George Scott Robertson.

The Káfirs of the Hindu-Kush; online

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any kind, and everything depends on oral tradition.

The Bashgul Kafirs, or at any rate the younger portion
of the community, are inclined to be somewhat sceptical.
They are superstitious, of course, but sacred ceremonies
are frequently burlesqued or scoflfed at when two or three
waggish young men get together. Gish is the really
popular god of the Bashgul youth. In their worship
of him there is great sincerity. A young Kafir once
asked me if we English did not prefer Gish to Imr;i (the
Creator), as he himself did, and many Kafirs have ex-
pressed their disappointment on learning that Franks
knew nothing of Gish.

The older people are devout in their respect for all the
gods, but Bashgul Kafirs seem ready to abandon their
religion at any time without much regret. They leave
it, as they return to it, chiefly from motives of material
advantage, and rarely appear to trouble themselves about
religious convictions. The purest form of the Kiifir reli-
gion is probably to be found in the Presungul. The Kara
told me that although the Bashgul Kafirs had no objec-
tion to my bringing fowls into their valley, the Prcsun-
gulis would never permit it in theirs. In Presungul
there is a distinct atmosphere of religion. Devil's vil-


lagcs abound, the old watercourses are currently believed
to have been built by gods or goddesses ; miraculous im-
prints of divine or demoniac hands are shown on rocks ;
there is an iron pillar which is said to have been placed
in its present position by Imra himself, and a sacred hole
in the ground, to look down w^hich is certain death to
any one. Large tracts of fertile lands lie undisturbed by
the plough, because they are consecrated to Imni. Most
important of all, the valley possesses a famous temple of
Imra, renowned throughout all Kafiristan. The Presuns,
unfortunately, speak a language which every one declared
that it is impossible for anybody to acquire unless he has
been actually born in the valley. For my part, no single
word used at any of their sacrifices remains in my memoiy.
To me the invocations and incantations were merely soft,
musical mewings. The Presuns were very friendly after
a short acquaintance, and looked upon me not only as a
very great man, but also as one who might be trusted ;
but the fatal language difficulty always prevented my
learning much from them.

In the Kafir theology there appears to be both a heaven
and a hell. It divides the universe into Urdesh, the world
above, the abode of the gods ; Michdesh, the earth ; and
Yurdesh, the nether world. Both the heaven and the
hell for mortals is in Yurdesh, which is reached through
a great pit, at the mouth of which a custodian named
Maramalik, specially created by Imni for the purpose, is
always seated. He permits no one in Yurdesh to return
to the upper world.

When a man dies, his soul or breath — the word shon
has both meanings — enters into one of the shadow forms
we see in dreams, which then becomes a J^9a?'^^V. Good



people appear to wander about as shades in a paradise in
Yurdesh called Bisht, while, as a common K:ifir phrase
goes, "Wicked sinners are always burning in fire" in
Zozuk (hell). Kafirs have no intense fear of death,
although they cannot understand suicide. The idea of a
man killing himself strikes them as inexplicable. They
are never melancholy. The gods are worshipped by
sacrifices, by dances, by singing hymns (Lalu Kunda),
and by uttering invocations (Namach Kunda). Fairies
and demons are propitiated by sacrifices. The only
phrase known to me which is comparable to our " pro-
fane swearing" is "Shut Imni di psahi " (May the curse
of God strike you).

The principal gods and goddesses are : —
















Saraiiji or'









Satardm or Sudaram.






Kriunai or





Besides gods and goddesses there are demons, the
chief of whom is Yush, and fairies innumerable. The
high-priest of the Kam instructed me as follows.

Imra is the creator of all things in heaven and cartli.
By the breath of his mouth he endowed with life his
" prophets " Moni, Gish, Satar;im, and the rest ; but
Dizane sprang into existence from his right breast.
Placing her in the palm of his hand, Imr;i threw her
violently upwards. She alighted in a hike, and was


there concealed and released in a manner to be described
presently. Of the inferior deities or " prophets," only
Bagisht was born after the manner of mortals, and not
created at once by Imni's breath. Besides creating the
godlings, Imra also created seven daughters, whose special
province it is to watch over the work of agriculture with
a protecting hand. As the time for sowing approaches,
goats are sacrificed in their honour, in order that crops
may be ample and the earth beneficent.

Imrd also created fairies and demons, but the latter
gave so much trouble to the world, that Moni, with the
divine permission, almost entirely exterminated them.
One terrible fiend, a devil of the worst type, on one
occasion was dancing before Moni. The prophet removed
a screw or plug from the demon's body surreptitiously.
He repeated the act until seven screws had been with-
drawn, when the body of the Evil One fell to pieces.
From the fragments of the body, seven in number, seven
fresh demons sprang to life, but Moni slew them all with
his sword.

The story of the birth of Bagisht was told as follows
by the Kam priest : —

"In a distant land, unknown to living men, a large
tree grew in the middle of a lake. The tree was so big,
that if any one had attempted to climb it, he would have
taken nine years to accomplish the feat ; while the spread
of its branches was so great that it would occupy eighteen
years to travel from one side of it to the other. Satard,m
became enamoured of the tree, and journeyed towards
it. On his near approach he was suddenly seized with
a mighty trembling, and the huge tree burst asunder,
disclosing the goddess Dizane in the centre of its trunk.


Sataram had, however, seen enough ; he turned round
and fled in consternation.

" Dizane began to milk goats (a question as to where
the goats were, in the water or on the tree, was thrust
aside with a wave of the hand). While she was en2;a2:ed
in this occupation, a devil observed her. lie had four
eyes, two in front and two behind. Rushing forward,
he seized Dizane, while she bent her head to her knees,
quaking with terror. The fiend tried to reassure her,
saying, 'It is for you I have come.' She afterwards
wandered into the Presungul, and stepping into the
swift-flowing river, gave birth to an infant, who at once,
unaided, stepped ashore, the turbulent waters becoming
quiet, and piling themselves up on either hand, to allow
the child to do so. The country people were astounded
at the prodigy. They hurried to the scene, and on the
river-bank found a little boy seated on a stone. The
child then started down the river by himself, leaving all
spectators bewildered. He had gone only a short dis-
tance when he met a man who asked him his name.
He replied, ' You know my name ; I do not' The stranger
then informed him that he was Bagisht, and that he
would always be known by that name thereafter,"

To understand the Kaflr idea of Imni the Creator,
some more stories must be told. Many of them are bald
and inconsequential ; others illustrate the fact that the
Kiifirs have endowed Imn'i with many of their own
special characteristics. Of the first kind the two follow-
ing stories will be sufficient, (a.) Once upon a time
Imra and the devil (Yush) rode a horse-race. Inir.i's
horse was made of gold, the devil's of iron. For some
time neither gained an advantage ; but Imra created


inuunieniblc rats, which burrowed into the ground and
made an immense number of holes, over which the devil's
horse stumbled and blundered, allowing Imra to win
easily, {h.) Imra once gave a book to the devil, and after
a time demanded it back again. The devil refused to
give it up, on the plausible ground that it had been given
to him and was his. Then Imra and he had a fight ; the
devil was killed, and the book recovered.

The following are better stories, (i.) Imrd and all the
prophets (the narrator of this story was a Persian-speak-
ing Kafir, who used the Persian word for prophet to
denote all the gods except Imni) were seated one day
at the mouth of the valley up which runs a road from
the Skorigul to the Presungul. The goddess Krumai,
in the shape of a goat, came over from Tirich Mir ^ and
went among them, but none recognised her except Imra,
who took an opportunity, when she was not looking, to
push her into the mountain-stream. Struggling out of
the water, Krumai ran diagonally up the steep rock,
leaving the marks still visible in a vein of mineral of a
colour different from the rest of the rock. When she
got to the top she began kicking down showers of stones
on to the gods below, to their great annoyance. Imra
told them that the goat was Krumai, and added that he
alone had been clever enough to discover that fact. On
hearing this they all adjured Krumai to behave better.
She thereupon assumed her proper shape, came down
amongst them, and subsequently entertained them all at

1 Tiricli Mir is a sacred mountain. At Badawan (Ahmad Diwami) there
is a small square erection in the usual Kafir style, like the j^edestal of an
effigy. This is surmounted by what is said to be a model of Tirich Mir.
Before this curious shrine goats are sacrificed to the gods and fairies suj:)-
posed to live on the mountain.


a sumptuous banquet which she brought from Tirich Mir
and served on silver dishes.

(2.) Imni one day sat himself on the rocky spur at the
junction of the Kti and Presun rivers. He was engaged
in making butter in a golden goat-skin churn. From the
skin three women emerged, who went and populated
different countries. Imni then added water, and a fourth
woman was created, who settled in Presungul.

(3.) Once Imni took the sun and the moon from the
heavens and the world became buried in darkness. Every-
body died except one man, who prayed to God for a little
light. Moved by pity, Imni gave the man a bit of the
sun and a bit of the moon, which he fastened on each
side of him, and then, mounting his horse, rode away.
Wherever he went there was just sufficient light for him
to guide his horse, xlfter a time he reached Presungul,
when Imra appeared in front of him. "Hullo," said the
man, "who are you?" "I am Imni," was the reply.
The horseman was speechless with awe and astonishment.
"Let us perform the ceremony of friendship," suggested
Imni, but the man pointed out that he had not a goat.
"Never mind that," replied Imni, "I will soon fetch
one." Saying which he stepped over to the mountains
by the Zidig Pass, and returned with a fine goat. " But,"
objected the man, " where is the knife to sacrifice it
with ? " He had no sooner uttered these words than
the goat began to dig u}) the ground vigorously with its
forefeet, shaking its body all the time as a wet dog does.
At the bottom of the shallow hole made by the goat a
knife was revealed. Imni seized it, and he and the man
went through the ceremony of swearing brotherhood.
When it was over Imni said, " Now what are you going


to give iTio?" "1 have nothing," replied the man;
"what can I give?" "You have your horse," persisted
Imra, "give me that." " But I shall have nothing to go
about on," protested the man ; " no, I cannot give yon
my horse." Thereupon Imra summoned an angel, who
quietly stole the man's horse and led it away. As it
was being Ctirried off the horse cried out, " I have a
sword in my ear ; pull it out and kill all your enemies."
Imni drew the sword out of the horse's ear, and used
it against his enemies. He subsequently replaced the
sun and the moon in the sky, and light was restored to
the earth.

(4.) A good story was told me about the sacred tree,
whose branches were seven families of brothers, each
seven in number, while the trunk was Dizane and the
roots Nirmali ; but the record of this story w-as lost in a
mountain torrent.

(5.) After Imra created the world, Baba Adam and his
wife were in Kashmir. They and their forty children
were on one occasion sleeping in pairs, and when they
awoke no single pair understood the language of another
])air. They were then ordered by Imna to march off in
couples and populate the world. They went most un-
willingly, declaring that Kashmir was good enough for
them ; but of course Imra's orders had to be obeyed.

(6.) The reason why iron is found in some countries
is that Imra, some time or other, cast a devil made of
iron into each of those countries. This was told me in
the course of conversation, and my companion, Karlah
Jannah, was astonished that I had never seen a certain
iron bridge in Kashmir which he averred was made out
of the body of a devil.


(7.) Once Imra and all the godlings were seated on a
hilltop, while in front of them were a golden bed and
a golden stool. "These belong to me," observed Imra.
" Not at all," cried the others, "they belong to us all in
common." " Very well," rejoined Imni, " we will soon
see who has the power to use them to the exclusion of
everybody else." With that remark, he sat himself on
the beautiful bed. All the other gods looked confounded,
no one venturing to say anything.

(8.) On a second occasion, Imra took the sun and the
moon from the sky, and fastening them one on each side
of him, rode into the centre of the mountains behind
Kstigigrom in Presungul, where he went to sleep. But
he had been watched by seven devils, who finding him
fast asleep, carried away the horse and fastened it in a
house. Of course all this time the world was in darkness,
and the gods were blundering about on the road, falling
and hurting themselves. "What shall we do?" they
cried in despair. Presently one of them (I forget which)
fancied he perceived a track of light. This was really
the path taken by the horse. Following it up, the god
came to the house where the horse was confined, and
through a crack in the door saw what had happened. He
went back at once and told his brother gods. They all
went in a body, broke down the door, and liberated the
horse. While they were leading him out, the horse
observed that he had a sword in his ear which should be
pulled out, and that with it the devils ought to be put to
death. The gods at once obeyed this injunction. After-
wards the sun and the moon were restored to tlie lieavens,
and the world was again illuminated.

(9.) The following story seems to show that otiicr gods


besides Inirii are possessed of creative powers to some
extent. Inthr made Badawan (Ahmad Diwana) his
resting-place, and there created vineyards and pleasant
places, but Imni suddenly declared the place was his.
Intlir refused to give way, and a severe fight ensued, in
which he was worsted, and was compelled to retreat
down the valley a short space, when he created the hill
south of Badiiwan, and also the Skorigul ^^alley. But
Imra again attacked him and once more drove him away,
so that he was compelled to abandon the Bashgul Valley
altogether, and fly for refuge to the Tsarogul.

(lo.) But Imra often helps his people. Once upon a
time there was an enormous snake which inhabited the
Minjan end of the Bashgul Valley. He used to lie in
wait for travellers on the top of certain high rocks still
pointed out, as are also the tracks by which he used to
descend and eat up the unlucky strangers. The tracks
indicated are some light quartz veins which show dis-
tinctly against the darker ground of the rocks. Imra,
pitying the people, sent a messenger to the snake order-
ing him to desist from the evil practices, but the snake not
only paid no attention to Imra's remonstrances, but ate up
the messenger who conveyed them. Then Imni came him-
self, and slew the snake by cutting off its head. The
large tarn above Badawan was formed from the blood
which flowed from the snake's head. The very spot
-wherie the fabulous reptile was killed was shown me by a

Imni is sacrificed to very frequently, sometimes from
motives of simple and general piety, especially by the
older and more thoughtful members of the community ;
sometimes for particular reasons, such as recovery from


sickness, thanksgiving for seasonable weather, and for
other material benefits. At the religious dances he is not
more honoured than many of the other gods and god-
desses. He receives three rounds, but there is none of
the enthusiasm which is infused into the dances for Gish,
or the light-heartedness which accompanies the comical
steps and posturings in honour of Krumai. Possibly in
former times Imni the Creator was chiefly worshipped,
but at the present time Gish is certainly the popular
deity in the Bashgul Valley, while Imni probably retains
his proper ascendency in the Presungul, and in some
other places. Cows are commonly sacrificed to Imra
everywhere in Kafiristan.

Imra s temples are in every village, and are also met
with far away from any dwelling-houses. They some-
times contain a wooden idol, sometimes merely a block
of stone. In Kamdesh there are two principal places
where sacrifices are made to Imra. One is a little temple
at the top of the spur on which the village is built, the
other is a simple stone some 3 feet by i foot by i foot,
which is placed on end under a mulberry tree 400 feet
lower down the slope, close by a very sacred pool. The
stone is blackened with the blood of countless sacrifices,
while the shrine above the village is comparatively rarely

The chief temple to Imra is at Presungul, at Kstigi-
grom, which is undoubtedly the most sacred village in
the whole of Kafiristan. The temple itself is an impos-
ing structure, elaborately ornamented. It is between
50 and 60 feet square, and about 20 feet high. On its
east side it has a square portico which covers as much
space as the temple itself, and is supported on carved


wooden pillars, forming a kind of rough colonnade. The
portico is open to the east and south, but is boarded up
on tlie north side. Its height is a few feet below that
of the temple, and when I saw it the roof was in a
dangerous state of disrepair. The carving of the pillars
is supposed to be very fine. They are all fashioned after
one of three designs. A favourite one is to have a row
of rams' heads, one on each side of the column, extending
from the top to the base. Another popular design is to
carve at the foot of the pillar an animal's head, from
which the horns are made to extend the entire height
of the pillar, crossing and re-crossing each other at
intervals, and ending above in points, between which a
grotesque face appears with hands grasping each horn
a few inches from the top. The third variety is of the
common basket pattern. Under this portico many sacri-
fices are made. A large ofFal heap to the south showed
that the offerings were cattle. There is a sacrificing
stone in the colonnade, and near it one or two niches
for idols. The east side of the temple, on to which the
portico is built, has seven famous doors of large size, and
above each another smaller door. Of the seven large
doors five cannot be opened ; they are securely fastened
up. The other two, at the south end of the east front,
are thrown open on solemn occasions, when the people
are allowed to enter and view the holy place. On these
two doors, and in a line with them on the dummy doors
and in an intervening space, are eight huge wooden
figures of Imra. The effigies are hewn out of the wood,
and stand in relief against the great planks which con-
stitute the greater part of the front or east wall of the
temple. The figures are probably seven feet high, and


represent Imra seated and working a goat-skin l)iittcr
churn. The face of each is prodigious. The square-cut
chin reaches within a hand's-breadtli of the goat-skin
on the god's knees. The brows and nose are, in the
majority of the figures, scored with lines, wliilc those on
the two practicable doors have rough iron bells suspended
between the eyes. The goat-skin churns are represented
as carved all over. Above the faces of the images a large
circular head-dress appears, with a horizontal line of
carving across the middle, and vertical cuttings running
upwards and downwards from it. Between several of
the figures there are vertical rows of what appear to be
intended for cows' or rams' heads. From one of these
rows the heads can be drawn out of their sockets, and
the glories of the interior be partially disclosed. Above
the big images is a board ornamented with small figures
and horns. On the outer side of the temple, to the
north, are five colossal wooden figures which help to
support the roof. On the south side the ornamenta-
tion is almost entirely confined to the upper part of the
wall, which consists of a series of carved panels. On
the west there is little or no attempt at ornament of
any kind.

I was only permitted to view the interior through the
peep-holes already referred to, which afforded me merely
a tantalising glimpse. In the centre of the fioor there
is a square fireplace, from the four corners of which
pillars extend to the roof of the building. On each of
these pillars more than one subject had been carefully
cut. For instance, on one of them were two huge faces.
Facing the entrance there was in the middle of the west
wall a structure which looked like an altar. It was built


of clay and provided with a wooden shelf. Above this,
on the wall, was something which at first sight looked
like a square cloth of a chequered pattern, but which
I eventually satisfied myself was a design painted in
squares. On the same wall, to the south, were other
similarly designed but differently shaped paintings, and
drawino-s of animals done in the usual Kafir conventional
stvle. I could just see a portion of the top of an idol
of Imra occupying the north-east corner of the temple.
Projecting from the top of the temple and corresponding
with this spot, there was a small wedge-shaped wooden
structure which looked like a canopy over the idol. As
far as could be seen, the walls of the temple were adorned
all round with carved hats of an irregular half-spherical
shape, stuck on the ends of poles. The whole temple
must have occupied a great deal of time and labour for
the Presuns to complete, so simple are they and so rude
are their tools. It is regarded by them and by all other
Kafirs as a stupendous monument to the glory of Imni.

Close to the south wall of the temple, outside, is a
small square wood and stone erection about four feet
high and of the usual construction, with poles sur-
mounted by rams' heads at each corner. Upon it are
certain stones, believed by the Kafirs to bear the
impressions of Imra's hand in the shape of sacred
writing. These supposed writings consist merely of a
curious arrangement of a dark lustrous mineral in a
greyish-blue stone. The stones themselves are smooth
and water-worn, and the dark lustrous flaws are like
the wavy Vs which children use for depicting birds.
People in bad health often sacrifice to these stones witii
the very best results.


A short distance from the temple, in sliort thick grass
near the river, is the famous hole. All that is to be
seen is a patch of jungle-grass, limited in extent, and
easily overlooked. The village Utah, or priest, particu-
larly requested me not to approach the spot ; he appeared
gratified at my reply, that as a guest of the tribe, I
would not think of doing so. The place had already
been examined by Afghan raiders, brought into the
country by the Wai tribe, and the priests possibly
thought that if other people went away unharmed after
seeing the sacred hole, their fables might be exposed.
The sceptical Afghans, it was admitted, did not suffer
in any way, so the revised legend about the hole now
is, that any Kafir looking down it dies at once, and
that Christians are also Kafirs. The old story was that

Online LibraryGeorge Scott RobertsonThe Káfirs of the Hindu-Kush; → online text (page 23 of 38)