“Pagan Christmas: Winter feast of the Kalasha of the Hindu Kush” and the true frontiers of ‘Greater Peristan’


  • Claus Peter Zoller Universitetet i Oslo, Institutt for kulturstudier og orientalske sprak




As can be seen, the title and subtitle of the book under review are part of the title of the following review article. A normal book review starts with some sentences describing what the book is about, followed by a discussion what the reviewer particularly likes about the book, and then followed by bringing up anything the reviewer dislikes about it. This is then rounded up with some general observations and appraisals. This strategy is also a broad guideline for the first third of the following text. However, the text also oversteps considerably the boundaries of a standard book review for the following reasons: Augusto Cacopardo defines his ‘Peristan’2 as a culturally quite coherent area extending through the high mountains from northwestern Afghanistan throughout the northern regions of Pakistan to the southwestern border of Tibet.3 The traditional cultures of this ‘Peristan’ have Indo-Iranian and even Indo-European roots, yet they are, in his opinion, remarkably little affected by the high civilizations of India and pre-Islamic Iran.4 However, it is important to understand that ‘Peristan’ has, on the one hand, indeed preserved archaisms not found elsewhere in South Asia, but due to strong influence of Islam it has also simultaneously lost, or preserved only sporadically, cultural traditions still authentically preserved e.g. in the Indian Himalayas. Cacopardo’s analysis of the Kalasha winter feasts has a strong historical-cultural dimension and he repeatedly refers to cultural parallels in the Himalayas (see section 7. ‘The Hindus of the Himalayas’, pp. 235ff.). His observations on these parallels – which are absolutely justified – nevertheless also caused me to trespass the boundaries of a book review and extend it considerably into a review article. Since the true frontiers of ‘Greater Peristan’ enclose in my view a significantly larger geographical area than envisaged by the Cacopardo Brothers,5 the following article presents also very many data not found or discussed in the publication under review. In order to keep a clear overview of this long review article, it has been divided into four main sections. However, ‘Section I’ only follows after the ‘Preliminary remarks’ and the ‘Opening’:




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