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Behdienkhlam Festival: A Spectacle From Meghalaya



The hilly Jaintia tribal populace of Meghalaya in India’s North-East has a non-Christian population named ‘Pnar’. They live mainly in Jowai town near Meghalaya’s capital Shillong. Pnars celebrate annually a colourful religious festival. The 4-day Behdienkhlam Festival in the month of July is celebrated for good harvest, health and prosperity. The word Behdienkhlam literally means “driving away or evil (plague) by wooden sticks”. Plague, a deadly disease, was considered by the tribals as a demonic wrath.

Read an excerpt from Meghalaya Tourism

This Festival is connected with a series of religious rites. People dance on the street to the accompaniment of drum beating and pipe playing. The women do not participate in the dancing but have an important role to play at home by offering sacrificial food to the spirits of the ancestors.

Each locality prepares a decorative tower-like structure called a rath. These are carried by 30 to 40 strong people to a small lake at Aitnar for immersion. The festival climaxes when the khnong (the most sacred tree) is brought to the centre of each locality.



In the afternoon datlawakor is played  between two teams from the upper and lower valleys of the Myntdu River. It is a kind of soccer with a wooden ball. Those who win are believed to be blessed with a good harvest.

Read an excerpt from Times of India describing the folktale and the festive proceedings associated with Behdienkhlam

“According to folktales, Jowai town was once covered by thick forest, without any human habitation. It was home of five deities, four stones and a river nymph. The four huge stones can still be seen at the four corners of Jowai town. The five deities wished that god would send humans to settle in this region, and thus a wandering Mongolian tribe arrived in this forest. To celebrate the presence of humans, ‘U-Mokhai’ the eldest of the deities began a ceremonial dance. Upon seeing the thunder and noise from the dance, the tribes got scared and began to flee. U-Mokhai then stopped and addressed them that they are safe and are meant to inhabit this forest.



The festival begins with sacrificing pig to ‘Knia Pyrthat’ (Thunder) followed by the ‘Wasan’ (Priest) ringing the brass bell along the main road of the town to the point where the forest begins. Rounded, polished and tall trunks of tree are felled in the sacred forest and are left in the woods for couple of days. The trunks are then brought to the town with great fanfare, dancing and singing. On the fourth day, the youth of the town led by the priest visit each and every home, climb to the roof and beat it with a bamboo stick to chase away any evil spirits. The people also display their artistic skills by erecting ‘rots’ (tall bamboo structures decorated with colour paper and tinsel). The rots are then carried to the ‘Aitnar site’, where women and men gather. The rots arrive and the polished, rounded logs are thrown into the river. The dancing men rush and try to balance themselves on the rolling and slippery logs. At the end, ‘Dad-Lawakor’, a type of football is played with a wooden ball.”

WATCH BEHDIENKHLAM FESTIVAL

image courtesy: The Shillong Times

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