The Folk-Lore Journal/Volume 1/Folk-lore from Peshawur


THE Peshawur Valley is a fertile plain through which flows the Kabul river, and which extends from the River Indus on the east to the Khyber Pass and the Afridi Hills on the west. It is bounded on the north by the mountains of the independent territory of Swát, and on the south by the Kattak Hills. The bulk of the inhabitants are Pathán Mussulmans, a brave, sturdy, but bigoted race, the descendants of one Yusuf, who is said to have come originally from Kandahar. There was a time, however, when this valley, and not only this valley but all the neighbouring territory as far west as Kabul, was part of the empire of Hindostan, and when the inhabitants were not Mohammadans but followers of Buddha, whose viharas and temples covered the land. This fact should perhaps be borne in mind in treating of the singular customs and superstitions, and the abundance of traditional folk-lore which richly survive, in spite of philosophical Mohammadanism, throughout this most interesting district.

It has been a source of considerable pleasure to me, during the six years of my residence in the Peshawur Valley, to note down from time to time some of the most curious superstitions to which the people are still attached, and I now propose to record my impressions in a series of short papers.

I.—Customs in Times of Drought.

One of the greatest wants, and, therefore, one of the most valued blessings of this part of the world, is rain. Droughts are of frequent occurrence, especially in the dry hot months of summer, when the rays of the sun are so intensely severe that both men and cattle frequently perish from the effects of the heat alone. In vain sighs the farmer for the coveted rain, which is to save his barley or his wheat, or to nourish his growing crops of Indian corn. And it is not surprising to find that his simple mind, penetrated as it is with a belief sturdy and strong in the existence of malign supernatural influences for ever thwarting and marring the beneficent arrangements of Providence, should address its appeals to the God of all Good, or to spirits of evil, by means of many a quaint mysterious ceremony, in order to compass relief from present prevailing distress. Various are the strange traditional expedients resorted to by the poor country hinds to coax down the blessing of refreshing showers, however scanty, on their parched-up fields. Sometimes the assembled women of the village, arming themselves with their churning-sticks, set out stealthily to surprise and capture the cattle-boy of some neighbouring community. If they succeed in their endeavour, they conduct the lad to their homes, and there load him with small presents of grain, contributed by every household. Then they bring forth a gay lunghi or turban, and, with womanly deftness of hand, wrap it gracefully round his head, after which they send him away. It must not, however, be supposed that the herdsboy in any single instance submits himself a willing recipient of the unsought honours so lavishly conferred upon him. If he can escape before capture, escape he will, and in that case, leaving his cattle in the wilds, he runs to his own village and summons out all the women thereof, who, arming themselves likewise with their churning-s ticks, issue forth in a body, with loud cries and threatening gestures, to repel the invaders, when it often happens that a free fight ensues, and that hard blows are given and taken on either side.

Another most singular custom during these trying seasons is that the boys should collect cow-dung and other objectionable rubbish and concoct a vile liquid by mixing the ingredients in a large vessel with an ample supply of water from the cattle-pond. Observing the greatest possible care and moving in profound silence they now proceed to the hut of the village saint, some priest or synd or fakir, and creeping quietly behind him as he sits in the shade mumbling over his beads, they pour their diabolical compound over the good father's head, and then run for their lives. This ceremony, for some mysterious reason which I cannot divine, is considered an excellent means either of propitiating the favour of Heaven or of exciting the provident fears of the fakir.

There is another custom analogous to the foregoing, though far more simple and cleanly, which consists in sprinkling a fakir with water as he lies asleep so that he may dream of cool showers and that his dreams may come to pass.

Again the whole community may set to work with zeal begotten of self-interest and stimulated by the consciousness of loss to repair the dilapidated tombs of the saints, and bewailing their neglect, or the men of the village will solemnly retire to the fields, and kneeling in two rows after the customary manner when engaged in prayer implore the Almighty to gather the clouds from afar.

The prettiest custom of all perhaps is that in which the elders make up sweet sherbet or other refreshing draughts, and calling together the little innocent children from all sides distribute the agreeable beverage to them and to them alone, as though in propitiating the favour and goodwill of the young, the simple, and the sinless, they established a claim on the benevolence of God.

Lastly there is a custom almost universally followed in the Upper Punjah among both Hindus and Mohammadans, and it is so quaint and curious, and its origin evidently lies so deep in the historic or possibly pre-historic past, that a detailed description of it will becomingly close this paper.

It was in the burning summer of 1879 that some little girls with bare heads and shoeless feet were observed to leave the village of Haji Shah, close to Attock, and in mournful procession make their way to the top of a neighbouring hill. In their hands they carried dolls roughly made up out of old rags to represent both the sexes. Under the pitiless sun of midday these little ones took their stand in a circle, and sadly beating their breasts began, in a wailing chant of Gregorian cadence, to sing the following old-world ditty:

"Gudhi, gudhá, pittyá,
Vas mináh chittyá,
Utonh sardhá ser,
Thulláyouh sardhá payr,
Sun maindeh Alleyáah,
Vas mináh chittya,
Vas mináh chittya."

"Our dolls and dollies we bemoan,
Come white Rain!
Above, burns our head,
Beneath, burn our feet.
Hear O our God!
Come white Rain —
Come white Rain! "

Having sung their simple dirge with all the gravity of a funeral party they dug holes, and, committing their mannikins to the earth, covered them in with the soil. These children were of course Mohammadans. If they had been Hindus, cremation would have been substituted for burial.

There are other stanzas—some five or six altogether, but in these parts only the one is sung unless a cloud should appear in the distant sky, when the following are added to the former:

"Barh, barh, mináh,
Kálle shinah,
Hálli bhukkhiáh
Dand dharyáyá,
Vas mináh chittyá,
Vas mináh chittyá,
Máin gudhi gudhá pittyá."

"Rain, Rain, O Rain —
You black Tiger!
Ploughmen are hungry,
Bullocks are thirsty —
Come white Rain,
Come white Rain,
Our dolls and dollies we bemoan!"


Some of the most extraordinary superstitions in the Peshawur Valley and in the Upper Panjab generally are connected with women. Women, say the people, are all witches. For various reasons they may choose not to exercise their powers, but the powers are inherent in them, and there is not one of them who could not work a spell or employ supernatural agency for ruin and mischief if the fancy seized her.

Among the Patháns, as among most oriental tribes, a childless woman is regarded with aversion, and in some sense as accursed. Barren women are notorious all over the country for the singular devices to which they resort in order to procure offspring, and in the present paper I purpose to describe a few of those devices which strike me as being the most extraordinary.

1. If a married woman happens to be barren, she proceeds, if she possesses the necessary gift, to entice a hyena to come to her, and, mounting it astride with her face to the tail, she rides it in a circle seven times round. Then she dismounts, and makes the animal seven salaams, after which she lays her chuddah, or cloth, on the ground, and setting upon it a vessel of bread and liquid butter, she feeds the creature with the morsels.

This ceremony always occurs at night, and the villager who described it to me related that in the village of Ghazi there lives a woman who is well known to be addicted to this practice for inducing conception, and that she performs it every Sunday evening. And so convinced is The of the truth of the matter that he promised to show me the whole ceremony if I would come to the village at the proper time.

2. Another custom having the same object is this. "When a dead body has been burnt, i.e., after the funeral rites of a Hindu, the ban-en woman visits the spot at night, and, undressing, she cooks her food over the dead man's smoldering ashes, and there eats it.

A villager told me that he once watched a woman engaged in such a weird ceremony. He said that he saw her one night visit the spot where a Hindu had been burnt, and, having undressed, she bathed herself. Then she put down four wooden pegs in the ground in the form of a square. To the first peg she tied some red thread, to the second some green thread, and to the third some white thread. She then took up her position at the fourth peg, and having kneaded a cake on a stone she cooked it and ate it, preserving a strict silence. When she had finished her meal she burnt the fragments of her food in the fire, together with the four pegs and all the thread, excepting the red thread. This she carefully tied round her waist, to remain there until a child was born.

The woman, said my informant, had been barren twenty-two years, notwithstanding which, by virtue of the charm, she afterwards conceived and bore her husband a son.

3. There is another equally curious custom, but it has reference to a body which has been buried, that is, to the body of a Mohammadan. In this case, the barren woman visits the graveyard at night, strips herself naked at some distance, then throws over her head a sheet, which she also throws off at the grave. She then, having previously bathed herself, digs up the fresh corpse, and cleans its teeth, the idea being that in return for this act of charity the dead will instil virtue into her so that she may have a child whose teeth she may also clean. Having finished her ghastly task, the woman lays the body in the earth once more, and sitting with her back to the grave she proceeds to cover it up by throwing in the soil backwards.

4. A commoner custom, however, among this unfortunate class is to procure written charms from some priest famous for such things, and, having dissolved them in water, to swallow them. In other cases the charms are tied round the waist and so worn.

5. Perhaps the commonest custom of all is to make a pilgrimage to some shrine, which enjoys a reputation for virtue in such cases, and to implore the aid of the tutelary saint.

C. Swynnerton,

Bengal Chaplain.