The Nuristani Culture of Kalash Valley
February 17, 2012
Nuristanis of Sheikhandeh in Kalash have a very distinctive culture. One finds people either sitting under the cool shade of trees or by the riverside, playing cards, gossiping or telling tales of olden times and narrating the heroics of their ancestors. The Nuristanis, who were formerly known as Red Kafirs, now live in many villages of Chitral district and two villages of Kalash valley. These villages are called Shikhanande in both valleys of Bumborate and Rambur known for their stunning scenic beauty. Amir Abdur Rehman (1880-1901) of Afghanistan gave them the name Nuristani when he converted the Kafirs to Islam. Formerly it was known as Kafiristan, the land of non-believers which later became known as Nuristan, the land of light. A chivalrous people, the Red Kafirs were posted at the mouths of Bumborate and Rumbur valleys to protect the Black Kafirs from the frequent attacks from Afghanistan. Today, the descendants of those who were posted by the Mehtar of Chital are nostalgic about their past and remember their heroes who protected the Black Kafirs (Siahposh) from the invaders. The older members of the community spend their time either playing cards or remembering the old stories of their ancestors. These memories have healing effect on the elderly Nuristanis. Apart from Shikhanande in Bumborate and Shikhanande in Rumbur, they also live in other villages of Chitral particularly at Garam Chashma, Drosh, Urtsun, Sweer, Kalkatah, Gobor and Shah Salim, a village that borders with Afghanistan. Old Nuristanis seldom take their livestock to the alpine forests for grazing. It is mostly the young who are responsible for the care of the livestock which is the main bread earner of the Nuristanis. Women do the farming. Their time too is spent in card games and gossip.
The Sheikhandeh village in Bumborate is noted for wooden houses that are stacked like steps against the hills. These wooden houses are two or three stories high tucked into the hills. The ornately carved house indicates the status of the owner; mostly the houses of the notables carry more intricate carvings, especially the knotted design that one can see on the temples and houses of the Kafirs in the Brun, Karakal, Batrit and Anish villages of Bumborate valley. The houses are made of wooden beams, mud and stone. The roofs of the houses are flat and serve as a step for the next storey. Apart from wooden houses, wooden mosques also mark the landscape of Nuristani villages. The most amazing mosque, which is noted for its four storey wooden minaret, is located in Sheikhandeh Bala in Bumborate valley in Kalash. The mosque is believed to have been built in 1930. The main features of the Shikhanande mosque are the wooden minaret and arcade verandah. Shikhanande Payeen in Bumborate valley also has a wooden minaret. These wooden minarets are only peculiar to the villages of Shikhanande Bala and Payeen. The wooden stairs lead to the verandah of the mosque, which is decorated with floral and geometric designs. The main hall of the mosque also carries intricate woodcarving. To the west of the mosque, there is a pond. It also has a separate hujra with a fireplace and facility for ablutions. The hujra with fireplace is peculiar to the mosque in Gilgit-Baltistan, Chitral, Dir and Swat regions. The wooden mosques of Seo, Kandia, Sazin and Palaus in Indus Kohistan also have hujras with fire but their woodcarvings are very intricate compared to other regions. The wooden mosques in other areas of Chitral also have hujras with fire places namely Sahan, Ayun, Dahar, Moroi Payeen, Koghuzi which are used for the guests. Almost all of the wooden mosques of Chitral are noted for the woodcarvings. However, the mosques of Shikhanande Bala and Pain are not only famous for woodcarvings but also for the wooden minarets decorated with fretted panels.