Chitral— Lotkuh valley of Chitral, commonly known as Garam Chasma because of its hot sulphuric water famous for curing skin and blood related ailments is bracing to celebrate its traditional spring festival on February 1, 2012 amid shivering cold. In China and its surround
ing areas the festival has already began while in South Asia the festivities of basant, as it is called, will start on 1st February.
Syedna Nasir e Khisraw, an 11th century mystic in the service of Fatimid Caliphs came here from Central Asia via Durah Pass to preach Islam, thus making Lotkuh valley the gate way of Islam. In Lotkuh he went on 40 days meditation (Chilla) to seek divine guidance to succeed in his mission. His prayers were answered and he attained enlightenment at the end of his fasting period and his disciples celebrated this spiritual attainment of their Pir (spiritual guide) which happened to fall on February 1st, the spring festival day in the Northern Hemisphere, including Chitral. Thus for the followers of Nasir e Khisraw the day has double significance/sanctity and makes them doubly responsible to preserve the traditions accompanying it, which they are doing.
For centuries this festival was celebrated by all the Chitralis as a national festival. On this day people used to prepare, share and eat especially prepared traditional food, put on new cloths and visit friends and relatives for greeting. Cheese and bread sweetened with sweetener flour without using sugar are its specialties. Traditional winter sports are played by girls and boys alike in separate enclosures. Unfortunately the rise of sectarianism and political Islam has left this festival to Ismaili Shias alone to celebrate and as a result much of its unique aspects, including that of social integration, are slowly disappearing and only some rituals are left, like house cleaning, white washing homes with specially prepared white wheat flour and preparing/sharing traditional food items. People from all over Chitral still visit Garam Chashma on this day to have a taste of their traditional food items, which are fast becoming part of history.
Chitralis owe it to their history and identity as Chitralis to preserve their cultural heritage. Even Nasir e Khisraw preached Islam within this cultural milieu and his disciples continued it to this day and it would be unfortunate if they lose it today. Without these expressions of culture Chitral would be much poorer. CAMAT and other organizations working to promote culture and tourism must join hands to protect and promote Chitral’s dwindling cultural heritage and unique traditions before these become completely extinct. — Islamuddin Islam, Chitral 31 Jan 2012