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Khow culture of Chitral

Sher Wali Khan Aseer

Khow culture of Chitral contains a big treasurer of refined traditions. These manifestations of the unique Khow culture of Chitral have been summarized below.


Weddings are performed with simplicity but with high regard as a sacred duty. Parents consider the wedding of their daughters and sons as their obligation to be performed at all cost. That is why in old days marriages took place at tender age because parents wanted to see their children married and settled before they passed away. Usually marriages are arranged by parents or elder brothers if parents are not alive. In Khow Culture, the parents of girls have importance. All conditions if laid down are settled with the consent of the girl’s father. Parents, uncles, brothers and all the blood relations of a girl whose hand is asked for one’s son are venerated with full possible protocol. After getting the consent of the girl’s father in a secret way through a common relative (called pornek) of both the families (now-a-days letters are sent), the boy’s father and close relatives go to the girl’s home taking the elders and respectable members of the area to perform the custom of betrothal, called Bok mashkik or Allaho Akbar or Shawai boteik. Here the girl’s father is formally requested for his daughter’s hand and upon his acceptance, the boy’s father and all his close relatives express their profound thanks by kissing the hands of the girl’s father, mother, uncles, aunts and brothers present on the occasion. Under Khow culture of Chitral, the girl’s father has the liberty to demand anything he deems fit. Usually, rifles, guns, horses, bulls and ‘baar’ (carcasses of goats and sheep and especially cooked traditional food of certain quantity) are demanded, but it is not customary. The bride’s father may not demand anything if he is a religious man. However, if he asks for anything, the father of the bridegroom will be bound to provide the same at any cost. On the other hand, the bride’s father is not bound to give any thing in shape of dowry except the ‘badel’ in exchange of what the father-in-law of his daughter has brought which is also given at his leisure in kind of cow, beddings, etc. It has been a tradition in Khow culture of Chitral that the bride’s father gives cows, beds, clothes, embroidery, ornaments according to his financial condition.

A close relative of the bride called Tokhmiran, accompanies her to her husband’s home and he is offered a gun, horse or bull called ‘usel. It is a sign of respect given to the bride’s family members and a goat is also slaughtered and a feast is given in his honour in which all the prominent figures of the village are invited. This is called ‘Khaltabar basi in Khow culture of Chitral. A musical concert is also arranged in his honour as well. A carcass of goat or sheep or ram, etc., is also sent to his home as ‘murry. The concept of dowry does exist in the Khow Culture to the extent that when the daughter, after 2-3 years of her marriage (usually when she and her husband decide to establish separate house) comes to her parents’ home with simple gifts in shape of meat or backed food or something of the kind and asks for utensils, sheep, goats and cows. Her father and all the blood relatives happily give her flocks of livestock, beds, carpets and pots. In the Khow society, the son-in-law is considered as a son and there is saying, “zhaw diti zhur kranik” to buy (get) a son in exchange of a daughter. There is another feast given to the villagers of the bride whenever they happen to come to the village of the bridegroom in connection with performance of public work, i.e. construction of road, bridges, canals etc., on self-help basis. This is given in the shape of he-goat or bull according to the status of the bridegroom. It is called ‘ufto-murry’. It is worth mentioning that in Khow culture a daughter is considered as the common daughter of all the villagers and in case of any trouble to her all the villagers come out to her help in unity and protect her rights. That is why in Khowar there is a saying that ‘Zhur na bash” means daughter is common to all. Nowadays the simplicity of weddings has faded or going to fade because our young generation is accepting new trends in marriage ceremonies. The father of the bridegroom is asked to bring certain amount of money which was otherwise unknown in Khow society. All the ceremonial customs related to marriages are giving way to some imported traditions of down districts.


Funeral have also importance in a Khow culture of Chitral. Every person who hears about the death of a certain person manages to reach the deceased’s home at any cost and considers it his religious responsibility. Everyone takes part in digging grave as a virtuous action. All the rites are carried out in accordance with the Islamic tenets, i.e. dead body is washed, raped in shroud, prayer (Nemaz-e-janaza) is offered. After the burial, three days’ mourning is observed and during these days the villagers bring cooked food turn by turn and feed the deceased’s family members. During these three days, every commodity of daily use is supplied by the gram (Tradional Khow society) and using even firewood of the deceased’s family is considered to be unfair. After three days Khodai is performed. Goats/sheep or bull is slaughtered, special dish (lazhek) is cooked and offered to the ‘gram’ gathered in the house of the deceased. It is called ‘Khodai’ or khairat’. With this the mourning is ceremonially ended but visits for Fateha continue for seven to 15 days depending on the range of relationship and status of the dead person in the society. Because of the scattered population and relationship at far-flung places, the relatives are not informed in time, hence visits for Fateha continue for days. The senior members of the deceased’s clan regularly attend his home till the visits come to an end. Mulla of the area and qazi remain on duty to recite the Holy Quran for blessings to the death. The members of the deceased’s family pay to the mullas or qazis according to their financial status as alms.


It is an informal village association of certain number of households having common interest. It has a traditional code of conduct implemented by the village elders. In a small village, there is usually one gram, but in big villages there may be 4-5 grams. The members of the gram are bound to take part in services of collective benefit, such as construction and repair of village canals, roads, bridges, godown, school, hospital; grazing and looking after cattle, sheep and goats on grazing fields on high lands during summer; supply of materials and food on occasions of death, etc,etc. These services are called ‘moan which means compulsory for each of the households. However, widows and minor orphans are exempted. In old days, big projects like construction of roads, schools, bridges etc, were executed through moan system.


When the villagers assist and help some needy member of the society in harvesting, ploughing, carrying manure to the fields, collecting firewood etc on voluntary basis, it is calledgram-kheshi. Performing duty in weddings and funerals are also called gram-kheshi.


It has been a very laudable cooperative working system of the Khow society. When a villager requires the help of his fellow villagers in harvesting, ploughing, carrying manures to the field, collecting firewood or construction of a house, he goes house to house and requests for their help on a certain day. He cooks food for them. The villagers come and carry out the task. It is called ‘Yardoyi’. Now-a-days this volunteer service is in decline except in the most remote areas. Saq: It is also a traditional rule under which a ban is imposed on the beneficiaries of a certain area on grazing or cutting trees and bushes of a specified area for fixed period. The gram or grams collectively take such a decision to protect grazing fields and forest from deforestation. If somebody violates the ban he will have to pay a penalty in kind of goat or even a bull, besides the tree or firewood he has collected would be confiscated. In early days when the hunting fields were the property of certain clans, free hunting was completely banned and the violators were to undergo severe punishment. This traditional law had protected the wildlife without doubt.    


The traditional clothes of Khow people consisted of a long overcoat, (Shoqa), pantaloonor shalwar and pakhol (Chitrali cap) made of locally weaved woolen cloth. Women wore similar clothes but the overcoat was known as Raghz and instead of pakhol they wore embroidered round caps (khoi). This cap is still used in remote valleys of Yarkhun, Laspur, Torikhow and Ghizer district of Northern Areas. Shoqa is also worn by a few people of these mentioned areas. Chitrali Pakhol is admired and used not only within the country but also all over the world. Shoqa of Torkhow is well known all over Chitral. Leather shoes coming up to the shin named as Khon or kon made of goat or ibex skin were common footwear. Under the Khon, long woolen stocking were worn. The shepherds, hunters and woodcutters used leather strip wrapped around their feet up to the calf, fastened with leather cords (zhikan)called Kirkot or taching.  These footwears are no more in existence. At present, all the Khow people wear Shalwar Qmeez. Our new generation prefers pant shirt instead.


Khow Culture has the pride to have a rich variety of food. These foods are common in upper Chitral and Lotkuh valley. A short description is given here. Khista Shapik (yeast bread). A very soft, medium thin and round bread cooked on an iron plate. Ishlak or bar shapik or Phulka A thin, flat bread cooked on iron plate. Chapoti: It is medium thik round bread cooked on iron plate and then broiled in the fier place. Phoshpaki : A yeast bread baked in hot ashes. Mishtiki or Chai tiki: A cake like thick bread, backed in iron tray. Tawa tiki: It is a thick and large bread baked on iron plate by putting hot ashes on it. Sanabach-tiki: It is a big sandwitch of sanabachi( a local salty dish cooked floar paste in ghee) between layers of bread, and baked in a baker tray. Pushur tiki: It is baked like sanabachtiki but meat is put in it instead of sanabachi. Zholai Tiki: It is also cooked in the same way but crushed kernels of walnut with onion are put in it. Phinak tiki: The same as above but Cheese is put in it Ghalmandi: Cheese is put between two phulkas and ghee is pored on it and eaten. Khista Ghalmandi: It is thin Khista shapik with cheese between two layers of loaves and cooked on iron plate. It is eaten with ghee /oil on it. Sanabachi: It is a famous dish, especially cooked during Phindik festival. It is a salty dish, a paste of wheat flour is cooked in ghee. Shoshp: It is a very simple sweet dish of several kinds. Wheat flour, water and germinated wheat powder are the total ingredients used. It is also cooked in ghee, fat, walnut oil and crude oil of apricot and known as tarbat. It is a especial dish cooked on Now Roz festivel. Lazhek:  Crushedwheat is cooked with meat and served with spoons. It is a common dish of Khodai (food served for the blessings of a deceased soul) Mul : It is a very simple food of thin paste of wheat flour, cooked in a iron cooking pot or earthen pot and eaten with ghee or milk or cream. Loganu or Leganu: Tiny balls are made out of pulse flour and boiled in water and then a mixture of onion, tomato, red pepper and sour substance (Qurut or Shut) made of milk or water left after cheese is prepared, with ghee is mixed and eaten with spoons. If meat is added, it becomes a more delicious food. It can be called Khowi soup. Kali:  It is a soup prepared like Leganu but instead of flour balls, pieces of loaves are boiled in water and then a certain quantity of tomato, onion pieces, red pepper and some sour material ( Shut), cooked in ghee is mixed and served. Chhira kali or Sonak: Kali cooked in milk Qalaibat: It is a kind of Sanabachi cooked in fat oil. Pakhti: Cooking rice is called Pakhti korik. It is also a common dish in Chitral. Chira Leganu: Wheat shots cooked in milk and eaten with spoon. Chira shapik: Milk is boiled and when becomes thick it is put between two phulkas and ghee is put on it and eaten. Mulidah: Cooked phulkas are made pieces and cooked in milk and served.   


(Sher Wali Khan Aseer is Chitral-based educationist, researcher, Khowar poet and writer. He has done lots of research work and written scores of books on the Khow culture and traditions of Chitral. Currently he is in the process of writing a travelogue and a biography.)

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  1. Karim Ali Khan says

    I highly appreciate Mr Sher Wali Khan Saheb for his efforts to explore and conserve our customs and culture. May God bless you.

  2. Hameed Sangal says

    Nice article.

  3. Faheem Ahmad Khan says

    Very few people are blessed with God-gifted qualities of expression ideas with closely knitted sentences combined with clarity of topic,choice of words suitable for all categories of readers with an excellent grip on grammar coated with a thick layer of profound knowledge.Sir Sher Wali Khan Sb is among the few scholars of Khowar language and Khow culture.Our culture is skillfully decorated and woven in a fabric of literary expressions through this article.Our new generation must read this scholarly article to get in touch with our rich literary and cultural heritage.

  4. Dr. Zubeda Sirang says

    A very elaborate and nicely-written article on Khow culture. Chitrali youth living outside their hometown are especially recommended to go through the article to have an idea about their traditional food, clothing, rituals and customs.
    I highly appreciate the pictures added by the editor as they are truly helpful in making the article more beautiful and understandable.

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