Although Christmas has some resemblance with the word Chitramas, but the latter is celebrated in a very remote area of the world in the Chitral Valley of Pakistan. Chitramas or Chaumos is the winter festival of the Kafir Kalash people living in three valleys of Bumburate, Birir and Rumbur in the Chitral. The festival is presently being celebrated by these people of unknown origin, which will terminate on 22 December. Chitramas festival is considered the most important festivals of Kalash people from their spiritual point of view.
The Chitramas festivities are held to mark the end of the previous year’s harvest and fieldwork. Thereafter, the month of Chawmos Mastruk of the New Year dawns. The festival thus is a sort of saying goodbye to the previous year and welcoming the new year. The festivities include dancing, lively music and sacrificing goats. The Kalash slaughter their goats, mostly one goat per adult man or woman, on the concluding day of the festival. The festival also gains importance for the reason that the Kalash believe that god Balimain visits its subjects during the festival. Besides the many festivities, food sacrifices are offered at the clans' Jeshtak shrines, dedicated to the ancestors.
However, some men and women volunteer to seclude themselves from the others and remain confined in a cattle house for the duration of the weeklong festival. This tradition of seclusion is called Autik, which simply means “to get secluded.” These people eat the meat of the slaughtered goats, drink and pass time in merrymaking. While these people are celebrating in seclusion, care is taken that no outsiders sees them, lest they get polluted.
The Kalash children go up to the mountain, where they divide into boys and girls, and respectively make a big bonfire. After singing songs for some time the fire will be extinguished and then the two groups will compete with each other for the size of the smoke that rises up in the air. Then they all go down the mountain and return to the village singing " songs of Sarazari" carrying branches cut down from the mountain top. The elders will be waiting chanting songs in the village.
The festivities don’t get mar by the heavy snowfall at this time of the year in the Chitral valley. However, in case the sun shines, it adds colours and joy to the Kalash people. If you happen to be visiting Pakistan next year, do plan to visit Chitral and join the Kalash people in their festival of Chitramas – which at least by its name won’t let you feel missing the Christmas celebrations.
Related Reading: The Kalash Valley – where fairies dance and sing (Pakistanpaedia)