When the great hero and general, Alexander, who was as great as the god Apollo and Zeus, left his troops here, he asked them to stay here in this land without changing their Hellenic beliefs and traditions, their Hellenic laws and culture until he returned from the battles in the East…”
This is a story that is told not in a village in Greece but on the the mountainsides of the great Hindu Kush. In this remote area of the northwestern region of Pakistan lives a peculiar tribe, the Kalash. The Kalash proclaim with pride that they are the direct descendents of Alexander the Great.
There are many similarities between them and the Hellenes of Alexander the Great’s time. Similarities such as religion, culture, and language reinforce their claims to Hellenic ancestry.
The Kalash are a polytheistic people, meaning that they believe in many gods. The gods that they believe in are the twelve gods of Ancient Greece which makes them the only people who continue this worship!
Gods such as Zeus, the god of gods, Apollo, the god of the sun, and Aphrodite, the goddess of beauty, are such gods that they pay homage to. Shrines which are found in every Kalash village remind us of the religious sanctuaries we would stumble across in Ancient Greece. They serve as houses of worship where prayers and sacrifices are offered. Oracles who played a major role in acting as mediators and spokespeople between the gods and the mortals still hold a position of importance in the social structure of the Kalash.
Every question or prayer towards the gods is usually followed by a sacrifice of an animal. It is reminiscent of the sacrifices the Hellenes gave to the gods to assure them a victory over the city of Troy.
Religions always possess certain traditions and rituals which are observed by their followers. The Kalash practice a ritual that is celebrated on August 6th. This feast day is named the Day of the Transfiguration. It is the day where the grapes are brought out to the god Dionysus to be blessed and to guarantee them of a plentiful crop.
This ritual can be traced back to Ancient Greece where it was practiced by the cult of Dionysus who paid their respect to the god of fertility and wine. An active member of the cult of Dionysus was Olympia, mother of Alexander the Great, who is said to have recruited many of her son’s soldiers and who in return practiced it throughout their expedition.
The Kalash also live a lifestyle that can be positively compared to that of the Ancient Greeks. Let us start with the observation of their homes. The Kalash are the only people in the East who make and use accessories such as chairs and stools that cannot be found anywhere else in the surrounding regions!
Their chairs are decorated with drawings such as the ram’s horns which symbolize the horns that decorated Alexander the Great’s helmet. Battle scenes depicting Greek soldiers are also observed. In the recent archaeological discoveries in Vergina, Greek archaeologists found the exact same replicas as the ones the Kalash use in their homes.
As we know, Pakistan is a nation ruled by Islamic law. Under the law of the
Koran alcohol consumption is prohibited. When we enter the region of the Kalash we encounter fields that are inhabited by grape vines. The Kalash are the only people who produce and consume wine and indulge themselves in feasts such as for the aforementioned feast of Dionysus. Greeks such as Socrates would participate in wine feasts such as we come across in the Symposium.
Their feasts are always followed by songs and dances. The Kalash dance in a cyclical motion and the men usually follow it by loud cries of i-a and i-o which can be traced back to the battle cries let loose by Alexander’s soldiers. There is a saying held by the Pakistanis who state that only the Greeks and the Kalash whistle in such a way.
In 1896 a British explorer by the name of George Robertson visited the Kalash and did a study on them. He concluded that fifty percent of the Kalash’s language derives from Ancient Greek. Such similarities can be found in their gods’ names. Zeus is called Zeo, Aphrodite is called Frodait, the name Dionysus has kept the same pronounciation.
The Kalash have words such as demos meaning city-state and use the word ‘ela’ as an imperative command meaning come here. There was recently a tablet found in a village of the Kalash whose message was in the form of hieroglyphics. When the code was deciphered the message read, ‘Alexander the Great lives forever’.
In this article we have observed similarities between people of the past, the ancient Greeks and people of the present, the Kalash. Through these similarities the Kalash have justified their claim as descendants of Alexander the Great.
Ancient Greece and the tales of Alexander the Great were once believed to exist only in history books. However as the article insists, these great legacies live on with the Kalash of the mountainous Hindu Kush.