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  1. World
  2. Asia
1 September 2008updated 27 Sep 2015 5:44am

Pakistan’s ancient religion

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

By Maureen Lines

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.

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