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Festivals and Ceremonies of the "Khasis"


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 :-

Ka Shad Suk Mynsiem.

Ka Shad Suk MynsiemThe 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


Traditional Costume

Female Dancers.

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 Rumal Rit).

 

Male Dancers

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).


The Dance

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 festivKa  Pom-Blang Nongkremal was celebrated in mid-summer, but today, in conformity with other cultures and for convenience, it is held either in October or November every year.
"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.


Ka-Shad Shyngwiang-Thangiap

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 cremation grounds.


Ka-Shad-Kynjoh Khaskain

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.


Umsan Nongkharai

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

Festivals
Local
Months
Gregorian
Months
Vedic Months
Solar
Lunar
Bamkhana Kyllalyngkot January Tapas Magha
Shad Suk , Mynsiem Laiong-jylliew April-June Sue hi Asharha
Shad Nongkrem Naitung July Nabhas Sravana
Seng Kut Snem Naiweing November Sahas Agrahayana
Christmas Nohprah December Sahasya Pausha

 

Festivals 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 :-

Behdienkhlam

It 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.

The Festival
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 homes.
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 ball.

The "Laho" Dance

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

Beh Ser Soopen

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.

Cher iung blai

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.

Calender of Festivals

Festivals
Local
Months
Gregorian
Months
Vedic Months
Solar
Lunar
Tiger Festival

DuiyataraWisu Jan-Mar Tapas-madhu Magha-Chaitra
Bam Phalar/ Bam Doh Duiyatara January Tapas Magha
Rong Belyngkan Naisau-Naiynhru May-June Sukra-Suchi Jyeshtha-Asharha
Behdienkhlam Naihynru-Naiynhnaiaw June-July Suchi-nabhas Asharha-Sravana
Durga Puja Naikhynde-khonchonglad Sept.-Nov Isha-Sahas Ashwina-Agrahayana
Seng Kut Snem Khonchonglad November Sahas Agrahayana
Christmas /Bam Phalar /Bam Doh Kmaichonglad December Sahasya Pausha

 

 

Festivals & Ceremonies 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 Pantura".

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, Wangala, Rongchu gala, Mi Amua, Mangona, Grengdik BaA, Jamang Sia, Ja Megapa, Sa Sat Ra Chaka, AjeaorAhaoea, Dore Rata Dance, Chambil Mesara, Do'KruSua, Saram Cha'A, A Se Mania or Tata.


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).

Grengdik Ba'A

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 Sia

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.


Rongchu gala:

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 Ra'ona :

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 :

WangalaThe 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 together.
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 and rice-beer.


Sa' Sat Ra' Chaka or So' Chaka

The "second"ceremony is-the burning of incense to revive the monsoon clouds. People throw cooked rice on the floor to symbolise hailstones.


AjeaorAhaoea

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 Dance

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.


Do'KruSua

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.


Saram Cha'A

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 to it.
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.

Calender of Festivals

Festivals
Local
Months
Gregorian
Months
Vedic Months
Solar
Lunar
Den'bilsia Polgin February Tapasya Phalgun
A'siroka Chuet March Madhu Chaitra
A' galmaka Pasak April Madhave Vaisakha
Miamua Asal June Sue hi Asharha
Rongchugala Bado August Nabhasya Bhadra
Ahaia Asin September Is ha Ashwina
Wangala Gate October Urje Kartika
Christmas Posi December Sahasya Pausha


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