Did you know that ancient beliefs are shared between various Dardic people like the Kalash, Kho, and Shina? The religiosity of the region, and ancient beliefs in the Hindukush stretch as far as the Himalayas to the East, and Pamirs to the North.
The Kalash, particularly those in the western valleys of Chitral, have preserved their pre-Islamic religion and rituals, influenced strongly by the practices of their Nuristani neighbours. This intermingling has given rise to a unique blend of religious traits that unites both regions, despite linguistic differences.
Shamans, known as Pshur in Nuristani and Dehar in Kalash, play a prominent role. Their rituals involve the use of circular drums, and psychopharmaca, like wine and rhubarb, and a pattern of sacrifice, echoing practices dating back to ancient times. The earliest evidence of goat sacrifice in Shamanic rituals was first seen down South of the Hindukush, in the civilisations of the Sulaiman Ranges, near Quetta, in Mehrgarh, 6500 BCE.
The Nuristani and Kalash hold a shared belief in mountain fairies, known by the Persian name Peri or Apsaras in the Rajatarangiṇi. Fairies are often associated with specific mountains, such as the towering Tirich Mir, reminiscent of mythical peaks like Meru and Sumeru.
In late autumn, the Peris are believed to descend to high mountain meadows, a testament to the enduring connection between the divine and the natural world. The Jach spirits, are feminine entities associated with the soil and mountain meadows. This shares a contrast with the Jashtan, pixies in Chitrali and Kashmiri mythology which migrate South during winter.
The religions of the Hindukush occupy a unique space, bridging the gaps between the ancient Indo-Iranian, Bactria-Margiana Archaeological Complex, and Vedic traditions. The ancient Gods and Goddesses in the Heart of the Hindukush are a testament to this claim.
Heaven, in Nuristani mythology, is a realm comprised of seven round disks, a reflection of the South Asian influence, possibly rooted in Near Eastern origins. This numerical significance aligns with the broader Himalayan tradition, emphasizing the importance of seven in cosmic symbolism. In Nepal, the number varies between seven to nine. Muslim belief also dictates that there are seven heavens.
At the heart of Nuristani beliefs stands Imra, a Creator God known by various names such as Yama Rajan, Mara, Dezau, or Paidagarau. Imra, often associated with the lordship of the netherworld and heaven, deviates from the traditional concept of Father Heaven. This deity shares characteristics with Indra, taking on the role of a creator of humans, uniquely crafting them from mud.
Akin to the to the Kafiri Nirmali, Dezalik is the Nuristani Goddess of Birth. She safeguards the sacred process of birth, protecting both children and women in labour. Jestak is the Goddess of the home and the hearth, with a similar role.
Varendr, often called Indr, embodies the divine force associated with thunder, lightning, and the rainbow.
Balumain, a daring and always successful killer, reflects a heroic character and has become a popular culture hero.
The mighty and dangerous Warīn, boasts a shrine location determined by bow shot, echoing the mythic Bunda bow of Indra.
Munjem, the Lord of Middle Earth, slayed his demon father in a myth echoing the legends of Purusa, Ymir and Pangu.
Mahandeu and Mon, or Mandi are War Gods. Mon, or Mandi, appears as a golden Zebu bull, and collects clouds, resonating with the imagery of Tistriia in opposition to the demon of drought, Apaoaa.
In Nuristani mythology, the counterpart to Indra is Jestan, seen on earth as a dog. Gods, known as Devalog, oppose him, casting stones that manifest as shooting stars. It is a lot like the idea of Ahura Mazda and Angra Mainyu in Zoroastrian tradition.