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Temple of Imra, Temple of Mahandeu: a Kafir sanctuary in Kalasha cosmology1

Abstract

This article examines the mythical significance of the famous Afghan Kafir ‘Temple of Imra’ described in Robertson's Káfirs of the Hindu-Kush (1896: 389–92) within the cosmology of the Kalasha (‘Kalash Kafirs’) of Chitral in northern Pakistan. It is known as the ‘Temple of Mahandeu’ in Kalasha tradition, and stories about this sanctuary play an important role in the exegesis of all Kalasha rites. It is, indeed, a focal symbol of Kalasha cosmology: the site of an axis mundi linking heaven and earth with the underworld of the deceased, and the primordial domain of major deities. After examining narratives about this temple, I shall discuss several problems in the comparative religions of the Hindu Kush that such traditions help to elucidate. In recognition of the pioneering scholarship on this subject by Wolfgang Lentz (1974) and Lennart Edelberg (et al., 1959), I present here some Kalasha perspectives on an extraordinary Kafir sanctuary (cf. Jettmar, 1986: 50–51). But in discussing its significance in Kalasha cosmology, I also address broader questions about our present conception of religious knowledge in the Hindu Kush, particularly on the comparative ‘mythology’ of the Afghan Kafirs and of their Dardicspeaking neighbours in northern Pakistan

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