The Kalash (Nuristani: Kasivo) or Kalasha, are indigenous people of the Hindu Kush mountain range, residing in the Chitral District of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwaprovince of Pakistan. They speak the Kalash language, from the Dardic family of the Indo-Iranian languages, and are considered a unique tribe among the Indo-Aryanpopulation.
According to the linguist Richard Strand, the people of Chitral apparently adopted the name of the former Kafiristan Kalasha, who at some unknown time extended their influence into Chitral. A reference for this assumption could be the names kâsv'o respectively kâsi'o, used by the neighboring Nuristani Kata and Kom for the Kalash of Chitral. From these the earlier name kâs'ivo (instead Kalasha) could be derived.
The Kalash are known as indigenous people of Chitral, and their ancestors migrated to Chitral fromAfghanistan in the 2nd century BC. It is thought the Kalash descendants migrated to Afghanistan from a distant place in South Asia, which the Kalash call “Tsiyam” in their folk songs and epics.
The Kalash were ruled by the Mehtar of Chitral from the 18th century onward. They have enjoyed a cordial relationship with the major ethnic group of Chitral, 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 neighbours in the region of former Kafiristan west of the border, were converted, on pain of death, to Islam by Amir Abdur-Rahmanof Afghanistan in the 1890s 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 Durand Agreement 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 has allowed them to continue their way of life. Their numbers remain stable at around 3,000. 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 (2001) 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 Mullahsand the visiting Tableghi Jammaites remain determined to 'purify' the Kafirs.