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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I dined behind the Houses of Parliament in my sexually connected foursome

My wife and I would sometimes dine out with another couple. We did not always check the significance of the date. 

I am self-employed and find that working from home, setting your own schedule, the days generally blur into each other, with weekends holding no significance, and public holidays, when those who are employed in factories, offices or shops get time off, meaning nothing. I am often surprised to go out and find the streets empty of traffic because it is some national day of observance, such as Christmas, that I wasn’t aware of. I find myself puzzled as to why the shops are suddenly full of Easter eggs or pancake batter.

Growing up in a Communist household, we had a distinct dislike for this kind of manufactured marketing opportunity anyway. I remember the time my mother tried to make me feel guilty because I’d done nothing for her on Mother’s Day and I pointed out that it was she who had told me that Mother’s Day was a cynical creation of the greetings card monopolies and the floral industrial complex.

Valentine’s Day is one of those I never see coming. It’s the one day of the year when even the worst restaurants are completely booked out by couples attempting to enjoy a romantic evening. Even those old-fashioned cafés you’ll find still lurking behind railway stations and serving spaghetti with bread and butter will tell you there’s a waiting list if you leave it late to reserve a table.

In the late 1980s my wife and I would sometimes dine out with another couple, he a writer and she a TV producer. One particular place we liked was a restaurant attached to a 1930s block of flats, near the Houses of Parliament, where the endless corridors were lined with blank doors, behind which you sensed awful things happened. The steel dining room dotted with potted palm trees overlooked a swimming pool, and this seemed terribly sophisticated to us even if it meant all your overpriced food had a vague taste of chlorine.

The four of us booked to eat there on 14 February, not realising the significance of the date. We found at every other table there was a single couple, either staring adoringly into each other’s eyes or squabbling.

As we sat down I noticed we were getting strange looks from our fellow diners. Some were sort of knowing, prompting smiles and winks; others seemed more outraged. The staff, too, were either simpering or frosty. After a while we realised what was going on: it was Valentine’s Day! All the other customers had assumed that we were a sexually connected foursome who had decided to celebrate our innovative relationship by having dinner together on this special date.

For the four of us, the smirking attention set up a strange dynamic: after that night it always felt like we were saying something seedy to each other. “Do you want to get together on Sunday?” I’d say to one of them on the phone, and then find myself blushing. “I’ll see if we can fit it in,” they’d reply, and we would both giggle nervously.

Things became increasingly awkward between us, until in the end we stopped seeing them completely. 

This article first appeared in the 25 May 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Why Islamic State targets Britain

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