Pakistan's ancient religion

Maureen Lines gives insight into the ancient religion of the Kalash people who live in the mountains

The Kalasha religion is a complex, convoluted subject with multi-layered and often paradoxical beliefs. Unlike religions such as Christianity, there is no separation between the religious and secular life.

Kalash is based on the strict separation of the pure (ONJESHTA) and impure (PRAGATA) realms. The pure realm is associated with mountain tops (Home of SUCHI – fairies of supernatural beings), the high pastures, goats, goat-houses and carved wooden shrines. The wild MARKHOR goats are the scared herds of the supernatural beings and subsist on juniper.

Women, because they are considered impure due to their menstrual cycle, are confined to a special house (The Bashali) at the time and when they give birth. When women leave the Bashali House, which is always situated near the river, they must wash from head to foot and all their clothes. Women are not allowed to venture near the pure realm of the goat and cattle- houses and the high pastures. If Kalasha men and women break the strict clan law, by marrying into the clan within five generations on the father's side, they offend the Kalasha religion. Women can then no longer take part in the purification ceremony called shishow at the winter festival, when juniper branches are dipped in water and passed over their heads. Men can no longer be anointed with the blood of a goat during purification ceremonies.

This dichotomy in Kalasha society is noticed constantly in the daily life. A woman cannot go to the upper portions of the village if she recently gave a birth, until she has undergone purification ceremony at one of the festivals. She cannot drink out of cups and must carry her own drinking vessel. She may not drink out of a communal water container, but must cup her left hand as an intermediary channel. Women cannot wash inside the houses or carry out their ablutions in sight of the goat and cattle-houses. They must not visit the scared shrines. They are not allowed to eat the meat of the male goat. At the funeral of a woman there is no dancing.

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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For the first time in my life I have a sworn enemy – and I don’t even know her name

The cyclist, though, was enraged. “THAT’S CLEVER, ISN’T IT?” she yelled. “WALKING IN THE ROAD!”

Last month, I made an enemy. I do not say this lightly, and I certainly don’t say it with pride, as a more aggressive male might. Throughout my life I have avoided confrontation with a scrupulousness that an unkind observer would call out-and-out cowardice. A waiter could bring the wrong order, cold and crawling with maggots, and in response to “How is everything?” I’d still manage a grin and a “lovely, thanks”.

On the Underground, I’m so wary of being a bad citizen that I often give up my seat to people who aren’t pregnant, aren’t significantly older than me, and in some cases are far better equipped to stand than I am. If there’s one thing I am not, it’s any sort of provocateur. And yet now this: a feud.

And I don’t even know my enemy’s name.

She was on a bike when I accidentally entered her life. I was pushing a buggy and I wandered – rashly, in her view – into her path. There’s little doubt that I was to blame: walking on the road while in charge of a minor is not something encouraged by the Highway Code. In my defence, it was a quiet, suburban street; the cyclist was the only vehicle of any kind; and I was half a street’s length away from physically colliding with her. It was the misjudgment of a sleep-deprived parent rather than an act of malice.

The cyclist, though, was enraged. “THAT’S CLEVER, ISN’T IT?” she yelled. “WALKING IN THE ROAD!”

I was stung by what someone on The Apprentice might refer to as her negative feedback, and walked on with a redoubled sense of the parental inadequacy that is my default state even at the best of times.

A sad little incident, but a one-off, you would think. Only a week later, though, I was walking in a different part of town, this time without the toddler and engrossed in my phone. Again, I accept my culpability in crossing the road without paying due attention; again, I have to point out that it was only a “close shave” in the sense that meteorites are sometimes reported to have “narrowly missed crashing into the Earth” by 50,000 miles. It might have merited, at worst, a reproving ting of the bell. Instead came a familiar voice. “IT’S YOU AGAIN!” she yelled, wrathfully.

This time the shock brought a retort out of me, probably the harshest thing I have ever shouted at a stranger: “WHY ARE YOU SO UNPLEASANT?”

None of this is X-rated stuff, but it adds up to what I can only call a vendetta – something I never expected to pick up on the way to Waitrose. So I am writing this, as much as anything, in the spirit of rapprochement. I really believe that our third meeting, whenever it comes, can be a much happier affair. People can change. Who knows: maybe I’ll even be walking on the pavement

Mark Watson is a stand-up comedian and novelist. His most recent book, Crap at the Environment, follows his own efforts to halve his carbon footprint over one year.

This article first appeared in the 20 October 2016 issue of the New Statesman, Brothers in blood