Umra Khan of Jandul and fairies of the Kumrat valley
In the last quarter of 19th century, Umra Khan of Jandul, a Pashtun chieftain, garnered fame in the northern districts of Pakhtunkhwa, who had the ability and talent to found a sizable kingdom. He belonged to the Jandul area of present-day Lower Dir district of KPK and belonged to the Mast Khel clan of Tarklanris (Jandul was then inhabited by Tarklanis). British viewed him as a potential threat and referred to him as ‘Afghan Napoleon’ and ‘Umra Khan the great’ in their writings, since he was heads and shoulders above other Pashtun chieftains in the region in terms of military talents and achievements. To nip Umra Khan in the bud, British pounced upon the former with all of their might when the latter conquered Chitral in 1895.
In 1908, Stuart Hill Godfrey (the British Political agent for Dir, Swat and Chitral since 1902) became the first European to visit the beautiful Kumrat valley (located in Upper Dir district). The local Kohistanis (who are Dardic people) informed him about the adventures of Umra Khan of Jandul who conquered Thal (a town near Kumrat valley) but was afraid to proceed to Kumrat valley, on account of its reputation as being the abode of “fairies”. He feared that he would lose his favourite horses there through the agency of “fairies”. Godfrey writes:
“No European or Pathan had ever looked on this quiet scene. Even the great Umra Khan of Jandul, who was the cause of the war of 1895, and the siege of Chitral, and whom it took the might of the Indian empire to drive out, an exile to Kabul, only penetrated as far as Tal, which he captured and burnt, sparing the mosque. Intensely superstitious, he was afraid of the great marshes said to exist in the Kamrat, where he feared to lose his beloved horses, through the hostile agency of “fairies” which dwell in the secluded valleys of this mountain land. The story of Umra Khan and his adventures as far as Tal as told by the Kohistanis was confirmed subsequently by an old warrior of the Mamund tribe from Bajaur, who had accompanied Umra Khan to Tal, and who recounted the whole tale to me at the Malakand.” (The Geographical Journal, Vol. 40, No. 1 (Jul., 1912), pp. 45-57).
In the above passage, Stuart Hill Godfrey has mentioned “fairies”, which is actually his mistranslation of the Pashto word “pairaey” (پېرې), the feminine form of which is “pairai” (پېرۍ), which means Jinn. The Pashto word Pairaey or Pairai closely resembles the “Peri” of Persian mythology which can be referred to as fairy in English (“Peri” is a beautiful winged female in Persian mythology). The Pashto word for peri/fairy is Shahpairai ښاپېرۍ (or Khapairai in the hard dialect). To this day, Kumrat valley is reputed to be inhabited by Jinns.
The Dardic people of Dir-Kohistan were converted to Islam by Akhund Salak
Stuart Hill Godfrey was also informed by the Kohistani elders that the ancestors of the people of Tal (or Thal) were converted to Islam by Akhund Salak, a 17th century scholar from the Tarin tribe of Pashtuns, who waged Jihad against the ‘kafirs’ in the northern region of present-day Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. He writes:
“This is Tal, the capital of the Panjkora Kohistan. It is by far the largest of the Kohistan villages, and contains about 1500 villages. Its cultivation extends as far as north as can be seen on the right bank of the river. The fields and terraces on the left bank belong to Lalmutai. Popular rumour had said that the Talujis or the people of Tal were of Arab descent. This tale was not confirmed by their own elders, who state that their ancestors came from upper Swat at the same time as Baria of Barikot. They also say their ancestors were named Lal, Sul, and Baratior, and they came to Tal about ten generations ago from Kanju and Damghar, places in the Nikpi-khel country of Dir, and settled at Bilaskot just above Tal. The ruins of that settlement are still visible. The sons of these three men retained their original religion, but their grandsons were converted to Mohammedanism by Akhund Salak, whose descendants for many years took religious tithes from Tal. The descendants of these three are known as known respectively as the Marur, descended from Lal, the Silur from Sul, and Baratior. The whole are still called the three families (dri-khele). There are twenty shares in the villages of Tal, divided off among the descendants of the three families shown above. The language of the people is far more like Hindustani than Pashtu, the Pathan language, but has borrowed many words from the latter. The basis of their language appears to be Sanskrit.”