An Introduction to
the Kalasha People in Chitral
part 4

MUSIC AND DANCE (by Reiko Kojima)

The Kalasha are fond of music and dance. The music of the Kalasha is entirely different from that of their neighbours.

Instruments used are as below:

I will not go into details about their music but roughly there are four categories :

  1. Dancing music with the drums. At the same time people hum a monotonous tone consisting only of two notes.
  2. Song without instruments. These songs are mostly made up from short melodic phrase and a refrain is sung repeatedly.
  3. Prayer sung with monotonous chorus.
  4. Solo flute music for amusement.

There are many interesting elements in the music of the Kalasha and by investigating it profoundly, I think we can solve some fundamental problems hidden in their culture. It has a very old musical style and the relation of man and music is also of great interest. Singing and dancing is not simply an amusement but rather it has religious meanings and can never be parted from their life. At the same time, like everything else in the life of the Kalasha, "new music" is also invading. But even if everything is altered by new culture, I am sure that the music will be the last element to change.


When a man dies, his remains are laid in the Jeshtakan. For two days and nights many people gather to sing and dance for him and his achievements are proclaimed. Goats are killed and their meat is eaten. On the third day, his remains are brought to the grave and buried. Next morning people make bread and give it to the crows so that the crows should take it to the dead. The dead man's father, brothers and relatives have to shave their heads. When a woman dies, only singing and announcement of her achievements take place and on the next day, she is buried.

A Parishita comes to the dead man or woman and decides whether he should take him or her to heaven or to hell.

Formerly, the Kalasha did not bury their dead. The remains were placed in wooden coffins and left. But as their clothes and ornaments were stolen and bones were taken away by dogs, they stopped this custom from about thirty years ago.

Also they used to raise an effigy called Gandao for the memory of the dead. It was a wooden carved effigy of a man sitting on a chair or on a horse but the Muslims destroyed most of them and the remains were sold to foreigners at a large sum. As it is quite costly to make a Gandao, only a few can afford to make them. There are only three recently made Gandao in Rukmu.

Similarly, a small effigy called Kundrik used to be made for the dead and raised at the entrance of the village. Bread was offered to them in festivals. But all of them also are destroyed now (the last one was destroyed in autumn, 1983).


The life of the Kalasha has undergone a big change in these last ten years. New ways of life and elements of modern culture have been introduced to their self-sufficient lifestyle and most of them are willing to accept them. But new problems have arisen.

As their sense of value has changed, the operation of the community is not going smoothly. There are young people who think lightly of their traditional culture and customs. The people are becoming more rational and some of the fields are taken care of employee. The idea that money is the most precious commodity is spreading among them and some even sell their fields and trees on its account. Some have many large debts which cannot be paid back. These problems are becoming serious.

Furthermore, people are starting to convert. They get various temptations which lead them to convert to Islam. Especially when the relation between themselves is not going on well, and when they feel pressures against their customs their bonds of social life start to break. This becomes the main trigger to conversion.

Young people yield to the temptations of the outer world and are starting to loose enthusiasm to inherit old tradition. Thus, there is a fear that their culture and custom will die out.


The economy of the Kalasha has improved thanks to the abolishment of the heavy duty introduced after the independence of Pakistan. Still it is not enough. The standard of nourishment and health is poor and the death rate of babies is high. Though there is a clinic in each valley, staff and medicines are not enough and so they are poorly attended.

The relation to the Muslims is not going well. For example, some of the ignorant Kalasha have exchanged their trees and fields in reckless ways. This has done a great damage to their economy. The walnut trees that have passed to Muslims amount to 900. The Ministry of Minorities has made a project to buy these trees back from the Muslims and to cut them down as the shade of the trees prevents the field from growing crops. In a way this project is succeeding but probably it will take a couple of years more to be settled, along with other problems of fields and pastures.

I happened to witness a small incident when I attended the Joshi festival in 1983. There spread a rumour that some of the Muslims were trying to disturb the festival. This rumour was known by the Kalasha beforehand and about 50 policemen came to guard them. Fortunately, nothing occurred but these problems with the Muslims are not uncommon. Because most of the Muslims are on good terms with the Kalasha, it is very disappointing to hear about these incidents. The problem of religion is a serious matter.

In the waves of modernization and Islamization, the Kalasha are lost, troubled and anxious. I think it is an important time for them to think of themselves seriously and get over this period smoothly. They should take account of their valuable culture and never forget their racial pride. Not only that, I am looking forward for the Government of Pakistan and the Deputy Commissioner office of Chitral to have warm hearts for them and aid them in various ways.

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