Museum for the people
The exhibits placed in the wooden Kalash Dur Museum aptly tell the history of Kalash
By Moeed ur Rehman
I have travelled a lot to the northern areas of Pakistan but still I never miss a chance to see the natural beauty of Chitral. On every visit I witness another change in the area, which forces me to write again.

Sher Shah Suri and the Grand Trunk Road
We love to recount how he built the road from Kabul to Calcutta. But this view is grossly wrong and needs to be corrected
By Salman Rashid
In a recent column in the lead page of this newspaper, Ayaz Amir wrote a pithy and excellent overview of our history. If we lesser mortals attempt to add to Ayaz's work, we can only produce a gaffe of the worst kind. In the letters section (27 September) a certain Dr Obaidullah, a plastic surgeon from Peshawar, has done just that. He has gone so grossly wrong that he needs to be corrected.

 

 

The exhibits placed in the wooden Kalash Dur Museum aptly tell the history of Kalash

 

By Moeed ur Rehman

I have travelled a lot to the northern areas of Pakistan but still I never miss a chance to see the natural beauty of Chitral. On every visit I witness another change in the area, which forces me to write again.

In the last leg of summer one of my friends Sara Khan, who works for an international NGO, wanted to show me a wooden museum near Kafiristan of Chital. She wanted to get some information regarding Kalash traditions for her forthcoming PhD thesis -- and who could resist such an offer.

We started our journey from Islamabad by air since journey by road was not declared safe. We boarded PIA's 40-minute long flight to Chitral at around 7:30 am. On arrival we had breakfast and soon after hired a jeep to reach the desired location. After about a 90-minute drive on a kacha road we reached Kalasha Dur (the house of Kalash people) near Bamorait valley of Kafiristan.

No doubt the place is a masterpiece of art and reflects the true picture of the lifestyle of almost 300-year-old Kalash civilisation which is losing its cultural identity gradually, due to rapid socio-economic changes worldwide. The museum supports about 3,500 Kalash who are one of the world's endangered minority communities.

According to a survey, the Kalash population decreased from 10,000 in 1951 to 3,700 in 1998, motivating conservation experts, development workers and anthropologists to work for the preservation and protection of the Kalash culture. At present, almost 3,500 Kalash are living in adjacent villages namely Bamborait, Batrik, Kalash Grom, Balaguru, Achilga, Aspara, Sheikhandeh and Karakalin. All the villages are inside the lush green fertile valleys.

Greeks who claim that the Kalash people are the decedents of Alexander the Great are taking special interest in the betterment of the community and the area. The wooden Kalash Dur museum, which is a part of Kalasha Dur Institution, mainly funded by the Greek government, is located on the road leading to Bamborait valley from Chitral which shares a 80 kilometre border with Afghanistan and the Central Asian states of Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Kirghizistan in the north and west, and to the east lies Gilgit, from where a traveller can reach China's Xingjian autonomous region along the legendary Karakoram Highway. Here different communities live together peacefully. The oldest of them all is Kalash who live in the outskirts of Chitral. The exhibits placed in the museum aptly tell the history of Kalash.

The construction of the Kalasha Dur museum started in 2002 and was completed in 2004. It is an earthquake-proof structure that meets Greek standards. The concrete skeleton of the building is covered with a traditional wall made of stones and parallel wooden beams. The verandas are carved in wood.

The architecture of Kalasha Dur borrows elements from the local architectural tradition -- the triangle pediment on the central roof is a symbol for the villagers of Hindu Kush; the "Kumbapur", the hole on the central roof is a sacred symbol for the Kalash tradition and a peculiar roof design for many villages of north Pakistan; the wooden carved veranda without the use of a nail; the double ram horn symbol carved on the capitals of the columns is a sacred symbol for the Kalash and a fertility symbol for many societies whose economy is based on sheep and goatherds; the 'shingchotr' means the 'goat home design' carved on veranda's 17 columns is a popular balcony design; the round solar designs, which decorate the verandas, are symbols of protection, health, and wealth and the geometrically carved design of the column body is the symbol of brotherhood; the mayiak, the stone shelves on the walls, are very useful in living quarters and in cattle houses.

Some 60 to 100 years old daily use items, wedding dresses, ornaments, bathroom items etc, collected from Kalash households, are exhibited in the museum. "These items are still in the daily use of Kalash people. The wooden dancing hall, seminar room, library and cultural racks are masterpieces," says Summer Rafiq, a local building expert.

The NWFP Department of Archaeology and Museum is also extending financial support to the employees working in the museum. Director Archaeology and Museum NWFP Saleh Mohammad Khan, was of the view that the NWFP government with the help of the local NGOs has plans to extend the museum. "We have also constructed another museum in Chitral near PTDC Motel with tourist information centre which will definitely serve the purpose of attracting the tourists who want to get information about the Kalash civilisation. The government also plans to build a museum in Peshawar," he says.

The NWFP government has now decided to boost the Kalash culture. Several steps like launching products, which they use in their daily life, like caps, dresses, ornaments and other items will be placed in the Chitral museum and also in the Peshawar museum. The funds generated will be spent on the betterment of Kalash.

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Sher Shah Suri and the Grand Trunk Road

We love to recount how he built the road from Kabul to Calcutta. But this view is grossly wrong and needs to be corrected

 

By Salman Rashid

In a recent column in the lead page of this newspaper, Ayaz Amir wrote a pithy and excellent overview of our history. If we lesser mortals attempt to add to Ayaz's work, we can only produce a gaffe of the worst kind. In the letters section (27 September) a certain Dr Obaidullah, a plastic surgeon from Peshawar, has done just that. He has gone so grossly wrong that he needs to be corrected.

The doctor tells us that Sher Shah Suri built the road from Kabul to Calcutta in five years. This is the great lie fed to us Pakistani Muslims since the advent of our country. Sher Shah, great king that he was, never built the Grand Trunk Road. Point: It had existed since prehistory. In our ignorance, we love to recount how the Suri king built way stations, inns, and kos minars to mark distances. Sometimes we also boast of the trees he ordered along the sides of the road. This only stems from a myopic view of history that begins with the advent of Muslim rule in our part of the world.

We first hear of the Rajpath -- The King's Highway -- from Megasthenes, the Greek ambassador representing the interests of Seleucus Nikator, erstwhile general in the army of Alexander and then Greek king of Syria, in the court of Chandragupta Maurya at Patliputra (Modern Patna). Megasthenes remained in India from the year 300 to 285 BCE and travelled widely across the land and most of what he wrote in his Indika comes from personal observation.

Megasthenes' work today exists only in fragments. However, when the geographer Strabo wrote about the beginning of the Common Era and the historian Arrian 40 years later, the original work was complete and both writers liberally used it as a source. It is from a reading of these three important works that we learn much of the India of the 4th century BCE -- things that we Muslims who all claim to have come either from Arabia or from Iran and Central Asia would only want kept hidden from common knowledge.

In the context of the King's Highway that extended from Bengal to Kabul -- the latter part of the Mauryan empire, we are told of a government department that was assigned entirely to the upkeep of this great highway. The duties of the staff included ensuring that the furniture along the highway was always in perfect fettle. The roadhouses, kos minars, and way stations were assiduously maintained in good order for travellers' ease and comfort.

When the highway was crossed by a minor road, signs told travellers where each road led and the distance to the nearest cities. In fact, the kos minar was not just a distance marker, it also pointed out by-roads and where they went. Planting of shade trees along the roadsides was a must-do.

The Grand Trunk Road or as we then called it the King's Highway or Rajpath, was a perfect highroad to travel on in the 4th century BCE India of Chandragupta, the Mauryan. That having been said, we must understand that the Mauryan king was not the one to lay down the road: it had existed long before him and may even have been equipped with all the furniture of which Megasthenes tells us. Whatever Chandragupta did, and as recorded by the Greek, is the first ever record of road works in India.

Eight hundred years after the thoughtful king Chandragupta we hear of the Guptas ordering extensive repair and up-gradation of the Rajpath. The inns were in ruins, the kos minars crumbling when they were ordered revamped.

In the next 1000 years, we hear of no governmental interest in the upkeep of the Rajpath. Then came Sher Shah Suri. He renovated the old way stations, inns and distance markers. Five hundred years after him we Pakistanis needed to glorify 'our' side, and we did it with shameless historical mendacity and a bit of stupidity as well. Surely, it is foolish to believe that Sher Shah could have built the entire road, all 5000 kilometres of it, in his five year-rule! Especially when he was beset with all the troubles around his short-lived empire.

And so the Rajpath, of which we first hear in a work written in the early 3rd century BCE, was squarely plonked in Sher Shah's lap as his Jarnaili Sarak.

 


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