Woodwork in Kalash-Chitral

Woodwork in Kalash-Chitral

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A short history of Kalash

The Kalasha consider that God had saved the three Kalash valleys as his personal keep. And then gave it to their ancestors whilst they became unwilling to marry. A few overseas historians say, that the Kalasha are descended from the squaddies of Alexander. Wazir Ali Shah, a historian of Chitral mentions that, in statistics to Alexander’s marketing campaign withinside the Hindu Kush, there are bills of skirmishes with pagan tribes with a way of life much like the Kalasha.

Other scholars, such as G.A. Grierson and Ghulam Murtaza, suppose that probably the Kalasha inhabited the region among decrease Bashgul Valley and Ghaga Serai (in Afghanistan) for about 3 centuries. Then, across the 10th and 11th century A.D, they had been pushed north toward Chitral via way of means of the Bashali Kafirs. Jettmar additionally attracts a hyperlink among goat worship most of the mountain tribes of Iran and the area of the Karakorams withinside the east in which there may be severe goat breeding and the Kalasha who’re well-known for his or her abnormal rites and ideals related with wild and home goats.

Furthermore, With the assist of Wazir Ali Shah, who translated a few applicable quantities of records known as ‘Tarik-e-Chitral’, via way of means of the Persian pupil Ghulam Murtaza, Gillian Darling statistics that, at some point of the primary millennium B.C., the entire region of Chitral (which, in keeping with Jettmar, is near crucial migration routes utilized by the Indo-Aryan invaders-the Oxus-Wakhan Corridor withinside the north and the Kabul valley withinside the south), became managed via way of means of the early Darian Iranians.

Impact of Islam

During the 7th century A.D., a great deal of the regions became invaded via way of means of Arab forces and transformed to Islam. The Kalasha, themselves, are believed via way of means of Murtaza to have arrived withinside the Chitral region withinside the 10th century and got here from the Bashgal area that’s now Afghanistan. They have been driven out via way of means of different Kafir tribes who in flip had been being pressed via way of means of invading Islamic armies from the west.

Darling is going on to mention that during Kalasha oral histories, ‘Tsiam’ is their conventional domestic. One concept recommend is that it’s far from the metropolis of Chaga Serai in jap Afghanistan. However, Darling is dubious of this. According to the Kalasha, Tsiam is reputed to be the authentic domestic of each General Shalakshah and the Kalasha ‘Messenger of God’- at some point of the iciness solstice – the competition of ‘Chau-Maus’.

The Chinese assumed strength withinside the First Century B.C. They had been conquered withinside the 2nd century A.D. via way of means of the Kushans beneath neath King Kanishka. Under the Kushans, Buddhism flourished in conjunction with the early pagan religions of the area.

Other views about Kalasha origin

Again, according to Darling, the Kalasha oral histories mention a place called ‘Yarkhan’. Yarkhan was an ancient Buddhist center that is now in the Chinese western province of Sinkiang. A number of beliefs and institutions of the Kalasha are thought to have originated there. Whether the Kalasha, as claimed by Morganstierne, did indeed move from Tsiam to the Wagul valley to the Chitral area or not, it is obvious, if one reads Robertson’s classic work on the area. As, the Kafirs of Nuristan (Eastern Afghanistan) and the Kalasha, who inhabited the area east of the Durand Line, are closely related.

When this author was in the valley of Waigul, in Nuristan, a village elder told me that he believed the Waigalis, who say that many centuries ago their people migrated to the Kalasha valleys (the Kalasha also give the same story) are descended from the Kurds. The Kurds, too, believe they are descended from a regiment of Alexander’s army. They are also of Aryan appearance, are mountain people, and are goat herders. Having traveled across Turkey and Syria, this hypothesis seems to me to have some credibility…… A Presentation of Bugiandassociates@Pictiright.

Woodwork images of the Kafirs show their origin

In his book ‘Bolor and Dardistan’, Jettmar puts forward a number of parallels between the Kalasha and other remote tribes. He mentions that there is a possible relationship between the wooden images of the Kafirs and those made in western Nepal.


The word swastika comes from Sanskrit: स्वस्तिक, romanized: svastika, meaning “conducive to well-being”. In Hinduism, the right-facing symbol (卐) is called swastika, symbolizing Surya (“sun”), prosperity, and good luck.  While the left-facing symbol (卍) is called sauwastika, symbolizing night or tantric aspects of Kali. In Jainism, a swastika is a symbol for Suparshvanatha – the seventh of 24 Tirthankaras (spiritual teachers and saviors). While in Buddhism it symbolizes the auspicious footprints of the Buddha.  In several major Indo-European religions, the swastika symbolizes lightning bolts, representing the thunder god. Moreover, it represents the king of the gods, such as Indra in Vedic Hinduism, Zeus in the ancient Greek religion, Jupiter in the ancient Roman religion, and Thor in the ancient Germanic religion

The tradition of woodwork making wooden statues in Kalash

The tradition of making wooden statues of ancestors to honor the memory of the dead is still observed among some of the Kalash people of Chitral. These statues, locally called Gandao, can be seen standing over the graves in the three Kalash valleys of Birir, Rumbur, and Bomboreth.
The practice is on the decline as the Kalash people gradually lose their distinctive culture due to increasing exposure to the outside world. A few families have recently erected gandaos on the graves of their elders. Faizi Kalash has erected two gandaos of his father and uncle in the Brun village, Bumboret valley. One reason for the decline in the old tradition is the shortage of woodcarvers who used to carve the statues.
Now among the craftsmen who remain in the profession are Yasir Kalash and Bhai Kalash in Brun village of Bumboret valley and Rehmat Wali Kalash in Rumbur are more well known.

The woodwork in Kalash-Chitral by Rehmat Wali Kalash

Rehmat Wali is famed for making remarkable wood statues. He lives in Kalashgram village in Rumbur valley which became as soon domestic to many wood statues and Kaundriks (triumphal posts). But nowadays they do not exist and are preserved handiest withinside the reminiscences of human beings.
Rehmat Wali believes that there had been extra than forty gandaos in exclusive villages of the Rumbur valley which had been stolen and offered to smugglers of antiques. Moreover, the maximum quite prized gandaos had been the ones of Rambur carved via way of means of Khush Baig, Amir, Achayak, and Mahamurat and his sons. Those had been additionally taken away in addition to the established gandaos of Khush Baig and Amir. The common robbery of those cultural objects discouraged the career as human beings stopped spending at the antique subculture. In the past, human beings used to visit Prasun and Basghal valleys of Nooristan in Afghanistan to make the gandao in their ancestors. Both valleys had celebrated woodcarvers.

His father who was also a very famous woodcarver

Rehmat Wali Kalash learned the art of making wooden statues from his father who was also a very famous woodcarver. Rehmat Wali is handicapped but despite the disability makes gandaos for both commercial and non-commercial purposes. Mostly, foreigners purchase and value his work. They do not pay much yet the wages are sufficient to meet his needs.
At present, he has nine gandaos in his showroom. Rehmat Wali’s distinction as an artist lies in his ability to carve statues from a single piece of wood. Only the artists of the Prasun and Bashgal valleys have this special talent.
He has brought some innovation to his woodwork. Mostly the mounted or seated gandaos wore turbans. It symbolized power, bravery, or influence that the deceased exercised over his community in the valley.

Gandao of horsemen

However, Rehmat Wali has made gandao of horsemen with a cap, a woolen cap that is still worn by the Kalash people. The cap has foldings on the front with slits on the sides. The horse has two heads which is a symbol of power in Kalash culture. One can find depictions of the horse’s head on many sanctuaries of the Kalasha.
The horse retains an important place in Kalash thought, although, it is virtually impossible for the present-day Kalash to keep horses owing to the scarcity of grazing fodder in the valleys. The presence of the divine is symbolized by the wooden heads of this revered animal in the sanctuaries of Sajigor, Mahandeo, Jestak, and others. The sanctuary of the Mahandeo is called Malosh. These shrines are located in different villages of Bumboret valley. However, the most prominent is situated in Brun village.

Concept of god and goddess in Kalash

Mahandeo (great god) has a marked character as a virile warrior god, who protects crops, birds, and hunting. He is, in fact, the protector of Kafir villages and Kafir territory as a whole. The Jastak han (the village temple) has on the other hand a feminine personality. She is the protector of the home, the family, and the private life, pregnancy, birth, children, love, marriage sickness, etc. The ‘kafirs’ hold funeral ceremonies at the Jestak han. As soon as anyone dies in the village, the corpse is placed in a rough wooden coffin and brought to the temple.
The innovation introduced by the artist is a gandao without a turban or cap and with its mouth hung open in awe. This reflects according to the artist the lost Kindom of the Kalash who used to rule over all the present Chitral. At present, there is only one gandao of Pilin Baig which remains standing in the Kalashgrum cemetery. Pilin Baig was the grandfather of Rehmat Wali. There is a need to preserve this art and patronize the remaining artists.
The Lok Virsa can do a lot to promote woodwork in Kalash Chitral. The handicapped artist Rehmat Wali and other artists who are keeping the tradition alive need to be helped. An exhibition of their art at the Lok Virsa can go a long way towards the protection of this dying art.

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