and Ceremonies of
Music is integral to Khasi life, and whatever it lacks in formal
sophistication of established schools and forms of music, it makes
up in purity, beauty and a certain complexity in skilful rendering.
Music everything in Khasi Life - every festival and ceremony from
birth to death is enriched with music and dance. One can hear natural
sounds enmeshed in the songs - the hum of bees, bird calls, the
call of a wild animal, the gurgling of a stream.
One of the basic forms of Khasi music is the 'phawar', which is
more of a "chant" than a song, and are often composed
on the spot, impromptu, to suit the occasion. Other forms of song
include ballads & verses on the past, the exploits of legendary
heroes, laments for martyrs. Khasi musical instruments (Ksing Shynrang,
Ksing Kynthei) are also interesting because they support the song
and the dance. Flutes and Drums of various types are used. The ubiquitous
Drum taking on the most prolific role. Drums not only provide the
beat for the festival, they are used to 'invite' people to the event.
"Tangmuri"(a kind of flageolet); "Shaw Shaw "
(Cymbals); Percussion instruments of various types, including the
"Nakra" (Big Drum) and "Ksing Padiah"(small
drum); the "Besli" (flute for "solo" recitals)
and a variety of other wind instruments like "Sharati",
"Shyngwiang" (used for different occasions, sad or joyous);
the "Duitara" (a stringed instrument played by striking
the strings with a wooden pick), [Dymphong-Reeds of Bamboos].Today
the "Spanish Guitar" is more popular and is widely used
for festive occasions as well as for general entertainment.
Festival of Dance.
Dance is at the very heart of Khasi life, rich in
repertoire, performed often as a part of the "rites de passage"-
the life-cycle of an individual in society or the annual passage
of the seasons.Dances are performed at the level of individual villages
(Shnong), a group of villages (Raid) and a conglomeration of Raids
(Hima). Local or regional flavours and colours bring variations
to the basic dance form, which is universal in Khasi folk culture.
Different types of Festivals are :-
annual spring dance, performed to celebrate harvesting and sowing.The
Dance is performed in relation to the agricultural cycle (i.e. the
harvesting period and the beginning of the sowing period).
The participants in the dance are both male and
female. The female dancers have to be unmarried (virgins), while
their male counterparts do not have any such restriction. The costumes
and jewellery worn by male and female dancers are described
Cloth draped from waist to ankle (Ka Jingpim
Shad). Full sleeve blouse with lacework at the neck (Ka Sopti
Mukmor). Two rectangular pieces of gold-thread embroidered cloth,
pinned crosswise at the shoulders, overlapping each other (Ka
Dhara Rong Ksiar). Necklace made of red coral and foil-covered
beads in parallel strings (U Kpieng Paila). Golden ear-rings
(Ki Sohshkor Ksier). A gold or silver crown with a braid of
very fine silver threads in the back that falls past the waist,
often adorned with fresh flowers (Kapangsngiet Ksiar Ne Rupa).
Large silver armlets on both arms (Ki Mahu), golden wristlets
or bracelets (Kikhadu Ne Ki Syngkha). Semi-circular collar of
gold/silver plate tied with a thread around the neck. A silver
chain worn round the neck (U Kynjiri Tabah). Handkerchiefs tied
to both hands to wipe perspiration off face and forehead (Ki
Male Festive Regalia. Beautiful
golden silk turban (Ka Jain spong Khor). Semi-circular collar
of gold/silver plate tied round the neck (U Shanryndang). An 18-inch
long 'plume 'stuck in the turban (U Thuia). A richly embroidered
sleeveless jacket (Ka Jympang). A silver chain worn across the
shoulders (U Taban). Silver 'quiver' with silver 'arrows' tied
to the waist and an animal tail dangling from the end (Ka Ryngkap).
A silver-mesh belt at the waist to cover the cord of the quiver
(U Parnpoh Syngkai). Maroon silk cloth worn like a 'dhoti' (Ka
Jainboh). A whisk (U Symphiah). A ceremonial sword (Ka Waitlam)
and a Handkerchief (Ka Rumar).
Drums, flutes and cymbals pick
up the tempo in a corner of the arena and themale and female dancers
in two separate circles - women in the inner, men on the outer
- begin their ritual steps.
Young virgins keep their eyes downcast and dance with minimum
body movement, arms loose from the shoulders, body straight. Forward
and backward and sideways they shuffle, toes bent as if to grip
the ground. They turn as they dance, around the circumference
of their circle, and seem to revolve as they move. The men, in
sharp contrast, do a energetic, swift and galloping movement around
the outer circle, slowing down and speeding up with the rhythm
of the drums. At a change of beat they stop and resume and they
move clockwise and anti-clockwise, always assuming a posture of
"protecting" the women within the circle.
Faster and faster move the dancers, as the end of the 'Ka Shad
Suk Mynsiem' draws near. Female child dancers retire and the women's
circle becomes smaller. They engage in mock duels, sword fights.
Interestingly, the women dance on, perhaps at a quicker tempo,
seemingly oblivious of the gyrations of their male counterparts.
And the dance ends as the sunsets behind the hills.
The dance is ritualistic and symbolic of the timeless fertility
cult - the women as receptacles of seeds and bearers of fruit
and the men as cultivators, who provide the seeds and protect
and nurse them till the crop is harvested.
This dance takes place at Raid and Hima village level. But a performance
at 'Weiking Grounds in Shillong, is a state-recognized, very important
festival organised by Seng Khasi.
Ka Pom-Blang Nongkrem
For five days, this festival gives thanks to the
Lord Almighty for a good harvest and the participants pray for peace
and prosperity of the community. It is among the most prominent
of ancestral cultural revivals.In earlier days, this festival
was celebrated in mid-summer, but today, in conformity with other
cultures and for convenience, it is held either in October or November
"Smit", the capital of the Khyrim Syiemship near Shillong,
is today the official venue for this very ancient festival.
Today, when the Syiem dances in front of the Wooden Pillar called
"U Rishot Blei", Biblical echoes seem to appear, reminding
one of how Princess Jezebel danced before a wooden pillar ("Ashera"
in Hebrew) watched by her father Ethball of the Philistines. The
ritualistic sacrifice of goats is also remarkably similar to Biblical
history. The Syiem is the administrative head of the Hima (Khasi
State). The Syiem (Ka Syiem Sad) is the custodian of rites and rituals.
One who prepares the ritual is the elder sister of the King and
the Myntries (Council of Ministers) who are the caretakers of all
ceremonies, the priests and high priests and all the people join
this gorgeous dance festival. Not only to the Gods, ritualistic
offerings are made to the ancestors like "Kalawbei U Thawlang"
of the ruling clan, Suidnia, the First Maternal Uncle and to the
deity of Shillong, asking their blessings for a bumper harvest.
Once the religious rituals are over, the dancers begin their rituals.
Unmarried girls in very fine costumes, bedecked with gold and silver
crowns on which they place lovely yellow flowers, dance, once again
within a circle, shifting forward and backward, moving barefoot
in the dust. Men dance, with open swords in one hand and a white
yak-hair whisk in the other, in a wide circle. They advance and
parry and feint and retreat to the rhythmic beats of the drums and
the brassy sounds of cymbals with flutes creating a network of melody
in the background.
A ceremonial dance to express sorrow, performed
on the occasion of a death in the family. Male musicians play music
on the flute, drum and bamboo pole. The dance begins on the day
of death, at a place next to the kitchen of the house (called the
Rympeiling) and continues till the last rites are performed on the
A dance to commemorate "house-warming"
or when a family moves into a new-built home. Once the ritual ceremonies
are over, the dance is performed in three stages - Ka Shad Kyuntui,
Ka Shad Khalai Miaw and Ka Shad Brap - and lasts through the night
till dawn of the next day. The first dance starts about mid-day
and lasts till sunset. The second, all-male performance begins after
sunset. Dancers display swift footwork. Individual rhythms are important,
not synchronized with other dancers in the group. Random play fulness
and joyous moods - like cats playing with their kittens in the rosy
glow of the sunset are apparent. After dinner, the final dance begins.
No formal costumes are required, and women dance in a circle with
linked hands and the men dance around them. Dancers hop sideways
to the beats of the drum, and the joyous shouts of the bachelor
who dance around them make the darkness come alive.
Ka Bam Khana Shnong
Nobody knows when this "Village Community Feasting
Festival', began, but it is an event that everyone - men, women
and children - look forward to. It is a social get-together, but
at the back of it all, it is a time to thank the Lord for the old
year past and seek his blessings for the New Year, which is to come.
Originally, the entire village would participate with each home
contributing cash or kind (rice, pumpkins etc.). It was expected
that the rich would contribute more. And no one, no matter how poor
and unable to contribute, was left out of the festivities.
Khasi feasts are rich with succulent "pork" preparations.
And the lovely colorful ceremony of bringing wholesome pigs by pony
cart decorated with colorful paper streamers and escorted by a group
of musicians playing drums and pipes and brought up in the rear
by a group of dancers who perform the "Ka-Shad-Lymmuh"
is a sight to please all eyes.
The location of the actual feasting is usually a playground or hill-slope,
a short distance away from the village. A group of elders, adept
in the culinary arts, are selected for cooking. The main group of
people arrives in a procession at mid-day. Drummers and pipe-players
accompany them. Usually a person or two would rig out as "jester"
or clown and lead the procession and all the people dressed in their
holiday best dance and sing and laugh to make the hills ring.
When the feast begins, women, children and the elderly are served
first. Meanwhile, the men enjoy a draught of rice-beer.
The festival is held in spring (April or May), commencing
on Sugi Lyngka with a ceremonial sacrifice of a goat and two cocks
before the supreme deity of the Khasis - Lei Shyllong. It ends on
Sugi-Shillong, with prayers offered at midnight to establish person-to-person
contact between the finite and the infinite. After the prayer, male
dancers dance to rhythmic drumbeats and trilling flutes, lasting
till sunrise. On the second day of the festival, ritualistic prayers
are offered for protection against storm and hail, the scourges
of the hills. On the third day, divine blessings are sought for
material prosperity. On the fourth day a symbolic ritual of using
bamboo-spades to scoop up water from both sides of a stream -a "fertility"
ritual-is enacted. And on the fifth and final day, public worship
(Knia Shoh Dohkha) is done and cocks and nine fish from the river
Umran are offered as special gifts.
Shad Beh Sier
This deer-hunting dance is dedicated to occupational
merry-making. In off-harvest-season, male hunters roam the dense
forests for deer prey. A kill or two, usually made with bow and
arrow, becomes a local celebration. Young and adult males mount
the slain deer on a bamboo bier and parade it through villages.
The hunters with the first arrow-hit are rewarded with the "antlers"
of the deer. In-case a "doe" or female deer is brought
down, he is given the "skin" as a trophy. The very funny
words used by chanters are greeted with loud and appreciative cries
of "hoi" and "kiw" by onlookers.
Calender of Festivals
|Shad Suk , Mynsiem
|Seng Kut Snem
and Ceremonies of the Jaintias
Festivals of the Jaintia Hills, like others, contribute significantly
to maintaining a balance between man, his culture and his natural
environment or eco-system. At the same time it seeks to revive the
spirit of cohesiveness and solidarity among the people. Festivals
of Jaintias can be broadly studied under the following names :-
is the most important festival in the socio-economic life of the Jaintias
and the focus is on praying for the property and good health of the
people and on invoking divine blessings for a bountiful harvest.
Behdienkhlam is celebrated all over the Jaintia district, but the
grand spectacle takes place at Jowai, the district headquarters, at
an altitude of 1220 metres from sea-level and only 64 km. away from
Shillong by road. The festival is observed by non-Christian 'Pnars'
who believe in the traditional faith of "Niamtre".
Legend has it that Jowai town was once covered by thick forest, without
human habitation. It was the home of five Deities - four huge stones
and a river nymph. The four stones can still be seen at the four corners
of Jowai town. These Deities wished that God would create human beings
and send them to settle there. Their wish was granted when a wandering
Mongolian tribe arrived in these forests. To express his great joy
at the arrival of humans, 'U-Mokhai,' the eldest among the Deities,
began a Great Dance. The thunder of the dancing Deity scared the travelers,
but when they started to flee, the Deity addressed them to say, 'Children
of God, fear not. You will live happily and prosperously in this land
which shall be yours from tonight'. And so they stayed. Much later
at the time of a great famine, the people of Jowai asked 'U-Mokhai'
to help, and he asked them to perform a community festival after the
sowing season and Behdienkhlam remains the primary festival of the
Jaintias till this very day.
A week before the festival begins, a pig is sacrificed
to "Thunder" (Knia Pyrthat). The "Wasan" or priests
ring "Chew Chew", a brass bell, along the main road of the
town till the forest begins.
The main feature of the festival is the making of the "Dein Khlam",
"Symlend" and "Khnong", which are rounded, polished
and tall trunks of trees, felled in a preserved forest. Pine trees
are never used. After letting them lie in the woods for a couple of
nights, the trunks are brought to the town with great fanfare - drums
and pipes play, there is also much dancing and yelling. Later these
trunks are erected in each locality and even in front of individual
On the fourth day, young men led by priests carry bamboo sticks and
visit each home, where the roof is beaten to chase away evil spirits
to the accompaniment of drums, cymbals and chanting in Pnar. The erected
"Khnong" is pulled down, broken and discarded. The group
is offered home-brewed rice beer by the lady of the house.
The youth of each locality also try out their artistic skills by erecting
gaily coloured "rots" - 30-40 feet tall structures built
of bamboo, coloured paper and tinsel. Competition flares as each group
tries to outdo the other in making the tallest and most artistic rot.
In the afternoon of the fourth day, "rots" are carried in
procession towards the "aitnar"site. The river is dammed
and a low brick wall erected to form a kind of amphitheatre. Spectators
begin to arrive-the women dressed gorgeously in colourful silk "Usens"and
adorned with gold ornaments. If it begins to drizzle, colourful umbrellas
open, adding to the bloom. After the "rots" have arrived,the
polished, rounded logs are thrown into the river where they float
and all the dancing men and boys rush towards them and try to balance
on the rolling, shifting, slippery logs. A lot of horseplay and intoxicated
frolicking accompanies this festival.
At the end of the festival, football games are played with a wooden
This is a festival devoted to entertainment. Both
men and women participate in the dancing, always dressed in their
colourful best. Usually two young men on either side of a girl, linking
arms together, dance in step. In place of the usual drum and pipe,
a "cheer leader", a man with the gift of rhythmic recitation,
tells ribald couplets, and spectators roll with laughter.
Sowing Ritual Ceremony
A religious hunting ritual. A priest breaks an egg in order to
bring success and to know which divine part of the forest the hunters
must go. At the end of the chase, the "quarry" is carried
to the altar and the meat distributed among all.
Men make a small thatch of bamboo and grass - it is a place where
evil spirits are locked up. The male members then come with spears
and make a symbolic killing of the demons.
|Bam Phalar/ Bam Doh
|Seng Kut Snem
|Christmas /Bam Phalar /Bam Doh
of the Garos
In the early days, the areas inhabited by the Garos comprised of a
number of independent clusters of villages, under "A King"
headed by a clan chief known as Nokma. There are 12 sub-tribes amongst
the Garos. They are Atongs, Ganchings, Chibok, Rugas, Duals, Matchiduals,
Matchis, Am'bengs, Matabengs, A'wes, Me'gam and Chisak. They occupy
the entire area presently known as Garo Hills district.
Though socially and politically independent, these sub-dialectical
tribes share a common language, culture, beliefs and religious patterns.
The popular traditional Garo religion is "animistic" in
nature, but the Garos believe in a "Supreme God" known as
"Tatara Rabuga"or "Dakgipa Rugipa"or "Stura
According to experts, Garo religion is monotheistic with a highly
ritualistic polytheistic form of worship. The Garos believe in creation
of heaven and earth. God is believed to have created all living beings
on earth and completed his work within eight days and on the ninth
day He rested.
The Garos believe that man continues to exist in "Spirit"
even after death and dwells in an appointed place till he is re-incarnated.
The main festivlas of Garos are DenBilsia,
gala, Mi Amua,
BaA, Jamang Sia,
Ja Megapa, Sa
Sat Ra Chaka, AjeaorAhaoea,
Dore Rata Dance,
Cha'A, A Se Mania
Mangona or Chugana
Mangona is a post-funeral ceremony of the Garos.
A small hut with a bamboo structure is erected on the courtyard of
the house that is known as 'Delang'. The calcined bones are kept in
an earthen pot (to be later buried near the doorstep of the house
of the deceased after the ceremony).
After the burial of the calcined bones, the guests are served with
beef and pork. During the performance of the last rites for the "Spirit"
of the dead, dancing and singing continue throughout the night with
the chanting of funeral dirge known as "Mangtata (Grapme chia)
or Kalee". The ritual dance is accompanied with concave brass
cymbals, and the ringing sounds of reeds (Kimjim), the peals of "horn-trumpets"
called "adils", and the soft sound of a "chigring"
(a bamboo stringed musical instrument).
It is a ritual dance with rhythmic musical accompaniment.
Unburnt pieces of bone are put in an earthen pot or a hollow human
form of wood carving on the back of a person. A dark red silken cloth
(BA'RA MARANG) is stretched over the heads of the dancers like a canopy.
Soon as this is over, the group moves singing and dancing to the house
to drink rice-beer and return to the original home-symbolizing the
roaming of the spirit which is known as "Grengdik Rodila".
Games and sports are also conducted during the ceremony.
During this game, a display of physical strength a freestyle wrestling
bout is enacted known as Gando Makal Pala.
Finally, the "bull" is ritually sacrificed for the spirit
of the dead, so that the spirit of the bull can accompany the deceased.
People continue singing, dancing and merrymaking throughout the nightFestivals
that Accompany "jhum-ming" (clearing the jungle for cultivation)
A'A - O' Pata or Jamang
A person breaks an egg ceremonially over a small
plot cleared for jhumming asking for permission to cultivate the land.
A length of bamboo, with tree-leaves stuck in a "split"
on the top, is kept as an identification mark that the plot of land
is under occupation.
Den'Bilsia or Git chip ong Roka or A' Siroka
An invocation to the Mother Goddess of crops - Mini
Rokime - is made to get her blessing by sacrificing a fowl. All participate
in sweeping clean the village footpaths and prayers are offered at
the boundary of the field before setting the new jhum field on fire.
Mi Amua or Mejak Sim'a
A ceremony is performed to drive away all crop-diseases
through prayers to the Supreme God. Fences of half-burnt stems and
branches are ritually erected along the boundaries of the jhum field.
House-holders move around carrying baskets reciting rituals to drive
away evil-spirits and diseases from the jhum field.
It is a ritualistic offering of flattened rice known
as "Rongchu" from the first harvested paddy of a Jhum field
to a deity by sacrificing a fowl.
Ja Megapa or Medong
Calling Mini Rokime back to the house signifies after
harvesting is over from the Jhum field. A bunch of hill-paddy with
half-burnt firewood is ritually tied to the doorpost. Rice-beer is
ooered to the guests as a mark of respect and honour on arrival at
the village in the evening.
Wangala or Drua Wanbola
or Wanma Rongchua :
last, but not the least, of the ceremonies of the agricultural year
is a thanksgiving ceremony offered to the gods and goddesses. Drums
beat, rice beer flows, singing and dancing go on endlessly for days
On the first day of the Rugala ceremony, the Nokma displays his valuable
gongs covered with long banana leaves. All agricultural implements
are placed beside the centrepost of the house. Rice beer is poured
over the gongs, newly harvested crops are arranged in ritualistic
patterns. Sacrifice is made to "Misi Saljong" the Goddess
to bless, mankind with plentiful foodgrains . It is followed by social
merry making-singing and dancing all night long by young and old to
the rhythmic beating of drums.
Probably the most important festival of the Garos is the Wangala known
as "the post-harvest festival of the Garos".
It marks the end of a period of toil in the fields and harvesting
of bumper crops. The hills and valleys echo and re-echo with the sound
of drums and general revelry.
The dancers make a queue of two parallel lines - one of men and the
other of women, both turning out in festive regalia. The men beat
their drums and move forward in tune with the sound of music flowing
out of gongs, buffalo-horn, flutes and the drums. The dancers show
energetic, vigorous movements, aided by the sumptuous feasts of meat
Sa' Sat Ra' Chaka or
The "second"ceremony is-the burning of
incense to revive the monsoon clouds. People throw cooked rice on
the floor to symbolise hailstones.
Story-telling by bards and minstrels and, singing
competitions are performed. It is a time for romancing for the young
and choosing of life partners.
Dore Rata Dance
This type of dance is exciting to watch. The women
dancers try and butt the turbans off the heads of the male dancers.
Each knock off of the turban from the head is accompanied by great
cheering and laughter from spectators.
Chambil Mesara or Pomelo
This one demands exquisite skills. In this solo dance
a performer dangles a pomelo or some other "fruit" from
a cord around his waist. He then spins the pomelo round his waist,
faster and faster, using minimum movement of his waist and hip. Some
experts can swing two to four pomelos.
This dance symbolizes the "pecking of doves"
enacted by two lady dancers. Two mimick doves, peck each other much
to the enjoyment of all. It is another expression of how closely the
Garos relate to nature as well as the simplicity of life.
Festivals and Ceremonies of the Attongs
This important division of the Garo tribes live in
the Simsang valley and the hills that surround it. Their habitat extends
beyond the borders of East and West Garo Hills. They share same traditional
laws, customs, religious practice, social patterns, festivals and
ceremonies, culture, song and oral literature.
It is a post-harvest festival of the Attongs, celebrated
around the sametime as the Wangala. It, however, is a toned-down version,
lacking the dancing, singing and merry-making of Wangala. But it is
still a festival of thanksgiving.
The festival is usually held after the harvesting in the month of
September or October. Neighbours of nearby villages, friends and relatives
are informed and expected to visit during this festival. Each family
builds a "Sambasia" or split-bamboo altar in the yard for
a sacrifice. A length of handsome bamboo with leaves is set up next
The 'Kamal' or priest chants rituals and a chicken, an egg, boiled
rice and curry packed in banana - leaf and rice- beer are offered
to the Deity. Rice, curry and rice -beer poured out of a "bek"
or small wild gourd are ritually served to guests. Domestic animals
are killed on the occasion for feasting.
A Se Mania or Tata
First ceremony of the Attong is associated with Jhum
cultivation. Each family selects a suitable place within their designated
plot and sets up an altar of a 2-metre length of Bamboo with leaves
and a structure of split bamboo whose surface has been scratched into
attractive designs. Leaves of the "araru' or "beraru"
palms are planted alongside. The priest makes a ritual sacrifice of
a chicken and invokes the Gods for blessings by chanting rituals and
making offerings to the Deity. Ceremonial planting of paddy, maize,
millet, other grains and seeds takes place. Feasting and drinking
in the open field follow . Rice-beer is poured from a large earthen
jar called "Gura" or "Dikka" and the sacrificial
chicken meat is cooked and eaten with rice and curry.