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A Historical Reflection of Zhoshi:
the Spring Festival of the Kalasha of Chitral (Pakistan)

Dr. Muhammad Kashif Ali
14.05.2022

The spring arrives in the Kalasha valleys of the Hindu Kush (Chitral) around May, and the Kalasha people celebrates a three-day spring celebration; Zhoshi also written Joshi, and known as Chilm Josht in Khowar the franca lingua of Chitral a town in the Hindu Kush. After the elders of the community announce the dates of this celebration, people begin saving milk in their barns (where they keep their livestock) even ten days before the festival, and the gathered milk is distributed amongst the tribal brethren.

Zhoshi festival in Grom village of Rumbur valley. Photo: G. Morgenstierne, 1929.

Those Kalasha who has rather large herds do not keep milk from the first day due to the excess of milk. Smaller flocks, on the other hand, begin storing milk from the first to the eleventh day. G. Morgenstierne, the Norwegian linguist, produced the first detailed account of the Zhoshi, which was recorded in 1929 and published in 1947. Halfdan Siiger, the Danish ethnographer, produced the second full length detailed article, which was the result of his observation in 1948 while it was presented at the first International Hindu Kush Cultural conference held in Denmark in 1970 while published in 1974.

Zhoshi festival recorded in 1948. Photo: Halfdan Siiger, 1948.

In addition to these two primary studies, Schomberg witnessed the Zhoshi in Rumbur Valley in 1935, which he subsequently wrote in his book, Kafirs and Glaciers: Travels in Chitral, in 1938.

The Zhoshi festivity. Photo: R.C.F. Schomberg, 1935 published in 1938.

Both articles and account of Schomberg are narrations of spring the festival of Rumbur valley. The Zhoshi festival features a social aspect in which the entire community gathers in a welcoming manner. British anthropologist Peter Parkes, who attended the event in the summer of 1989, writes on the theme, “The main themes of the festival celebrate the vernal regeneration of nature, the fresh foliage and blossoms of spring, and spirit of chivalrous romance between sexes before their summer separation in mountain and valley. At its conclusion, all adult men congregate at the sanctuary of the god Mahandeu, overlooking the festal dancing-place, where political speeches are given by elders to announce communal policy for the coming year.” Furthermore, Parkes has produced a 52-minute film documentary on the said festival, its significance, and rituals, which may be viewed on the internet under the title "Kalasha Rites of Spring: Backstage of a 'Disappearing World' Film."

Halfdan Siiger segmented the festival into three parts. The first part of Zhoshi lasts nine days, during which shepherds stay in goat-sheds and do not return to their homes; they clean the goat-sheds and their utensils. In reality, the first phase of the festival is the preparation phase.

The shrine of Shingmo in Rumbur valley. Photo: Muhammad Kashif Ali, 2017.

During this period, temples, shrines, and goat-sheds are decked with yellow flowers (botanic name Sophora mollies and local name Beesa in Kalashamon while Beeshu in Khowar) and with walnut branches and leaves while old sacred oak (botanic Quercus and Bonjh in Kalshamon) branches are replaced with new at the sanctuaries of Mahandeo and Sajigor. According to Morgenstierne, the first day of the celebration is known as sin-beri, which translates to "the preparing of the horn-altar." On the day, ladies wash their hair and dress, and in the afternoon, men and boys gather at Shingmo's shrine to repair it and replace old tree branches with fresh. In the past, it was adorned with Markhor or Ibex horns. The beesa flowers are used to adorn the Jestak-han temple/the community hall by the boys and girls. The festival begins on the tenth day, and the opening day's celebration is known as chirik pipi (literally drink the milk).

The sanctuary of Mahandeo in Rumbur valley. Photo: Muhammad Kashif Ali, 2017.

Milk is gathered and distributed to the people. Schomberg says that no milk is used for those days and that it is gathered for the spring celebration. During the event, they sing melodic melodies, chant, and dance. Some songs are humorous and romantic in character, while others are historical in nature; a famous hunter of ancient times, Dramui, is extolled, and the Kalasha people recall the regions of Chitral where they formerly ruled. It is worth noting that the Kalasha ruled the region until 1320 A.D. before the Islamization of the region.

The second phase of Zhoshi signifies the religious climax; it is a brief phase lasting just one day, but it is dynamic and significant in religious terms. Many offerings are made to the Mahandeo deity, and the Kalasha people pray for the community's well-being. Shingmo's shrine is cleansed, old branches are removed, and Shingmo songs are sung. Shingmo is a minor shrine in Rumbur near the altar of Mahandeo where fairies are said to sit during the festival to view and hear the festivities.

The Cha: An up-tempo Kaalsha dance, Bumburet valley. Photo: Muhammad Kashif Ali, 2008.

Celebrations commence at the start of the second phase. The first day of this event is known as tshatak zhoshi, which translates as "little Zhoshi festival." On the same day, a ritual called gulparik is held in which all little children born within a year of the previous Zhoshi are brought with their mothers. The third stage of Zhoshi is two days long. During these two days, the Kalasha community enjoys a variety of songs and dances. In his book Kalasha: Their Life & Tradition, Akiko Wada, a Japanese lady who has made the Rumbur valley her permanent home for more than three decades, writes: “The girls enjoy the Cha, an up-tempo dance in which groups of girls clasp each other’s shoulders and dance in spinning circles.” During the event, they sing love, war, and melancholy songs. The themes of the old and new songs range from Kalasha history to romance. On the last day of the festival, elders sing a secret song called gatch, and all male and female participants wave walnut branches and pray for lots of milk; it is thought that suci (fairies) come to observe the dance and waving of the walnut branches.

The ritual of waving walnut branches in Bumburet valley. Photo: Muhammad Kashif Ali, 2008.

Indeed, Zhoshi is an enthralling celebration for the Kalasha since it marks the transition from winter to summer. It's time to head to the fairyland pastures, as spring delivers the message of plenty of food for the community. The theme of Zhoshi, according to Augusto Cacopardo (Italian anthropologist), is to honour the mountain spirits, the suci, because it is time to enter the land of mountain spirits. A sample song of Zhoshi, recorded by Carol Rose in 1992:
Later, Later
I will steal apples
And be beaten
Later, later
I will steal apricots
And be beaten
But beating is nothing for me
I love apples
I love apricots
And the night sky is filled
With twinkling white mulberries
Oh, I am a young man!

Another song of the Zhoshi festival recorded by G. Morgenstierne in 1929 is about the markhor:
The shadow of the markhor horns
(falls on) the snow-dust of the Brojili
The snow-dust of Brojil has melted
The shadow of the markhor horns
(falls on) the snow-dust of the Brojili
Make ready the markhor horns in Nagar and Dadoyak
The markhor-horn altar down in Saravachei
The sallow blossom. Call for the flower of the sallow
Come here, I shall give thee a flower
May there be much honey
Give us mulberries
May there be much honey

The existence of markhor has been very important in Kalasha society; thus, we see its powerful representation during the festival in the form of paintings, dough sculptures, and event songs. With the help of this song Morgenstierne recognised the region's names, Brojili as a high hill of Usti pasture, Nangar as Nagar (in Lower Chitral), Dadoyak as Dokalam in Arandu, and Saravachei as Ahar in Kalashamon language or Ayun in Khowar.

A guideline for visitors:

The Kalasha were once the rulers of the entire Chitral valley, but are now limited to three valleys named Rumbure, Bumburet, and Birir, and even in these three valleys they are outnumbered, as the total population of all three valleys is approximately 13,000, while the Kalasha are approximately 4,100 souls. The Kalasha are Pakistan's most festive tribe, celebrating a variety of social and religious festivals throughout the year. The Zhoshi celebration contains both social and religious components. They embrace spring while also praying for great luck in the approaching season. Therefore, visitors should respect their activities and traditions throughout the festival period, and they should not intrude on their privacy, their dance, avoid peeping into their homes even if the doors are open, and ask permission before photographing them. If you build a decent connection with the Kalasha, you will find them to be quite hospitable and pleasant.


Author: is an ethno-historian and PhD on the micro ethnic and religious indigenous Kalasha community, expanding the horizons of research to whole Dardistan, a university teacher who capture the moments with his camera. For reference of any fact described in the essay, an email can be dropped to abufeeman@gmail.com .


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