The Kalash or Kalasha, are an ethnic group found in the Hindu Kush mountain range in the Chitral district of the North-West Frontier Province of Pakistan. Although quite numerous before the twentieth century, this non-Muslim group has been partially assimilated by the larger Muslim majority of Pakistan and seen its numbers dwindle over the past century. Today, sheikhs, or converts to Islam, make up more than half of the total Kalasha-speaking population.
The culture of Kalash people is unique and differs drastically from the various ethnic groups surrounding them. They are polytheists and nature plays a highly significant and spiritual role in their daily life. As part of their religious tradition, sacrifices are offered and festivals held to give thanks for the abundant resources of their three valleys. Kalash mythology and folklore has been compared to that of ancient Greece, but they are much closer to Indo-Iranian (Vedic and pre-Zoroastrian) traditions.
Located in the North-West Frontier Province of Pakistan, the Kalash people live in three isolated mountain valleys: Bumboret (Kalash: Mumret), Rumbur (Rukmu), and Birir (Biriu). These valleys are opening towards the Kunar River, some 20 km south (downstream) of Chitral.
The Bumboret and Rumbur valleys join at (1640 m), joining the Kunar at the village of Ayrun (, 1400 m) and they each rise to passes connecting to Afghanistan's Nuristan Province at about 4500 m.
The Birir valley opens towards the Kunar at the village of Gabhirat (, 1360 m). A pass connects the Birir and Bumboret valleys at about 3000 m. The Kalash villages in all three valleys are located at a height of approximately 1900 to 2200 m.
The region is extremely fertile, covering the mountainside in rich oak forests and allowing for intensive agriculture, despite the fact that most of the work is done not by machinery, but by hand. The powerful and dangerous rivers that flow through the valleys have been harnessed to power grinding mills and to water the farm fields through the use of ingenious irrigation channels. Wheat, maize, grapes (generally used for wine), apples, apricots, and walnuts are among the many foodstuffs grown in the area, along with surplus fodder used for feeding the livestock.
The climate is typical of high elevation regions without large bodies of water to regulate the temperature. The summers are mild and agreeable with average maximum temperatures between 23° and 27°C (73° - 81°F). Winters, on the other hand, can be very cold, with average minimum temperatures between 2° and 1°C (36° - 34°F). The average yearly precipitation is 700 to 800mm (28 - 32 inches).
Some scholars have speculated that the Kalash might derive from the direct descendants of Greek settlers, or of members of Alexander the Great's army. Indeed, it is well known that Greek-speaking peoples and Greek Kingdoms once flourished in this region for hundreds of years. The frequency of blond haired and blue eyed members of the Kalash population has fuelled speculation that this ethnic group may be the descendants of ancient Greeks in the region (see "Genetic origins" below).
In more recent times, since the 1700s, the Kalash have been ruled by the Mehtar of the princely state of Chitral and enjoyed a cordial relationship with the major ethnic group of the region, the Kho who are Sunni and Ismaili Muslims. The multi-ethnic and multi-religious State of Chitral ensured that the Kalash were able to live in peace and harmony and practice their culture and religion. The Nuristani, their neighbors in the region of former Kafiristan west of the border, were invaded in the 1890s and converted to Islam by Amir Abdur-Rahman of Afghanistan and their land was renamed Nuristan.
Prior to that event, the people of Kafiristan had paid tribute to the Mehtar of Chitral and accepted his suzerainty. This came to an end with the 1893 Durand Line Agreement, signed by Mortimer Durand, when Kafiristan fell under the Afghan sphere of Influence. Recently, the Kalash have been able to stop their demographic and cultural spiral towards extinction and have, for the past 30 years, been on the rebound. Increased international awareness, a more tolerant government, and monetary assistance have allowed them to continue their way of life. Their numbers remain stable at around 3000. Although many convert to Islam, the high birth rate replaces them, and with medical facilities (previously there were none) they live longer.
Allegations of "immorality" connected with their practices have led to the forcible conversion to Islam of several villages in the 1950s, which has led to heightened antagonism between the Kalash and the surrounding Muslims. Since the 1970s, schools and roads were built in some valleys.
Rehman and Ali  report that pressure of radical Muslim organizations is on the increase:
"Ardent Muslims on self-imposed missions to eradicate idolatry regularly attack those engaged in traditional Kalash religious rituals, smashing their idols. The local Mullahs and the visiting Tableghi Jammaites remain determined to 'purify' the Kafirs."
In response, a leader of the Kalash, Saifulla Jan, has stated, "If any Kalash converts to Islam, they can't live among us anymore. We keep our identity strong."
Historically, a goat herding and subsistence farming people, the Kalash are moving towards a cash-based economy whereas previously wealth was measured in livestock and crops. Tourism now makes up a large portion of the economic activities of the Kalash. To cater to these new visitors, small stores and guest houses have been erected, providing new luxury for visitors of the valleys. People attempting to enter the valleys have to pay a toll to the Pakistani government, which is used to preserve and care for the Kalash people and their culture.
The language of the Kalash is a Dardic language belonging to the Indo-Aryan branch of the Indo-Iranian group; itself part of the larger Indo-European family. It is classified as a member of the Chitral sub-group, the only other member of that group being Khowar. The Norwegian Linguist Georg Morgenstierne who studied both languages wrote that in spite of similarities Kalasha is an independent language in its own right, not a mere dialect of Khowar. 
Until the latter twentieth century, Kalash was an undocumented language. More recently, through the work of a Greek NGO and local Kalash elders seeking to preserve their oral traditions, a new Kalasha alphabet has been created. Taj Khan Kalash has also been influential in the development of the new alphabet. Having moved to Thessaloniki, Greece to study linguistics in the Aristotle University, he and the Greek NGO Mesogaia took on the task of compiling the script and creating The Alphabet Book, a primer used to teach the alphabet to the Kalash children. Badshah Munir Bukhari unicoded the Kalasha Language in 2005.
Some scholars have speculated that the Kalash might be from ancient Middle Eastern populations, direct descendants of ancient Greek settlers, or of members of Alexander the Great's army. Though often overstated, instances of blond hair or light eyes are not unusual.
In a 2005 study of ASPM gene variants, Mekel-Bobrov et al. found that the Kalash people of Pakistan have among the highest rate of the newly-evolved ASPM haplogroup D, at 60 percent occurrence of the approximately 6000-year-old allele. While it is not yet known exactly what selective advantage is provided by this gene variant, the haplogroup D allele is thought to be positively selected in populations and to confer some substantial advantage that has caused its frequency to rapidly increase, perhaps imbuing cognitive or behavioral abilities related to non-tonal languages and alphabetical scripts.
The Kalash also have been shown to exhibit the exceedingly rare 19 allele value at autosomal marker D9S1120 at a frequency higher than the majority of other world populations which do have it.
Firasat et al. (2006) conclude that the Kalash lack typical Greek haplogroups (e.g. haplogroup 21). On the other hand, a study by Qamar et al. (2002) found that even though "no support for a Greek origin of their Y chromosomes was found" in the Kalash, Greek y-chromosome admixture could be as high as 20 percent to 40 percent. Considering the apparent absence of haplogroup 21 in the local population, one of the possibilities suggested was because of genetic drift. On the basis of Y chromosome allele frequency, some researchers describe the exact Greek contribution to Kalash as unclear.
Another study with Qasim Ayub, and S. Qasim Mehdi, and led by Quintana-Murci claims that "the western Eurasian presence in the Kalash population reaches a frequency of 100 percent, the most prevalent [mtDNA] haplogroup being U4, (pre-HV)1, U2e, and J2," and that they show "no detectable East or South Asian lineages. The outlying genetic position is seen in all analyses. Moreover, although this population is composed of western Eurasian lineages, the most prevalent … are rare or absent in the surrounding populations and usually characterize populations from Eastern Europe, the middle East and the Caucasus…. All these observations bear witness to the strong effects of genetic drift of the Kalash population…. However, a western Eurasian origin for this population is likely, in view of their maternal lineages, which can ultimately be traced back to the Middle East."
The estimates by Qamar et al. of Greek admixture has been dismissed by Toomas Kivisild, who wrote, “some admixture models and programs that exist are not always adequate and realistic estimators of gene flow between populations ... this is particularly the case when markers are used that do not have enough restrictive power to determine the source populations ... or when there are more than two parental populations. In that case, a simplistic model using two parental populations would show a bias towards overestimating admixture”. Their study came to the conclusion that the Pakistani Kalash population estimate by (Qamar et al. 2002) “is unrealistic and is likely also driven by the low marker resolution that pooled southern and western Asian–specific Y-chromosome haplogroup H together with European-specific haplogroup I, into an uninformative polyphyletic cluster 2”.
A study led by Noah A. Rosenberg of the Department of Human Genetics, Bioinformatics Program, and the Life Sciences Institute, University of Michigan, found through genetic testing among the Kalash population has shown that they are, in fact, a distinct (and perhaps aboriginal) population with only minor contributions from outside peoples. In one cluster analysis with (K = 7), the Kalash form one cluster, the others being Africans, Europeans/Middle Easterners/South Asians, East Asians, Melanesians, and Native Americans.
In the recent study: "Worldwide Human Relationships Inferred from Genome-Wide Patterns of Variation (2008)," geneticists using more than 650,000 single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNP) samples from the Human Genome Diversity Panel, found deep rooted lineages that could be distinguished in the Kalash. The results showed them not only to be distinct, but perfectly clustered within the Central/South Asian populations at (K = 7). The study also showed the Kalash to be a separated group, having no membership within European populations.
Kalash women usually wear long black robes, often embroidered with cowrie shells. For this reason, they are known in Chitral as "The Black Kafirs." Men have adopted the Pakistani shalwar kameez, while children wear small versions of adult clothing after the age of four.
In contrast to the surrounding Pakistani culture, the Kalash do not in general separate males and females or frown on contact between the sexes. However, menstruating girls and women are sent to live in the "bashaleni," the village menstrual building, during their periods, until they regain their "purity." They are also required to give birth in the bashaleni. There is also a ritual restoring "purity" to a woman after childbirth which must be performed before a woman can return to her husband. The husband is an active participant in this ritual.
Marriage by elopement is rather frequent, also involving women who are already married to another man. Indeed, wife-elopement is counted as one of the "great customs" (ghōna dastūr) together with the main festivals.
Girls are usually married at an early age. If a woman wants to change husbands, she will write a letter to her prospective husband offering herself in marriage and informing the would-be groom how much her current husband paid for her. This is because the new husband must pay double if he wants her. For example, if the current husband paid one cow for her, then the new husband must pay two cows to the original husband if he wants her.
Wife-elopement may lead in some rare cases to a quasi-feud between clans until peace is negotiated by mediators, in the form of the double bride-price paid by the new husband to the ex-husband.
Kalash culture and belief system differs drastically from the various ethnic groups surrounding them but is similar to that of the neighboring Nuristanis in northeast Afghanistan, before their enforced Islamization in the last decade of the nineteenth century. Kalash religion, mythology and ritual strongly resemble those of the Vedic Indo-Aryans and the pre-Zoroastrian Iranians. Kalash mythology and folklore has been compared to that of ancient Greece, but they are much closer to Indo-Iranian (Vedic and pre-Zoroastrian) traditions
There is a creator deity called Dezau (ḍezáw) whose name is derived from Indo-European dheig'h 'to form' (cf. Vedic dih, Kati Nuristani dez 'to create', CDIAL 14621); he is also called by the Persian term Khodai (Khodáy, Paydagaráw, Parwardigár, Malék). There are a number of other deities, semi-gods and spirits. The Kalash pantheon is thus one of the last living representatives of Indo-European religion, along with Hinduism and Zoroastrianism.
There is the prominent Indr or Varendr (Warín, Werín from *aparendra); the rainbow (indré~ CDIAL 1577) is called "Indra's bow" as in Vedic; "when it thunders, Indra plays Polo." Indra is attested both in Vedic and Avestan texts and goes back to Indo-Iranian deity Vṛtrahan the 'slayer of vṛtra' (resistance).
Indra appears in various form, such as Sajigor (Sajigōr), also called Shura Verin (Šúra Werín from *śūra *aparendra 'the hero, the unrivaled Indra'). Warén(dr-) or In Warīn is the mightiest and most dangerous god. The location of his shrine was assigned by bow shot, which recalls the Vedic Indra's Bunda bow. Another one of his forms is the recently popular Balumain (Baḷimaín). Riding on a horse, he comes to the Kalash valleys from the outside at winter solstice. Balumain is a culture hero who taught how to celebrate the Kalash winter festival (Chaumos). He is connected with Tsyam, the mythological homeland of the Kalash. Indra has a demon-like counterpart, Jeṣṭan (from *jyeṣṭha? 'the best'), who appears on earth as a dog; the gods (Devalog, Dewalók) are his enemies and throw stones at him, the shooting stars. 
In myth, Mahandeu had cheated Balumain from superiority, when all the gods had "slept together" (a euphemism) in the Shawalo meadow; therefore, he went to the mythical home of the Kalash in Tsiyam (tsíam), to come back next year like the Vedic Indra (Rigveda 10.86). If this had not happened, Balumain would have taught humans how to have sex as a sacred act. Instead, he could only teach them fertility songs used at the Chaumos ritual. He arrives from the west, the (Kati Kafir) Bashgal valley, in early December, before solstice, and leaves the day after. He was at first shunned by some people, who were annihilated. He was however, received by seven Devalog and they all went to several villages, such as Batrik village, where seven pure, young boys received him whom he took with him. Therefore, nowadays, one only sends men and older boys to receive him. Balumain is the typical culture hero. He told people about the sacred fire made from junipers, about the sowing ceremony for wheat that involved the blood of a small goat, and he asked for wheat tribute (hushak) for his horse. Finally, Balumain taught how to celebrate the winter festival. He was visible only during his first visit, now he is just felt to be present. 
Another god, Munjem Malik (munjem from *madhyama (middle); malék from Arabic malik (king)), is the Lord of Middle Earth and he killed—like the Vedic Indra—his father, a demon. Mahandeo (mahandéo, cf. the Nuristani Mon/Māndi, from *mahān deva), is the god of crops, and also the god of war and a negotiator with the highest deity.
Jestak (jéṣṭak, from *jyeṣṭhā, or *deṣṭrī?) is the goddess of domestic life, family and marriage. Her lodge is the women's house (Jeṣṭak Han).
Dezalik (ḍizálik), the sister of "Dezau" is the goddess of childbirth, the hearth and of life force; she protects children and women. She is similar to the Kafiri Nirmali (Indo-Iranian *nirmalikā). She is also responsible for the Bashaleni lodge.
There also is a general pattern of belief in mountain fairies, Suchi (súči, now often called Peri), who help in hunting and killing enemies, and the Varōti (Sanskrit Vātaputra), their violent male partners (echoing the Vedic Apsaras and Gandharvas). They live in the high mountains, such as Tirich Mir (Vedic Meru, *devameru: Shina díamer, CDIAL 6533), but in late autumn they descend to the mountain meadows.
The Jach (j.ac. from yakṣ (inī), are a separate category of female spirits of the soil or of special places, fields and mountain pastures.
The Kalash deities have shrines throughout the valleys, where they frequently receive goat sacrifices. In 1929, as Georg Morgenstierne testifies, such rituals were still carried out by Kalash priests known as "ištikavan" (from ištikhék 'to praise a god'). This institution has since disappeared but there still is the prominent one of shamans (dehar) The deities are temporary visitors. Kalash shrines (dūr 'house', cf. Vedic dúr) are wooden or stone altars with an effigy of a human head inside holes in these shrines. Horses, cows, goats and sheep were sacrificed. Wine is a sacred drink of Indr, who owns a vineyard that he defends against invaders. Kalash ritual is of potlatch type; by organizing rituals and festivals (up to 12; the highest called biramōr) one gains fame and status. As in the Veda, the former local artisan class was excluded from public religious functions.
However, there is a special role for prepubescent boys, who are treated with special awe, combining pre-sexual behavior and the purity of the high mountains, where they tend goats for the summer month. Purity is very much stressed and centered around altars, goat stables, the space between the hearth and the back wall of houses and in festival periods; the higher up in the valley, the more pure the location.
By contrast, women (especially during menstruation and giving birth), as well as death and decomposition and the outside (Muslim) world are impure, and, just as in the Vedas and Avesta, many cleansing ceremonies are required if impurity occurs.
Crows represent the ancestors, and are frequently fed with the left hand (also at tombs), just as in the Veda. The dead are buried above ground in ornamented wooden coffins. Wooden effigies are erected at the graves of wealthy or honored people.
The three main festivals (khawsáṅgaw) of the Kalash are the Joshi festival in late May, the Uchau in autumn, and the Caumus in midwinter. The pastoral god Sorizan protects the herds in Fall and Winter and is thanked at the winter festival, while Goshidai does so until the Pul festival (pũ. from *pūrṇa, full moon in September) and is thanked at the Joshi (joṣi, žōši) festival in spring.
Joshi is celebrated at the end of May each year. The first day of Joshi is "Milk Day," on which the Kalash offer libations of milk that have been saved for ten days prior to the festival.
The most important Kalash festival is the Chaumos, which is celebrated for two weeks at winter solstice (c. Dec. 7-22), at the beginning of the month chawmos mastruk. It marks the end of the year's fieldwork and harvest. It involves much music, dancing, and the sacrifice of many goats. It is dedicated to the god Balimain who is believed to visit from the mythical homeland of the Kalash, Tsyam (Tsiyam, tsíam), for the duration of the feast. Food sacrifices are offered at the clans' Jeshtak shrines, dedicated to the ancestors.
At Chaumos, impure and uninitiated persons are not admitted; they must be purified by a waving a fire brand over women and children and by a special fire ritual for men, involving a shaman waving juniper brands over the men. The 'old rules' of the gods (Devalog, dewalōk) are no longer in force, as is typical for year-end and carnival-like rituals. The main Chaumos ritual takes place at a Tok tree, a place called Indra's place, "indrunkot," or "indréyin." Indrunkot is sometimes believed to belong to Balumain's brother, In(dr), lord of cattle. Ancestors, impersonated by young boys (ōnjeṣṭa 'pure') are worshiped and offered bread; they hold onto each other and form a human chain (cf. the Vedic anvārambhaṇa) and snake through the village.
The men must be divided into two parties: the "pure" ones have to sing the well-honored songs of the past, but the "impure" sing wild, passionate, and obscene songs, with an altogether different rhythm. This is accompanied by a 'sex change': men dress as women, women as men (Balumain also is partly seen as female and can change between both forms at will).