Liberals hope to be.

And yes, they are trying to win over millennials. Which proved to be a good strategy, as a new study shows that Canadians aged 18-25 were a key reason why the Liberals won a majority. Young voter turnout was up by 12 per cent from the last election in 2011; among this age group, 45 per cent voted for the Liberals.

Some interesting questions for European progressives to consider. Of course, some of the newer political parties in Europe have already been experimenting with looser membership structures and less hierarchical ways of engaging, like Podemos’ ‘circles’ in Spain and the Five Star Movement’s ‘liquid democracy’ in Italy.

The British centre-left may be hesitant after its recent fiasco. Labour opened up its leadership primary to ‘supporters’ and ended up with a polarising leader who is extremely popular amongst members, but unpopular amongst the British public. But it would be wrong to assume that the process was to blame.

The better comparison is perhaps to Emmanuel Macron, France’s young economy minister who recently launched his own movement ‘En Marche !’ Moving beyond the traditional party structure, he is attempting to unite ‘right’ and ‘left’ by inspiring French people with an optimistic vision of the future. Time will tell whether this works to engage people in the longer term, or at least until next year’s presidential election.

In any case, European parties could start by asking themselves: What kind of political parties are they? What is the point of them?

Most importantly: What do they want people to think is the point of them?

Ultimately, the Canadian Liberals’ model of success rests on three main pillars:

  1. They unambiguously promote and defend a progressive, open, plural vision of society.
  2. They have a coherent economic plan focused on social justice and economic growth which, most importantly, they are trusted to deliver.
  3. They understand that society has changed – people are more interconnected than ever, relationships are less hierarchical and networks exist online – and they are adapting a once rigid party structure into a looser, open movement to reflect that.

*And as a bonus, a young, charismatic leader doesn’t hurt either.

Claudia Chwalisz is a Senior Policy Researcher at Policy Network, a Crook Public Service Fellow at the University of Sheffield and author of The Populist Signal: Why Politics and Democracy Need to Change