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Pathak Festival in Lotkuh Valley

Mumtaz Hussain
Ziarat (Sanctuary) marking the place where Nasir Khusraw is said to have stayed.

The forty days period following the winter solstice is called Chilah in the local Chitrali calendar. The period ends around the beginning of February, bringing with it some small relief in the harshness of the cold. The first sign of the turn in the season is the snow glory flower which comes up wherever finds a snow allows a black patch of earth. The local people have thought this a befitting occasion for celebrating the new year day. Pathak festival has been celebrated in the upper valleys of Chitral from time immemorial, but a few decades ago this festival was given up in the most valleys save one Lotkuh. The people who have given up the Pathak have almost forgotten it, and consider the word Pathak synonymous with another spring festival, Nowruz which occurs on the 21st of March. But in the Lotkuh valley Pathak is still celebrated on its traditional time with full fervor.

Traditional Foods Served to Guests During the Festival

We, a small group of culture lovers from Upper Chitral, visited Lotkuh valley on the invitation of the community leader, to participate in Pathak celebrations. When reached at Eezh village, we were received by the community elders in the Agha Khan Local council Office. We we paid a visit to a small sanctuary commemorating the visit of Nasir Khusraw, the Great Ismaili Preacher who founded the sect in these parts of the World. At the adjacent community Centre, Mr. Fazel Hamid, the local community head briefed us on the origin of the festival and customs associated with it. Alwaiz Syed Ahmad gave a talk on the philosophy behind various ceremonies of the festival. A local community leader, Mr. Anwar Beig invited us to his home where traditional foods were served. We were taken around the village and saw men, women and children, all in great festive mood.

Looking Down the Valley from the Upper Part of Ruye Village

In the afternoon We visited another village Ruye, in the Yadhga speaking belt of the valley. Here our guest was a young College Teacher Mr. Hamid Gul. Village elders, including an old learned man, were gathered on the occasion. We had an enlightening conversation with the elders on the history, culture and religious traditions of the community. Again, traditional foods, special to the occasion, were served.

Traditional Chitrali House ceiling Decorated on Pathak In Lotkuh origin of the Pathak is attributed to Nasir Khusraw. Tradition say that Nasir Khusraw, during his long stay at Yumgan Badakhshan, once visited this valley during the winters. He mediated in a cave overlooking the village Eizh just across the river. He came out after forty days and came to the village and ordered a festival. Later, he returned to Yumgan. and the local people continued to celebrate the festival in memory of that visit.

Pathak festival begins with a visit by the local religious elder to different villages, who announce suitable date for the festival. He also educates the folk on the proper ways of celebrating the day. A day before the Pathak day, the houses are thoroughly cleaned. All beddings, furniture and kitchen utensils are taken out. The house ceilings, walls and floors are cleaned with great care. New brooms are made from mugwort shrub (locally called Jaa) for cleansing the ceiling.

Abdul Qadir, the village Sage at Ruye, Telling Details of the Festival.

Early morning on the festival day, the household head takes a little wheat flour and sprinkles it on the pillars, beams and doorway of the main room of the house (the traditional Baipash Room). Sometimes the ceilings and walls are decorated with flour in floral patterns. This is a welcome gesture for the new year. The womenfolk prepare traditional food such as Shoshpalaki, cheese, and rice cooked in milk. People visit neighbors and relatives and enjoy their hospitality. In Lotkuh valley, the Ziarat (sanctuary) commemorating Pir Nasir Khusraw’s visit is the centre of the festivities. Every household brings a large wheat cake called piniki, to the Ziarat. Here the cakes are mixed with butter and distributed as consecrated food. In the evening people visit their married daughters with cooked food and other presents.

An Open Air Sanctuary at Ruye Village, marked by two ancient Juniper Trees.
Here, Offerings are made On Pathak.

The festival continues for two days, during which traditional sports competitions are held. Girls mostly enjoy swings suspended from high tree branches. Traditional foods are served to the visitors all the time.

With Hosts at Ruye

The local people of Lotkuh treat Pathak both a seasonal as well as religious festival. Traditions say that Pir Shah Nasir had left some of his disciples here, who still work as spiritual leaders of the community and custodians of the shrine. They, known as Dervishes, play central role in the celebration of Pathak festival.

A Website on the Culture, History and Languages of Chitral.