Heritage of Meghalaya

Meghalaya ... The Matrilineal Society

By Minimon Laloo

Meghalaya lies in the extreme northeastern region of India. It is the only state in the entire northeast which is matrilineal and takes the identity solely from the mother. Meghalayan women are very lucky in this way, because they are treated with equal rights but the head of the family is always Father. The occurrence of illegitimate child or child abandoning in this society is rare except for a few stray cases. Off springs whether male or female are treated alike. On the whole, the society is unique, devoid of complexes and the much feared and dreaded bride burning or Dowry system.

In this matrilineal society, lets take the Khasis for example, the blood relations on the mother's side are known as the "Cognates" (Ki Kur) and "Agnates" (Ki Kha) refer to the paternal side. The cognates trace their origin from a common ancestress and their lineal descent is from mother to daughter, just the opposite from other societies.

Marriage is also strictly exogamous, i.e., outside the cognates. There cannot be a greater sin ever committed than an intimate physical relationship between members of the cognates, which is an unforgivable sin. In the olden days violation of such an act was considered sacrilegious and the persons involved were ostracised.

The ostracised persons are not only disowned and dispossessed, but they are also denied the solace of religion. Therefore, transgression is rare because it is an offence, which the society does not connive at and tolerate. Transgressors always leave their homeland to settle somewhere else.

Marriage with agnates is permissible subject to certain restrictions. marriage with near cousins is forbidden. But now this matrilineal society is at crossroads, due to mixed marriages and imitation of other cultures like taking the identity from the father, which might create confusion for future generations.

Some modern youths resented this matrilineal system and insisted that a change in the society is necessary for the better upliftment of modern society by going Paternal, which was rejected by the Elders of the society who viewed that tradition cannot be changed like trade or commerce.

In matrilineal society, men play a vital part as the Head of the family and as an Uncle; he has the vetoing power to control things. he is looked upon as the Defender and Provider and is much respected. During marriage he has to pay for the bride's wedding attires and if he is rich, he even contributes towards the feast as well. Whereas in other societies, women have to pay huge dowry like gold, silver, furniture, refrigerator, scooter, car, television set etc., and if her parents cannot afford it, she usually ends up, in many cases, by being burnt alive or brutally murdered.

The inheritance in the society is strictly determined by the principle of Unigeniture. This heritage differs from other societies. It is a traditional system that inheritance goes to the youngest daughter without a thought about the other sisters,but it could be split into equal shares amongst children,regardless of sex if the parents wish to do so. Regarding inheritance it is not too late to modify it, men should not be ignored. In fact, many modern and rational parents are trying to make amends for the wrong and unbalanced way in which inheritance was handed down to the youngest daughter where most men are deprived of any property. The differential treatment made them resentful and they feel suffocated.

Baitbari the -Archaeological site in the West Garo Hills District

By Shri Gabriel Sumer,
Directorate of Arts and Culture, Meghalaya, Shillong.

Meghalaya, a small state in the North eastern region of our Country is fairly rich in various aspects including that of Archaeological wealth and remains though varied in forms and aspects no doubt reflect the rich and invaluable cultural life of its societal past. The said wealth has become the priceless heritage and legacy of the present as well as the future and which have undoubtedly thrown great attraction and curiosity to the attention of both the casual viewers and scholars from the country and abroad.

About nine (9) of these ancient remains has been declared as the Monuments of National Importance, while the rest are on the process of scrutiny by the State Government.

The highlight of them may be of useful exposure on the potentiality the state has in the field of archaeology. However, giving an account of all of them is not possible at a time. Therefore, as the Journal is not possible at a time. Therefore, as the Journal is presumed to be continuing, this time I will confine only on one site that has recently assumed great curiosity and significance and this site is popularly known as Baitbari Archaeological site.

Geographically, the site is located in the Purana /old Baitbari, a small village in the West Garo Hills District situated along the Southern bank of the River Jinjiram at a distance of about 3(three) miles from Phulbari on the way to Tura.

On the basis of various reports and informations, a short exploration was conducted in collaborations, a short exploration was conducted in collaboration with the ASI (Pre-Historical branch), Government of India and the Department of Art and Culture, Government of Meghalaya during the month of October-November 1991. Encouraged by the findings of this short exploration, the joint exploration excavation was, accordingly taken up from 29-12-1992. The results achieved in the course of this excavation were not only encouraging as it revealed the potentiality of the place deserving to be enlisted in the category of the Archaeological site of National importance.

During the excavation some very important and valuable findings were unearthed and exposed. These are as follows:

  1. The mud-cum-burnt brick fortification running at least 5 Km in north-south direction in a horseshoe fashion with both ends on the bank of the Jinjiram River. The fortification is about 15 Sq. Km in area and had been laid taking advantage of the outer side of the fortification the existence of deep moat was observed, whereas on the inner-side a pathway about 3.30 m in width runs through out the length of the fortification wall. To ascertain the width and stratigraphic position of this mud-cum-brick wall, cuttings were made at two places on the western section. From the discovery of these cuttings, it is evident that in the first phase only a mud rampart having a width of nearly 6 meters was raised. Later on, in order to further strengthen its outer face, a 1.20 m wide burnt brick wall was raised. During the excavation about 52 courses of these bricks have been exposed. A study of one of these cuttings clearly shows that the burnt brick wall was repaired at least twice and the wall was raised over the foundation of boulders. A step entrance on the southern side and a regular gateway on the southern side had also been located. The entire fortified area is covered with thick jungle of bamboos and other trees and the cultivating fields belonging to the villages situated within the fortified area consisting of Rajpur in the south, Wadagogre, Ganghipara and Balujhora in the east, Nayagoan and Belbari in the North.
  2. The site of a beautifully planned burnt brick temple lying under a mound covered with thick bushes was also unearthed and exposed. In course of excavating the debris of this temple, about 28 terracotta tiles depicting the figure of Gods and Goddess like Ganesh, Parvati, Kubera, Yaksha and dancing figures were discovered from within and around the outer face of the wall at the base. However, amongst the four figures, that of the four armed Ganesh was found to predominate the place of their discovery and the position in which they were found indicated that the outer face of the wall at the base was decorated with these terracotta tiles. These tiles were fixed on the wall with the help of one or two hold luted on the back of the tiles. The temple was found to compose of three components, The Garbagriha, the Anterale and the Mandapa or the entrance, the prayer hall and the sanctum sanctorum. The structure is of simple miniature and facing esat. The maximum length of the temple esat-west including the retaining wall behind the garbagriha is 11 metres long. The structure is found to have been built on a Panchratna plan with several effects. The foundation consist of brickbats, whereas the upper one on the basis of analithical conclusion is believed to have consisted of wooden posts, split bamboo mat wallings and thatch-roofing. Further, both the garbagriha and the mandapa are square in plan. The garbagriha is 4.70 x 2.50 m. The antarale is 90 m in width. Except for the south-eastern corner of the temple which had been badly damaged due to growth of a jackfruit tree, the rest of the plan of the temple is almost intact and at least 13 course of bricks are perceivable.
  3. The thirds and impressive discovery during this excavation was the discovery during this excavation was the discovery and exposure of the site of an octagonal Temple with eight miniature Octoone, each having a Shiva Linga. The structure is of a more magnificent architecture, having eight square subsidiary shrines radiating from the eight arms of the main Octogon. This is perhaps one of the unique discoveries during the excavation. The total plan of the temple is 13 m in width and 90 m in height. Like in the case of the earlier stated temple, this Octogonal structure of Shiva Temple also seems to have been built on the same pattern though different in design and plan. That is, the base consists of the burnt brickbats, whereas the upper structure is perceived to have been built with wooden posts, split bamboo mat wallings and thatch-roofing and facing in the same direction as the earlier.
  4. The fourth, the most unexpected and thrilling discovery during the said excavation was the discovery of the site of a structure associated with Buddhism and which is commonly known as "STUPA". On further process of excavation, this STUPA is found to belong to category of Stupa, which is structurally termed as " MUD STUPA". This ancient Buddhist remain is situated near the bank of the Jinjiram River very close to the Phulbari-Tura Road before reaching Rajpur. In course of the excavation, the outer face of it is found to have lined with courses of burnt bricks laid on the Semi- Circular mud structure in the form of boxes, the inside of which were filled up with brick bats. A footstep from the base to the top was also discovered on the southern face of this Stupa. The Stupa is 5.75 m high and has the diameter of 30 m at the base. This Stupa is the first ever discovered Stupa in Meghalaya. All the above structures are located within the fortified area. Exploration of the fortified area further shows to contain extensive ruins, such as brick structure, a number of ancient tanks of various sizes, Shiva Lingas, broken potteries, etc. However, nothing is definitely known at present about the history of the site including its flourishing era, though some opinions are being formulated on comparative basis of the deities depicted on the terracotta tiles and their stylistic taste tend to date it back to the 7th/ 8th Century A.D. Again from the existence of ancient tanks of various sizes as stated above, this township suggests to be an important temple township. However, all what is said is only a question as a challenge who have the will and courage to dig-out its historic truth for the knowledge of the present and the benefit of the future.

Profile of the Department of Art and Culture

A separate independent Directorate of Art and Culture was created in August 1988 bifurcated from the erstwhile Education Deptt. Until that time, Art and Culture was only a cell of the Education Deptt. Under the control of D.P.I.When a separate Directorate of Art and Culture was created, the establishments of

  1. Institute of Art and Culture
  2. Tribal Research Institute
  3. Special Officers Historical Antiquarian Studies
  4. State Museum
  5. Archives
  6. Archaeology and
  7. Library Services, were all brought under one umbrella of the Directorate, now broadly divided into performing Arts and Research stream and Library Services based on the activities.

The term Art and Culture embraces a wide variety of activities from the traditional to the modern and contemporary arts and crafts, from the ancient and legendary beliefs to the modern beliefs and practices.
As such, the Directorate of Art and Culture formulates various schemes to protect, promote and preserve the rich cultural heritage of the ethnic tribes of the State.
Performing Arts and Research stream - Under this head, many programmes have been organised, of which some of the major one are listed below:-

  1. Khasi, Jaintia and Garo dance Troupes participated at Apna Utsav, new Delhi in 1986
  2. Khasi Dance Troupe presented Shad Suk Mynsiem in U.S.S.R. in 1987. The above 2 programmes were organised while Art and Culture was still under Education Department
  3. Khasi, Jaintia and Garo dance Troupe performed during Apna Utsav at Bombay in 1989
  4. Garo Wangala Dance Troupe participated in Fete-de-Pondicherry at Pondicherry both in 1991 and again in 1995
  5. Garo Wangala Dance was again presented in the Tea Festival at Darjeeling in 1989
  6. Air Quake, a pop group of Shillong participated in the Music Festival at Goa in 1992
  7. Khasi Dance Troupe presented a colourful programme in Phool Walon Ki Sair at Delhi in 1993
  8. Jaintia Dance Troupe participated in the Republic day Folk Dance Festival at new Delhi in 1993. In 1994 & 1996 it was the Garo Wangala Dance Troupe and in 1995, the lively Hajong Dance was presented during the Republic day Celebrations
  9. Khasi Dance was performed in the dance Festival in Island & Tourism Festival at Andaman & Nicobar Island
  10. A huge contingent of 200 members presented the popular dance Wangala at the inaugural function of the South Asian federation Games at Madras (now Chennai) in December, 1995.

Every year , either the Khasi or Jaintia or garo Dance Troupe participate in the Kulu Valley Festival, Himachal Pradesh during the Holi Festival.
Besides sending our cultural troupes to participate in various functions to other states of the Country, the Department of Art and Culture also organise and host many regional , zonal and state programmes. Some of the programmes organised and hosted are:

  1. Tribal Folk Dance Festival of India hosted in Shillong at Garrison ground where troupes from Karnataka, Assam, Tripura, Andhra Pradesh, Nagaland, Mizoram and the host state presented rich, colourful culture of the respective states in 1988
  2. Inter-Zonal Culture Festival was organised in Shillong in 1989, where all 7(Seven) zonal cultural centers of the country i.e. North Zone, South Zone, South Central Zone and North east Zone presented a real festive occasion to the people of Meghalaya
  3. National Integration Camp for school children was organised in 1994 at Mawkyrwat, nativity School in collaboration with India International Rural Cultural center Centre, New Delhi
  4. North east Cultural festival in collaboration with the North East Zone Cultural Center was organised in Cherrapunjee in 1995 and inaugurated by the Honourable Minister of Health, etc. Shri F.A. Khonglam
  5. In 1996 North East Film Festival was hosted in Shillong where all neighbour states of the North east participated. Shri C.B. marak, the then Minister of Art and Culture, was the Chief Guest
  6. Inter-State Exhibition of Museum was hosted in Shillong in 1989, in collaboration with the Indian Museum, Calcutta Research
  7. Folk Dance Festival of the North East at Tura was held in November, 1994 which Shri C.B. Marak, Minister Art and Culture inaugurated
  8. Poet-Meet in Shillong in 1994 where reputed artists from other parts of India participated . Shri C.B. Marak, Minister Art and Culture inaugurated the function
  9. Workshop on painting and Sculpture in Shillong in 1993 was inaugurated by Shri H.Lamin, Minister Art and Culture
  10. Friendship Festival of North East at Nongstoin and Mawkyrwat in October, 1993
  11. Russian Ballet Dance performed at Sate Central Library, Shillong in 1988
  12. Inauguration of Auditorium at Tura in 1992 by Shri P.A. Sangma, Union Minister for Coal
  13. District Cultural Festival (Ri-Bhoi) February, 1992
  14. Celebration of 125 years of Tura town with Cultural Programme , may , 1992 where Shri P.A. Sangma, Union Minister for Coal inaugurated the function
  15. Upgradation of Ri-Bhoi sub-division into a District level in June, 1992 where Shri D.D. Lapang, the then Chief Minister of Meghalaya inaugurated the function and a colourful cultural programme was presented
  16. Namdong Cultural Festival in Jaintia Hills was held in January, 1994
  17. North East Cultural Festival was held in Dawki,(war) Jaintia Hills District in February, '97 which was inaugurated by Shri J.D. Pohrmen, Minister P.W.D.

Research Cell comprises of Museum , Archives, Historical and Antiquarian Studies, Revision of District gazetteers, Archaeology, Tribal Research Institute, Production of Folk Literature, State Literary Award, Antiquities and Art Treasures, Art gallery, Audio Visual Documentation and Folk Music, Departmental Library, production of Film and Documentation for projection of the State and its Culture.


The Research section of the Directorate have published books and reprinted old important documents hundred years old. the some of the importnad books are:-

  1. Succession to Syiemship by captain D. Herbert (reprinted in 1991)
  2. Bengali to Garo Dictionary by Rev. Ramke Momin, a Garo Missionary (reprinted in 1996)
  3. Autobiography of Rev. Ramke Momin (reprinted in 1992)
  4. Ripinggimin Poederang by Anonymous (reprinted in 1992)
  5. Khasi Hills District Gazetteer printed in 1991
  6. Garo Hills District Gazetteer printed in 1996
  7. Jaintia Hills District Gazetteer printed in 1997
  8. Festivals and Ceremonies in Meghalaya - Seminar papers printed in 1994
  9. Tribal Institution in Meghalaya - Seminar papers in 1985
  10. Garo Customary Laws - Seminar papers printed in 1989
  11. Prehistory of Meghalaya and Social Formation in Khasi and Jaintia Hills - Seminar papers printed in 1996
  12. Socio-Economic Survey - Thadlaskein Development Block - A Project Report printed in 1990
  13. Customs and Jewelleries in Meghalaya - A project Study-Print awaited.

Seminars held on

  1. Tribal Institution of Meghalaya
  2. Garo-Customary laws
  3. Prehistory of Meghalaya and Social Formation in Khasi and Jaintia Hills
  4. Tribal Music and dance in Meghalaya
  5. Festivals and ceremonies in Meghalaya
  6. Dynamics of family in a matriliny of Meghalaya.

Competitions and Exhibition

Painting competition is also held for the school and college studentd to encourage and expose them to become professional artists in future. Book Exhibition on local languages was held for the encouragement of the local authers and to inculcate the writing habits in their mother tongue.


The Art and Culture Directorate has also undertaken documentation of films to preserve the cultural heritage of the State. the Films made are:

  1. "Our Heritage" in 1996
  2. "Ka Pomblang Nongkrem"
  3. "Khasi Drums"
  4. "Balpakram"
  5. "Wangala"

Archaeology Cell is presently functioning from Art & Culture Complex, Mawlai, Shillong. The main function of tgis cell is to explore, identify and preserve the ancient and historical sites or monuments for the preservation of Cultural Heritage of the State.

The Historical and Antiquarian Studies and Revision of District Gazetteers cell is located at Brooke Side Complex, Rilbong, Shillong. This Cell looks after the reprinting of hundred years old important documents in relation to the State. there is one Departmental Library which has a good collection of books on social and anthropological studies where reading facilities are also provided. Registration of Antiquities & Art Treasures also are undertaken by this Deaprtment.

Besides this, the Department encourages the young and upcoming writers by giving financial assistance to get their books published. Best writers of the year in the local language are awarded State Literary Award. Unfortunately, there has been no submission of manuscripts of outstanding quality in any of the local languages and the State Literary Awards remain unawarded for the last two years. In the same building, we have a 3 room Art Gallery where some paintings of the local artists and few sculptures are on dispaly.

The State Central Library in the heart of the capital city has a collection of more than 1,50,000 books on all subjects with a membership exceeding 25,000.

There are District Libraries in the five Districts of east Khasi Hills, West Khasi Hills, Jaintia Hills, East Garo Hills and West Garo Hills catering to the needs of their respective areas and the District Museum in Tura has many pieces of terracotta found and excavated from Bhaitbari Archaeological site on dispaly.

With a view to reaching out further to people, the Department proposed to establish two more district libraries in Baghmara and Nongpoh shortly. Tura and Jawoi already have district Auditorium as well and the proposal to construct district library-cum-auditorium at Nongstoin, Williamnagar and a District Museum-cum-Cultural Complex at Tura are underway. The Sate Cultural Complex, biggest ever in Shillong with a capacity of more than 1,500 seats with modern amenties is under construction and is expected to be completed during the 9th plan.