Fri. Oct 30th, 2020

Folk legends of Chipursan valley

Zulfiqar Ali Kalhoro (The Friday Times)

Gojal valley, also known as upper Hunza, has a rich tradition of folklore, which includes myths, legends, ballads, folktales, riddles, proverbs and superstitions. These still dominate the social life of people and are one of the principle forms of entertainment and education for Gojal’s inhabitants.

Animism was widespread among the inhabitants of Chipursan valley

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Ispenj villageIspenj village
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Chiparsun, a captivating valley in Gojal tehsil, has a rich tradition of folklore. Storytellers narrate many folk tales and myths in a rhythmic manner to amuse both the audience and themselves. Myths about the destruction of the village and the killing of a nine-headed dragon still dominate the daily discourse of the inhabitants of Chipursan.

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Two Wakhi shephards near the shrine
Two Wakhi shephards near the shrine
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Yishkook peak and glacier that destroyed the village near ShitmirgYishkook peak and glacier that destroyed the village near Shitmirg
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Almost every adult man and women knows about these stories and transmits them in one form or another to the next generation. Legend has it that some five hundred years ago, Chipursan was thickly populated. People were wealthy and subsisted on both agriculture and livestock. The weather was not as severe as it is today. People used to grow wheat. They were non-Muslims and animism, a form of primitive religion, was widespread among the inhabitants of Chipursan valley.

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The destroyed village near Shitmirg - Gojal
The destroyed village near Shitmirg – Gojal
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The shrine of Baba GhundiThe shrine of Baba Ghundi
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One saint by the name of Baba Ghundi came from Ghund in Afghanistan to preach Islam among the inhabitants of Chipursan. He was a muballighs (missionary) of the Shia order. He tried to preach the Shia faith among the inhabitants of Chipursan. There was a large settlement near the present-day village of Shitmirg where Baba Ghundi came to preach. There were about 300 households in the village. Some inhabitants of the Chipursan believed that it was not Baba Ghundi but Shah Shams who visited the village. Whoever he was, he tried to preach Islam among the inhabitants of that village. The inhabitants of that village did not listen to him. He was not given even a glass of water or milk to drink. Instead he was driven out by the people of the settlement.

Whenever the nine-headed dragon was hungry, it would eat a person from the village

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Only one old woman showed mercy for him and served him some milk. He got very angry when no one, except the old woman, entertained him. Now the saint (either Baba Ghundi or Shah Shams) asked the old lady to collect her belongings and leave the village as fast as she could. The old lady gathered her belongings and went out of the village. As she left the village, all of a sudden, torrential rain lashed the village and inundated the river. The old lady saw that the saint was flying over the rushing waters of the flood. She had forgotten to take her garbal (object used for cleaning wheat). When she saw him flying over the floodwater, she requested him to bring her garbal which he brought to her. Then the flood rushed down, causing the present moraine. The entire village was destroyed, save a strip of cultivation that belonged to the old woman. That strip of cultivation – the household of the old woman – survived and is now locally called Kampir Dayor (village of old women).

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The pasture of Baba Ghundi
The pasture of Baba Ghundi
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Rashit village on the way to Baba GhundiRashit village on the way to Baba Ghundi
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The small mounds resulting from the flood can still be seen near the village of Shitmirg. They seem to have been destroyed by the Yishkok glacier which might have inundated river causing the present moraine. However, the local inhabitants link the destruction to the curse by Baba Ghundi or Shah Shams on the people of that village.

Apart from this narrative, there is another story which occupies a significant place in the folklore of Chipursan. This story is about the killing of a nine-headed dragon by Baba Ghundi. Legend has it that beyond Yishkook, near present-day Ziarat, there was a lake in which a dragon lived. Whenever the nine-headed dragon was hungry, it would eat a person from the village, which lay close to the lake or Yishkok. Either a man or woman was offered to the dragon whenever their turn was imminent. One day a saint was passing by a lake. He saw there a young man standing by the lakeside and seemed to be frightened. The saint or Baba Ghundi went to ask him. The young man told him the whole story about how they offered themselves to the nine-head dragon. The saint asked the boy to stay there and gesture to him when the dragon next appeared. So the next time the dragon came, the young man gestured for the saint, who attacked the dragon with a sword and tore it to pieces. When this news reached the village, the people were elated and arranged celebrations which included some obscene activities. This made the saint angry and he cursed them to destruction.

The saint instructed the old lady to collect her belongings and leave the village as fast as she could

The remains of that lake and the bones of the dragon can be seen on the way to the Ziarat of Baba Ghundi. Every local person if he is traveling with you to Ziarat invariably points to the lake and talks about the many miracles of Baba Ghundi, including that of killing the nine-headed dragon.

It is difficult to know which tribe inhabited when Baba Ghundi was performing his miracles. The Wakhis who now inhabit the valley of Chipursan are immigrants from Afghan Wakhan some three centuries back.

The oral history of the floods is still preserved in the minds of the people of Chipursan. Apart from the flood that destroyed the village near Shitmirg, the valley also experienced a huge flood during the reign of Mir Silum Khan (1784-1824) which was believed to have swept away many villages.

The writer is Research Anthropologist at PIDE, Islamabad. He may be contacted at zulfi04@hotmail.com

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