A World In-between
The Pre-Islamic Cultures of the Hindu Kush
The vast mountain area stretching east of the Panjshir valley in Afghanistan to the borders of Kashmir was, in pre-Islamic times, a homogenous culture area nested between the Iranian and the Indian worlds. Its inhabitants – speakers of a variety of Indo-European languages belonging mainly to the North-West-Indo-Aryan (or Dardic) and Nuristani groups – practiced related forms of polytheism differing in many traits but clearly united by a basic pastoral ideology encompassing all aspects of human life as well as the environment itself. The advance of Islam into the mountains, starting from the sixteenth century, gradually brought about the conversion of the whole area by the end of the nineteenth, with the sole exception of the Kalasha of Chitral who still practice their ancient religion to this day. Scholars who studied the area with a comparative approach focused mainly on the cultural traits connecting these cultures to India and especially to the Vedic world. Limited attention has been given to possible Iranian connections. The present article, on the basis of a recent in-depth investigation of the Kalasha ritual system, extends the comparison to other components and aspects of the Indian world, while providing at the same time some new data suggesting ancient Iranian influences.