[Pictorial] Pathak Festival celebrated in Chitral

Gul Hammad Farooqi

CHITRAL:  Lutkoh valley, commonly known as Garam Chishma because of its hot springs famous for curing skin and blood related ailments, is bracing to celebrate the traditional religio-cultural spring festival of Pathak amid shivering cold. Pir Nasir Khisro 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 Lotkhuh he went on 40 days meditation (Chilla) to seek divine guidance to succeed in his mission. His prayer were answered and he attained enlightenment at the end of his fasting period and his disciples celebrates this spiritual attainment of their Pir (Spiritual guide) which happened to fall on first week of February the spring festival day in the Northern Hemisphere, including Chitral. Thus for the followers of Nsir e Khisro the day has double significance sanctity and make them doubly responsible to preserve the traditions accompanying it which they are doing.

For centuries this festival was celebrated by all of Chitralis as a national festival. During this week 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 is 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 Garajchishma during the festival to have a taste of their traditional food items, which are fast becoming part of history. Chitralis owe it to their history and identify as Chitralis to preserve their cultural heritage. Even Nasir Khisro preached Islam within this cultural milieu and his disciples continued it to this day and it would be unfortunately they lose it today. Without these expressions of culture Chitral would be much poorer. Tourism promoter’s organizations working to promote culture and tourism must join hands to protect and promote Chitralis dwindling cultural heritage and unique traditions before these become completely extinct.

Before celebrating Pathak festival Pathakeen (volunteer servants who called Manjawar of Pir Nasir Khisro shrine) visiting house to house and announced about date and procedure of Pathak festival. These Pathakeen can be compared with the santaclause on Christmas event. They guide the people about method and activities of Pathak local people offering them dry fruit, traditional food. An elder member of the house clean his house and then sparkle wheat flour in four corners of the room as well as outside of the door when he came inside he greeting in Persian Mubarak Bashid (congratulating to you) and people inside the room replied as Amina Bashid (you too felicitating ). Pathakeen (male members) collecting these donations in a bag and shift to shine. They are also being entertainment with traditional food consisting on cheese, Shushparaki (naturally sweet bread) shera shapik (bread mixing with cheese, curd and natural Ghee (oil).

A male person of the house who sparkle wheat flour in each corner of his house and out door when he came inside the room an other elder person put wheat flour on his shoulder to magnified him as hallowed (tabarruk).

The aged as well as the youngest one came out in a play ground and they playing Tug of war, Heem Pesidik (through ice ball at each other) Bokht Pesik in which a singe man stand in center and through a heavy stone with one hand and they declare they player as Pahlawan (winner) who success to through his stone at longest distance. After that they play Beermogh Pesik in which people target coin lying on the ground with Walnut and winner one get all the walnut.

On the eve of Pathak festival local people arrange a musical concert of cultural show in which they perform folk dance with a very traditional way wearing long  traditional Chitrali cloak (Chugha). Girls are swinging inside the house and enjoy during this festival while small boys demonstrate different jocks. An interesting scene of the festival is homo marriage in which two girls play role of bride and  bridegroom and they came in a procession to house. While local people carrying Bush (gift of goat, blanket  bedding mattress  etc) to their daughters who recently married. They also exchange gifts mostly consisting on traditional food. Besides it followers of Pir Nasir Khisro and local people visit his shrine (although there is no grave no dead body buried of Pir Nasir Khisro because has bee laid to rest at Badakhshan Afghanistan ) but at this place he offer pray when he completed his 40 days Chilla. There are some heavy stones having natural hole and people of the area concept that these finger prints of Pir Nasir Khisro and he was lighting candles in these holes. Women kiss doors of shrine and offering Dua.

People also carry their donations, charity consisting on traditional food to Langar (kitchen) of Pir Nasir Khisro shrine  which is again distributing among the passengers, strangers, poor, children as well as among the local people.

People  of Garamchishma (Overik etc) are facing great problems. There is no road, no hospital, no dispensary, no school no college no electricity and no gas. People traveling a snow bound narrow way having the altitude of 9000 from sea level. Local people suffering when they traveling at night time. In case of emergency they shift their patients on a cot carrying him on their shoulder and rush to hospital situated at a distance of some 8 kilometers. Water has been freeze and pipeline have been burst.  There is no electricity on government side and local micro hydro power station have been established by the local people on self help basis. A number of small girls, women, and aged persons complained that this is native town and constituency of provincial minister of KPK for population welfare Saleem Khan Chitral but he did nothing for these people and they are still deprived from communication network. Residents of this area still living of age period  and totally deprived from basic amenities and civic facilities.

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