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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Cabinet audit: what does the appointment of Andrea Leadsom as Environment Secretary mean for policy?

The political and policy-based implications of the new Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.

A little over a week into Andrea Leadsom’s new role as Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), and senior industry figures are already questioning her credentials. A growing list of campaigners have called for her resignation, and even the Cabinet Office implied that her department's responsibilities will be downgraded.

So far, so bad.

The appointment would appear to be something of a consolation prize, coming just days after Leadsom pulled out of the Conservative leadership race and allowed Theresa May to enter No 10 unopposed.

Yet while Leadsom may have been able to twist the truth on her CV in the City, no amount of tampering will improve the agriculture-related side to her record: one barely exists. In fact, recent statements made on the subject have only added to her reputation for vacuous opinion: “It would make so much more sense if those with the big fields do the sheep, and those with the hill farms do the butterflies,” she told an audience assembled for a referendum debate. No matter the livelihoods of thousands of the UK’s hilltop sheep farmers, then? No need for butterflies outside of national parks?

Normally such a lack of experience is unsurprising. The department has gained a reputation as something of a ministerial backwater; a useful place to send problematic colleagues for some sobering time-out.

But these are not normal times.

As Brexit negotiations unfold, Defra will be central to establishing new, domestic policies for UK food and farming; sectors worth around £108bn to the economy and responsible for employing one in eight of the population.

In this context, Leadsom’s appointment seems, at best, a misguided attempt to make the architects of Brexit either live up to their promises or be seen to fail in the attempt.

At worst, May might actually think she is a good fit for the job. Leadsom’s one, water-tight credential – her commitment to opposing restraints on industry – certainly has its upsides for a Prime Minister in need of an alternative to the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy (CAP); a policy responsible for around 40 per cent the entire EU budget.

Why not leave such a daunting task in the hands of someone with an instinct for “abolishing” subsidies  thus freeing up money to spend elsewhere?

As with most things to do with the EU, CAP has some major cons and some equally compelling pros. Take the fact that 80 per cent of CAP aid is paid out to the richest 25 per cent of farmers (most of whom are either landed gentry or vast, industrialised, mega-farmers). But then offset this against the provision of vital lifelines for some of the UK’s most conscientious, local and insecure of food producers.

The NFU told the New Statesman that there are many issues in need of urgent attention; from an improved Basic Payment Scheme, to guarantees for agri-environment funding, and a commitment to the 25-year TB eradication strategy. But that they also hope, above all, “that Mrs Leadsom will champion British food and farming. Our industry has a great story to tell”.

The construction of a new domestic agricultural policy is a once-in-a-generation opportunity for Britain to truly decide where its priorities for food and environment lie, as well as to which kind of farmers (as well as which countries) it wants to delegate their delivery.

In the context of so much uncertainty and such great opportunity, Leadsom has a tough job ahead of her. And no amount of “speaking as a mother” will change that.

India Bourke is the New Statesman's editorial assistant.