My shepherd has no name but brave!

By Sher Wali Khan Aseer

What makes the people of Chitral different is their love for music and festivities that promote love and peace. The valley of Chitral has rich traditions of celebrating every important event round the year most of which are related to agriculture and livestock keeping. One such popular festival is Phindik which was celebrated in the summer every year. Though this popular festival was losing charm, of late people in many villages have started to revive it. This festival was celebrated when the livestock was to shift to the high land pastures. It was exclusively a shepherd festival as its name indicates.

The inhabitants of a village or villages having common pasture celebrated this event in consultation with each other. Thus dates of commencement of phindik varied even in adjacent villages if their pastures were separate. A plus point of this variance was that phindik celebrations continued in a valley for months so that sports men of the valley enjoyed a long series of sports and feasts.

Phin-dik means to give ‘phin’ (the specially cooked local dish- sanabachi with cheese, for the shepherd). Sanabachi is a famous salty dish of Chitral, prepared by cooking flour- paste in ghee. The village elders fixed a certain date at least one week before its commencement and carried out necessary preparation.

The villagers would go to mountain pastures and repair their summer cottages and barns. During the preparation days those house holds that used to shift to the high lands along with their own live stock plus the goats, sheep and milking cows of a few other families, would complete transporting their necessary bedding, utensils and ration. It is to be noted that not all the villagers shifted to mountain pastures.

There were certain families that would go and take care of the live stock of others on payment of certain quantity of grain and other edibles. Polo being the main sport of the time, polo players would play polo every afternoon and singers and dancers performed musical concerts during the week. Local Orchestra, where ever available, would play during and after polo matches and at nights at some central place of the village or in the house lawn of the village elder. Players of other villages were also invited to the festival and it turned to be a mini tournament.

One day before the last day of celebrations of Phindik, he-goats race competition would take place at the race ground (a steep with smooth surface) called Lowah dini. The race was called ‘Lowah’. It was really a pleasing fun to be enjoyed. The racing goats would race down the steep dancing and fighting with their rivals. The villagers gathered at the spot to watch the race.

The shepherd played ‘lowah music’ on their ‘buqs’- a clarion made of ibex horn. Two lines of folk song of lowah are given here for the interest of our readers: Ma pazhalo naam neki bakhduuro lowah, Ma pazhal phuk asuur barduuro lowah; Ma baseer taan zhuti taan goyo lowah, Donika tchheer kori angoyo lowah. (My shepherd has no name but brave; he is now a young one but he will grow to manhood (very soon). My she-goat herself go for gazing and come back with a vassal of milk).

On the last day, the festival reached its climax. Every house hold would cook ‘sanabachi and serve to the guests with cheese. It must be kept in mind that the shepherd’s share (phin) to be served first. The villagers would go house to house along with the guests in decent dress and enjoy the hospitality. But a misfortune also awaited them. When they moved along the village streets, women folk would throw buckets of water, usually dirty waste water, on the men and chase them till the men run away beyond their reach.

It is called ‘Ugh jang or Ugh jal’ and is an event of Phindik. At the afternoon the villagers go to the polo ground to watch polo match. The players in polo uniform would try their best to dodge the women waiting with their buckets of water on the roof tops, but few of them would be lucky enough to escape. Majority would reach polo ground with dirty and soaked clothes. After enjoying the fun of ‘Ugh-jal’( throwing water on some body) the young girls either go to the polo ground sit at some high mound reserved for the female spectators and watch polo or would play swing at some separate place where there they would find a big walnut tree with strong out spread branches to support swing rope.

After polo match the villagers would play tug of war, wrestling etc and leave the ground at dusk. At evening they would again gather at some central place to watch and enjoy musical concert. As a farewell gesture to their live stock, children would make small symbolic gardens with green branches of different trees on top of the barn walls and oil the horns of goats, sheep and cows. The next morning at dawn they were moved to ‘gharis’ (summer cottages). This festive was celebrated with different names at different valleys of Chitral.

At Torkhow it was called ghariugh and celebrated with much pump and show. The sate ruler participated and honoured the occasion as chief guest with his courtiers. On this day of phindik food gifts were also sent to daughters, sisters and foster children, called ‘batsh’.Salghereik or phatak: It was a New Year celebration and took place in the first week of February, every year. It marked the departure of winter and coming of spring as well.

Nowadays it is celebrated as ‘now roz’ on 21 March, an old festival observed in Iran since the days immemorial, as new year day of Iranian calendar. One day before, the festival started with cleansing ceiling and walls of the living room, called soidik- dusting off the black layer accumulated on the ceiling and walls due to excessive smoke of fire during winters. It must be kept in mind that Chitrali common living room (khowar khataan) possessed no modern device or exhaust-pipe for smoke except a centralized sky-hole.

Soidik was performed by woman folk not by men. After cleaning the ceiling and walls they were decorated with drawings of flowers, images of goats, sheep, ibex, shepherds etc. Barely flour or other white substance was used for the purpose. Early in the morning just after the soidik, a male member of the family or a Phatakin (a person commonly recognized to be good omen if faced when going on journeys or performing a new work), would go out and return to the door of the house after a while, but he is not allowed to enter by shutting the door. He would inform the inmates with such like promising news: ‘I have brought with me prosperity, abundance of grain, good health, pleasures and love for every one, let me in. I have brought bride groom for the Maidens and bride for the bachelors let me come in. I have brought long life for the olds, let me enter the house. I have chased away all the evils, the diseases, the devils, the ghosts and all bad omens; now let me inter the house’. He is then allowed to enter the house and served with ishperi a dish made of milk and butter.

A special sweet dish is cooked on the day, called, shoshp. It is a kind of simple dish prepared out of wheat flour, water and germinated wheat powder. Instead of sugar, a powder (shoshp peshiru, means flour of shoshp) obtained from germinated wheat is used. This sweet powder has been in use since the time unknown.

Every house hold prepares this stuff as per its requirement. The process is that wheat is kept warm and damp in a big vassal, usually, a wooden one, for a period of 7-10 days till it begins to germinate and seedlings shoot out, and then it is dried in the sun, ground and kept for future use. Sweet breads and cakes, known shoshpdre shapik and shoshp-bratu or tiki are also made using this powder. Cooking of shoshp takes six complete hours. Wheat flour is mixed with water and made a thin paste in a big cooking pot and then shoshp peshiru is added.

It is cooked in a low heat and continuously stirred with barghuzi (a particular small shovel with wooden handle). The white paste slowly and gradually takes golden colour and becomes thick. Then it is ready to serve after it is cooled in pots. Bowls of shoshp are put aside for married daughters, sisters and foster children and then sent to their homes. It is called batsh. A considerable quantity of shoshp is also kept in a big pot and reserved as beyo-shoshp- shoshp of seeding and is taken to the fields when cultivation starts. The male members performing cultivation eat it. (It should be noted that in old days cultivation of barely and wheat started just after salghereik. In the upper parts of subdivision Mastuj, still cultivation is carried out in spring).

Shoshp is served with milk, cream, ghee or walnut oil. The villagers and relatives visit each other house and is feasted on shoshp. It will not be out of context if a brief description of varieties of shoshp is given here. Shoshp is prepared in different other ways. It is cooked in fate, ghee, walnut oil and the oil obtained from kernels of wild apricot. All these varieties are, collectively called tarbut, but however, for differentiation they are called, zagha,tarbat, Dona tarbat, jola tarbat and troq jola tarbat, respectively. The method of cooking is the same as mentioned, except adding fate, ghee, oil of required quantity when the paste of shoshp is prepared. This dish being a common and popular food in Chitral, particularly in upper parts of Chitral, is cooked on other occasions as well, such as in wedding and religious ceremonies. However, it is not quite restricted to ceremonies alone, also cooked as a variety when ever family members wish. In winters it serves as a good nutrient.

There is another dish of shoshp group of foods, called shoshp-kali. It is also prepared in the same way but thinner than shoshp. It can rightly be called a shoshp soup. In old days it was used for treatment of cold and flue and also a laxative. There were dozens of small festivities, such as, ghari khomik, bi-nisik, host- korik, apaka-dik,lashti-korik,etc, as well, but these two mentioned above were the most popular festivals of Chitral. Our new generation may have no knowledge about its century’s old traditions and it is really to be regretted.