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18 July 2019

There is no mountain bigger than Khusraw: Ismailis in Chitral Celebrate Phatak Festival

G.H.Farooqui/Chitral/2016

CHITRAL : Ismaili Muslim community of Garam Chashma in Chitral commemorated Pathak festival, to remember Ismaili Dai (Scholar) Syedna Pir Nasir Khusraw

According to the traditions of Ismaili Muslims, Pathak marks the successful conclusion of Pir Nasir Khusraw’s famous solitary meditation without food for 40 days. Chila is derived from the persian word Chehl which means 40.  In this practice a mendicant remains seated in solitary cell called Chila-Khana for 40 days showing total dedication to God and seek higher spiritual will power.

Khusraw was a Fatimid era Ismaili mystic, poet and philosopher who was the first to preach Islam in Central Asia and Badakhshan in Afghanistan and Wakhan Corridor. Born in 1004, Khusraw wrote a number of books of poetry, but most notable was his travelogue Safarnama, written during seven years of travel across the Islamic world and arguably the most authoritative account of 11th century life in the Muslim Empire.

Later, while in Khorasan, Iran, he encountered the wrath of hard-line clerics. He then retired in Badakhshan, now spread across Tajikistan, Afghanistan and Pakistan, where he continued to preach and helped spread Islam across this part of Central Asia.

Alice Hunsberger, a researcher and author of a book on Khusraw, wrote of the esteem he is held in, “When Tajikistan was a Soviet republic, an officer from Moscow familiar with Ismaili history asked his guide, there is Mount Lenin, Mount Communism, and Mount Fifth of May, aren’t you upset that there is no Mount Nasir Khusraw?” To which his host replied, “There is no mountain high enough.”

Pathak used to be celebrated as a cultural event by all local communities regardless of their sectarian affiliation. Sectarian divide since 1980 -- due to Pakistan's Zia Ul Haq's infamous politicies -- made the festival exclusive to Ismailies.  

On Pathak, Chitralis buy new clothes and cook specialty dishes like Shoshparaki (dessert) and Ishperi (cheese).Traditional sports like Shimeni Zhingkek (tug of war), Bhortt Pissik (Stone Throw) and Chookubiz (Swings) are played, though they have taken a back seat to ceremonial aspects.

A function was also held at Aga Khan Local Council office where speakers paid rich tribute to Peer Nasir Khisrow and highlighted different aspects of his life who was a greater researcher, poet, administrator, religious clerk and preacher of Islam.  The festival was kicked by burning (lightning) lamp with original cooking oil (Deesi ghee) with recitation from the Holy Quran, Hadiths and poetry of Peer Nasir Khisro at a a Shrine.

Gull Hamad Farooqui has contributed to this story from Chitral
Photo Credits: 
G.H.Farooqui