The goat sacrifice to Imra,

the chief kafir god of the Kati

performed by the last priests in Rumbur, Chitral

May the 19th,1929


Picture-frames from a film by Georg Morgenstierne (1892-1978), Norwegian linguist

who studied Indo-Iranian languages, especially in Nuristan and Chitral.




According to Morgenstierne: Some Kati Myths and Hymns. Acta Orientalia vol 21, Oslo 1951, p.163:

"(...) Im¥ro, Urtsun Imbro (cf. Ashk. Imr¥a, Pras. Yumr¥a, Waig. Yamr¥ai)<Yamaraja is the Creator and Highest God. His name is used for Allah, Khuda by Muslim Katis. The other gods are created by and sacrifice to him. He lives in the clouds and mists. He corresponds to Mara of the Prasuns, and Dezau (Creator) of the Kalashes. In hymns he is called Yum(en), etc., and Mror (<Mara). -But Miro M¥alik, Rob. Maramalik (Kal. Mir Mara), the ruler of Hades, was created by Imro. Imro has seven daughters (...). One of them is called Imr¥ei. Cf Brum. Hymn V."



Major scenes from the archival film:


Baghashai, the sacrificial priest or uta, before the sacrifice to Imra. The altar consisting of a large stone with a flagstone on top, placed in the middle of the dancing ground, in the centre of the village. The burning fire ( Agni, as the Vedic religion calls the god and priest of gods), will first receive the offering of milk and liquified butter (ghee). This is not recorded on the film.


Rig Veda begins with this hymn, I prey to Agni, I.I.:

"I pray to Agni, the household priest who is the god of the sacrifice, the one who chants and invokes and brings most treasure.

Agni earned the prayers of the ancient sages, and of those of the present, too; he will bring the gods here.

Through Agni one may win wealth, and growth from day to day, glorious and most abounding in heroic sons. "(...)


The bearded man in the middle of the back row of the participants is Kareik, the chanting priest or deblole. His important role was to invoke religious hymns he had learnt from his predecessors. Kareik was the last deblole of the Kafirs. A few of his hymns were recorded and translations of myths published by G.Morgenstierne after his stay in Chitral in 1929.

The original recordings on wax cylinders are now, for the first time, available for study.


Rig Veda, Agni and the Gods, I.26.5:

"You who were the first to invoke, rejoice in our friendship and hear only these songs." (...)

  The uta performs a ritual cleansing of hands with water poured from a sacrificial bowl held by a youth. The youth is supposed to be pre-pubescent so as to retain the required degree of "purity". Dairy products, juniper, young boys and priests are treated as ritually pure. Women and Muslims are not allowed to participate.



The uta throwing millet flour (?) into the fire. The use of millet flour prior to the sacrifice is mentioned by G. Robertson in his book The Kafirs of Hindu-Kush, London 1896.



The uta receiving juniper twigs he will place on the fire. The use of juniper may have a purifing function but also "dresses" the fire. It was still in use in 1998, at the sacrifices performed by the last of the Kafir tribes, the Kalasha.

Rig Veda , Agni and the Gods, I.26:

"Now get dressed in your robes, lord of power and master of the sacrificial food and offer this sacrifice for us." (...)


The goat is standing quietly. According to Robertson the animal should be sprinkled with water prior to the sacrifice. The participants would wait for the animal to shake it off, as a sign of the god¥s presence and readiness to receive the sacrifice.

This goat was financed by G.Morgenstierne as the few Kafirs present could not afford it.


Rig Veda , The Sacrifice of the Horse, I.162.3 and 4:

"This goat for all the gods is led forward with the racehorse as the share for Pusan. When they lead forth the welcome offering with the charger, Tvastr urges him on to great fame.

When, as the ritual law ordains, the men circle three times, leading the horse that is to be the oblation on the path to the gods, the goat who is the share for Pusan goes first, announcing the sacrifice to the gods"


The goat is lifted upside down and its throat is cut.



The uta collects fresh blood into his cupped palm. He will subsequently throw it on the altar.



The goat¥s head is cut off and placed on the altar, singeing it. Care is taken not to burn it. It will soon be removed from the altar, cooked and, together with the rest of the meat, consumed by the participants.

According to Peter Parkes, 1975, page 65:"The singeing of the head is said to offer the spirit (ru) of the goat to the god and this act effectively "desacrilizes" the animal, which was previously holy (onjesta) and could therefore only be touched by the onjesta muc (=ritually pure)"


Rig Veda, The funeral Fire, 10.16:

"Do not burn him etirely, Agni, or engulf him in your flames. Do not consume his skin or his flesh. When you have cooked him perfectly, O knower of creatures, only then send him to the fathers. (...)"

Rig Veda, The Sacrifice of the Horse, I.162.5:

"The Invoker, the officiating priest, the atoner, the fire kindler, the holder of the pressing stones, the reciter, the priest who prays- fill your bellies with this well-prepared, well-sacrificed sacrifice"


Excerpt from a letter to his wife, Agnes, probably wrongly dated May 19th, 1929 (23rd?) translated from the published norwegian source, PÂ sprÂgjakt i Hindukush, dagboksnotater fra Chitral 1929. Oslo, 1992:

"When I returned, the priest was waiting for me and said that the sacrifice to Imra (I paid for the goat) is ready to begin. I follow to the village and film as well as I can. The alter to Imra is placed in the middle of the dancing ground and consists of a large stone and a large flagstone on top of it. Fire is burning. The sacrificial priest washes from the sacrificial bowl, sprinkles water around and shouts Such, Such! In the meantime the deblole, or chanting priest, sings hymns, in a strongly accented rhythm, to Imra. And the people, the 10-12 Kafir men, sing along. Then the poor animal is killed, and its head placed on the fire. Cheese and milk is sacrificed on the fire and the rest of the cheese is eaten by the Kafirs. Women and children stand on top of the roofs and watch likewise, a little from a distance, the village Muslims. The main protagonists were admirably suited to their roles and looked very patriarcal. [1977: This was surely the last official Kafir sacrifice feast ever.] Tomorrow a great Muslim feast and a number of new "recruits" (to Islam) ceremoniously will be accepted into the right belief. The families here are often split in a most curious way in Muslims and Kafirs. But no fanaticism or unfriendliness is to be seen."

Fragment from a field notebook side 59:

"Sacrifice to Imro 23rd of may Brumotul

On the altar at the lower dancing-ground. Deodar fire. Sacrificial priest and chanting priest (deblole). Sacrificial priest shouts suc, lays juniper branches, submerges in water, washes hands with water which ... reaches, holds juniper branch in the fire, swings it here and there, such ! Throws(?) pieces of cheese on the fire. Deblole begins to sing a hymn the others pick up. While swaying with the juniper branch one takes and cuts the throat of the goat. Blood gushes out. The sacrificial priest grabs and cuts the head completely off, lays it on the fire-altar. Singing and swaying; the head is taken away from the fire. Cheese from a basket is sacramentally eaten. 3-4 different hymns. About 12 eating, the goat is carried away. Dancing. Hardly the original. Not ... ."