The four-day Kalash Chilim Jusht festival (festival to welcome spring) kicked off on Monday in Chitral. Image Credit: Courtesy: KP Government

Islamabad: Dancing to traditional music and drumbeats, the people of Pakistan’s unique Kalash tribe welcome the spring season in the most vibrant way.

The four-day Kalash Chilim Jusht festival (Festival to welcome spring) kicked off on Monday in Bumburate, Birir and Rumbur valleys of Chitral District Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province, where the Kalash people reside.

The festival signifies the end of chilling cold in the mountainous region and marks the arrival of spring and summer seasons.

The Kalash community celebrates Chilim Jusht festival in the mid of May every year to welcome the spring season. The unique and vibrant festival attracts hundreds of local and foreign tourists. This year, a number of foreigners from France, Italy and Australia arrived with their families to enjoy the local culture, traditions, tourist attractions and festival in the scenic valleys.

To facilitate the tourists, Tourism Corporation Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and District Administration Chitral have made necessary arrangements. A ‘Hospitality Platoon’ and tent village have been set up this year to accommodate tourists as a large number of tourists arrived to enjoy the festival, said Deputy Commissioner (DC) Chitral, Irshad Sodhar.

“Media coverage of the festival has been allowed for the first time to show the beauty, vibrancy and diversity of Pakistan’s culture” said Sodhar. He hoped that such festivals would help revive the tourism industry and introduce Pakistan’s unique Kalash tribe to the world.

Living near the western borders of the Chitral district, the Kalash are a small ethnic and religious community with an estimated population of around 4,000. What makes them distinctive is the fact that many people in the tribe have blonde hair and blue eyes. There is a myth that Kalash people are descendants of Alexander the Great’s armies.

For long, their unique culture, multi-coloured dresses and diverse language have fascinated many but now the Kalash Chilim Jusht carnival is attracting people to the remote mountains of Pakistan to witness the fascinating festival.

The first ritual of the festival, that honours the deities of the Kalash people for protecting them, is milking distribution by shepherds known as ‘chirik pipi’. Before the festival, the womenfolk gather from all over the valley and decorate their houses. The women then sprinkle milk on deity ‘Jestak’ the protector of their children and home.

The festival begins at Rumbur valley, where the local shamans and tribal chiefs lead a procession to the “Malosh altar” to sacrifice goats. Then the festival moves on to Bumburate and concludes at Birir.

Every religious ceremony is accompanied by dancing and rhythmical chants to the beat of the drum. One of the most fascinating features of the festival is when tribal chiefs donning colourful dresses narrate stories of bygone days and events.

The Kalasha are ancient indigenous people, known as cheerful, generous, and fond of merry-making. The women of Kalash are famous for their impeccable features, plaited hair and distinctive dresses. They wear embellished traditional black robes and long head-dresses decorated with regimented waves of cowrie shell and elaborate embroidery.

The Kalash spring festival offers people a chance to visit the remote valley and interact with the ethnic community, promoting religious harmony.