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The cultural assets of old Chitral-1

By Prof. Rahmat Karim Baig

The mountains that have hemmed in Chitral, are so lofty, long, wide spread with confused spurs  in all directions, that make it very difficult for a good number of Chitralis, let alone visitors, to form a picture of its map in an abstract form.

That it is hard to explain the geographical location of its valleys  where different cultural values have  evolved in the past and prospered into the 21st  century.

The inhabitants of one valley understand partly the values of the culture of the next valley and that makes culture rich and is to be regarded a merit rather than a  demerit. The dialects of Khowar language are noticeable and so are those of Kalasha. These make the cultural diversity a rich one and have to be studied to find the roots found in each valley. So is the cultural side and there are tangible and intangible aspects of our culture. Sociologists have thought it essential to differentiate between these two aspects and stress the need of research on both at the same time. These could be identified, in the jargon of computer science, as hardware and software or something very similar to it.

In the past when we were young life in the valleys of Chitral was very simple. The villagers did their cultivation according to Solar calendar and monitored the daily movement of the sun and after certain distance of the journey of the sun in winters, farm work was commenced and seeds sown one after another such as in autumn wheat was sown from September to November according to altitude.

In very high hamlets wheat was not sown but all fields were left barren during the winter and a different seed of wheat was sown in March or early April which ripened in August or September  but in lower  and hotter villages wheat and barley were sown as above but cut in May and June and a second crop of rice or maize was sown that ripened in October and left the field for sowing wheat or barley again. The crop rotation system was:

Double crop areas

After harvesting maize and paddy in October,  wheat and barley were sown in October and November which ripened in May and June. Natural fertilizer was given to wheat crop fields while paddy was given leaves of a certain shrub called ‘Beshu’ cut in the pastures .All the three crops i.e.  wheat, barley and paddy were USHER crops  that  means according to the rules of Islam all kind of land produce is to be purified by payment of USHER i.e. tithe of the land produce plus alfalfa and walnut produce. This collection was made by the state under order of the ruler  after 1910 but  earlier it was the option of the owner to pay it to the needy of his village but this collection of Usher was waived by the government after the merger of Chitral with KP in 1969.

Single crop areas

In the higher parts of Chitral due to cold only one crop was possible so their crop rotation was different from the low lands. The inhabitants of these areas cultivated more crops than others. They sowed wheat in autumn but cultivated barley in March followed by beans of various kinds, grams, lentils, millets, maize, potatoes and vegetables. They had to divide their plots into four parts. They left one part of the four fallow called Chhutk – ploughed without seed and this piece enjoyed full summer sun without water except rain. This was called Paran Chhutk in the Kho region but called Parsandi in Laspur and adjoining valleys. 

This piece was grown barley the next March with natural fertilizer and after harvesting barley it received sunshine for another two months and then wheat was grown in it in October or late September. The following year after harvesting wheat it was left barren for the next year and millets were sown in this field which ripened late and this plot was left untilled during the following summer as Chhutk. Thus four years rotated and no natural fertilizer was needed for millets and pulses.

At the time of sowing either in autumn or early spring a special dish called Shoshp was cooked and served to all the village and all males excluding octogenarians, used to come and work in the cultivation work. Many festivals were held in the beginning of the cultivation. One of them is PATHAK that was in vogue in almost all valleys but now confined to Ismaili dominated valleys/villages only. Details of the festival were known to the elders and devoted farmers but the present generation knows very little about it.

It is held in mid February and is followed by Nowrooz festival also a special festival of the Ismaili community but not known in Sunni majority areas. During both festivals houses are cleaned and decorated with flour and paste of flour, some of it thrown on the pillars of the living room with special food gift to married females of the house living in the vicinity. New clothes are tailored for females and children.


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