The Kalasha celebrate three main festivals in the year of which music is integral. Like most of the non-urban, agricultural communities, the Kalasha calendar of celebrations follows the cycle of solar and agricultural seasons.
‘Chilimjusht’ or ‘Zhoshi’ is celebrated in the month of May, with the advent of spring. “Uchal” or ‘Uchao’ is celebrated in mid-August when walnut trees and vineyards start blossoming with abundant fruits. ‘Poh’ or ‘Pohr’ is celebrated, in Birir valley, at the end of September (or early October if the crop harvesting in the fields is delayed). With the announcement of Poh, there are ten days of continuous activity of plucking the fruits, along with ritual festivities. In the second half of December. when there is ample leisure from all economic activities, the end year celebration of Chaomus’ or ‘Chitrimas’ takes place when there are elaborate rituals and festivities. With plenty to eat and drink, there is a chain of other socio-religious activities also.
The role of music in human life has always been significant.
There is no life without music in Kalash valleys.
Until about five hundred years or so ago, there wasn’t a distinction between performers and music listeners. Music, like language, was a part of the normal flow of life. Its yet ambiguous relationship with language also means that it’s not related to any particular group/culture using a specific language.
The harvest festival celebrated in Bumburet and Rumboor, two of the three Kalasha valleys today. The harvest festival is also celebrated in Birir valley with a little difference in their music. Chitrimas is the winter festival that marks the end of the year.
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The reason for music disappearing as an element of everyday life is the same as the reason that poetry and many other art forms have. The speed of life in urban environments today (which is a result of many factors, including the choices humans have made in the name of “Progress”) has made it difficult to wait and absorb, ponder over, and appreciate a painting, a couplet, etc. Another problem is calling these “Art” forms. Putting them up on a pedestal has isolated them from daily life. But music has managed to be the most accessible art form for the masses.
Particularly during the 1960s, the sudden shift in technology made music more accessible. Today, the internet and social media have taken it a step ahead and are an urban reality. Among the very few societies and cultures that have been isolated from technological developments, is Kalasha. But even here, technology is seeping into them, and the region changing and also impact the role of music in their life.
Music, in this culture, has more of a functional requirement than an aesthetic one. It serves a purpose, instead of just being labeled as an art form. It is a part of their religion as well as their culture and as their culture is derived from religion, there is a very thin line between the two. Since their music originates from religion, it is considered sacred and hence holds immense significance.
Music, in their culture, is not an option, as every man is supposed to know how to play instruments and every woman is supposed to dance; in other words, these are obligatory practices. It is one of the most unifying factors in their society that brings people together as a community and makes them acknowledge each other. Each generation is acknowledged and entitled to perform a certain act, may it be through music or a certain ritual. It is a means of transferring knowledge through generations as they don’t have any rules, laws, or history written down and music is a way of reinforcing those traditions.
Their significance as an individual in a society is brought forward, the way some songs are sung by children, while some only by the elderly; the way every child has a unique lullaby that belongs only to him. It is a means of communication much stronger than perhaps even language since it speaks about various aspects of life through one, very strong and sacred medium.
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In most oral cultures, the history and traditions are preserved in the form of music. It is a communal activity that brings everyone together where they interact, recall their traditions, and pass them on to the younger generations.
The first impression does not give away any sign of religion in day-to-day matters, but their visits to ‘Malosh’-the birthplace of a child- make sure that religion is not entirely a separate affair. Kalasha behaves in the light of their tradition, backed by certain moral values. They don’t visit ‘Malosh’ frequently, but in fact, do so when there is either an event or a festival. They also have a tradition of not going there collectively. The Kalasha faith isn’t troublesome and contains no hierarchy of priests.
They associate all their events with music, may it be a wedding or a burial. Pre burial rituals consist of wailing, praising, and dancing for three days. On the contrary, no dance sessions are held for the woman. Thus music is not only a part of life but also death, which as mentioned before, is a significant element in the culture. And even here, the role of ‘Oshniru’ and ‘Chetu’ is highlighted by the presence and absence of dance and music sessions. Important events of the year are marked by rituals of which music and dance are main and integral parts.
Chilimjusht, an important festival, a farewell to the shepherds, and their livestock, who start preparing to depart for the hill pasture, is celebrated for a couple of days in May and after feasting and rituals, everyone gathers in the open space where men and women dance to the beating of drums. The third day of the festival is also spent in dancing from morning till the evening after which the festivity ends.
Poh marks the celebration of fruit plucking at the end of September or the beginning of October. After the formalities of plucking and distributing food, young girls start dancing. They wear their traditional black robes and Kupis and dance while the older girls perform the assigned tasks. The day ends after men and women dance and drinks till nightfall. Thus, every age group and gender’s place in the social structure becomes their cue in the entire music festival.
The biggest and the most elaborate festival, Chitrimas, is basically ritual oriented and compared to other festivals, caters more to the formalities than to singing and dancing.
Sarazari is known as the nights of 9th and 10th of December, where boys and girls have a competition of making fire and singing to each other (called Rogholik). After the fire is started, songs are composed on the spot which praises the singers and humiliates the opponents. Whichever team’s fire grows bigger and songs get better, they win.
On the other hand, women go to the neighborhoods and sing to the people the songs of Chitrimas songs. They are granted fruit in return for which they offer a lot of prayers. Naturally, the elderly are more knowledgeable and know the songs better, and so are entitled to the job. The music goes on all night until all the houses are covered. This ritual of women going to the neighborhoods and singing is an indicator of the importance of a community in their culture and how music is a binding force among neighborhoods. The idea of composing songs on the spot also reinforces that music is an integral means of communication.
In the evening of the 14th of December, the dough is prepared to make sculptures, and right before dawn. People start waking up and another ritual takes place. They go out and sing loudly for the people still asleep. And one by one they wake up and join to sing for the others, so they can perform the respective rituals. The ritual of Bandeyak takes place in the evening on the 15th of December. After which people stay together and sing specific songs of Chitrimas along with claps, without using any instruments. The idea of music being a means of communication is perhaps the most evident here as it is used to gather people as a society and come together to act as one.
Music is an integral part of day 16th of December, which is a celebration day. Flute music is played and girls and boys sing to each other just like in ‘Roghlik’.
‘Some scholars observe that members of this culture speak a language without numbers or a concept of counting. Their language has no fixed terms for color.
Although in Kalasha, people draw and have a treasure of myths, the means of communicating. Those myths and stories to younger generations are music and dance. For every aspect of life, they have a unique and distinct form of music. That communicates not only history and tradition but emotions, that are an integral part of any art form. It is not only a means of transferring knowledge and oral traditions but also a form of expression.
We can safely say that for the people of Kalasha. Music is a mediating ground between the realities of life and the aesthetics necessities of each individual. The projected image of Kalasha having a very rich culture. Is also because of the fascination an outsider feels about a society embracing an art form like a necessity. As mentioned before, they do not isolate this art form and confine it to a certain social class. But provide every individual with the opportunity to embrace it, appropriate it and make it his own. It is very difficult, or rather impossible to detach music from the Kalasha culture which reinforces its significance.