The Behdienkhlam Festival in Meghalaya Unfolds With Old-Fashioned Zest and Fervour

SHILLONG: 12th July 2022 (PTI Source)

The famed, recreational Festival of Behdienkhlam- a cultural event that calls for the deity's blessings to ensure a bountiful harvest- takes place in Meghalaya with ancient zeal and jubilation.

This celebration is observed annually in July after the sowing season, and it is one of the Jaintia tribes' most significant dance festivals.

The Daloi (leader) conducts a set of religious ceremonies during the Behdienkhlam Cultural Festival. During the Behdienkham Cultural Festival Tour, young males visit each other homes and strike the roof with bamboo poles as a symbolical act of driving away evil spirits, sickness, and disease.

The main draw of the festivities is the competition between two groups, each vying for a large naked beam. This allows the hefty beam to cross a muddy ditch known as Waheitnar. When mud is applied by participants to one another, this part of the event becomes very messy.

The wedding and ritual last three days. On the third day, people gather at Aitnar, where both young and old dance to the piping and drum beats.

When tall-decorated buildings known as rots and a wooden pole are introduced into the pool, the dancers become emotional.

Rain is desired on the day of the festival. When people in their finest clothes congregate in Mynthong to watch a game similar to football, called dadlawakor, the conclusion of this well-known event in North East India occurs.

The game is between the Northerners and the Southerners. The team that wins the game by putting the ball on the other side will indicate a bumper harvest in that area next year.

A festival is a social event in every human culture across the world. Since antiquity, festivals have been a part of human life. The Latin term "festum" gave rise to the word "festival." However, in its original form, Latin had two words for festive activities: festum, which meant "public joy," and feria, which signified "abstinence from labour in honour of the gods."

The social-studies definition of the holiday may be interpreted from various angles, including comparative religion, anthropology, social psychology, folklore, and sociology. These are all known as "daily recurring social practices in which all members of a community bound by ethnic, linguistic, religious, historical ties and sharing a worldview participate directly or indirectly through a variety of forms and series of coordinated activities."

Festivals have been classified according to sacred or secular distinctions by academics. Festivals are events that reflect the customs and practices of a specific religion. We do, however, have festivals that are linked to local religious ritual entertainment. The event, called ‘Protecting our Ancient Forests,' is one such festival.

It's a utilitarian viewpoint in which festivals are seen as marketing tools for promoting tourism, economic development, and so on. In Meghalaya, we have several such ‘festival-related tourism' events, including the Monolith Festival, Autumn Festival, and others, which are lavishly funded and promoted by various government agencies.

Many of these festivals are held in order to promote the area and boost tourism. They're intended to help attract tourists from all over the world and generate revenue for local businesses. There's no argument that these festivals provide economic incentives for local businesses.

Political commentators, on the other hand, have criticized the exorbitant spending on these events at the expense of development. We are not going to go into detail about the festival's genre right now. However, We'll touch on the purpose of community festivals in general, as well as the Behdeinkhlam Religious celebration or Niam Beldeinkhlam of the Jaintias of Meghalaya, with particular attention.

In a religious celebration, the "building blocks" or "units" of the event are known as the "rites" and "rituals," which are strongly associated with myths. The rituals in Niam Behdendlakh are linked to the Legend of U Lakriah and U Niaw Wasa's (the Seven huts) transit through Ka Tangnoob Tangjri (the golden ladder).

The myth of U Lakriah is retold during the festival to recall the Golden Age for the community members. This version of the tale is unique to Jaintia Hills. Another feature of Behdeinkhlam is the origin myth of U Niaw Wasa, which recounts the celestial origins of the river Myntdu and the creation of the clan that established it.

The legend of U Lakriah refers to religious and social norms inducted by U TreKirot (God) upon U Niaw Wasa through U Lakriah. In reality, the tale of the genesis of Niam Behdeiñkhlam is part of a larger origin myth concerning the arrival of the Khasi and Jaintia tribes in their current location. As a result, Behdeinkhlam is an important element within the Jaintia and Khasi worldviews.

To comprehend the mythical background of Behdeinkhlam, one must look at its history. The story goes as follows:

The universe, which is composed of three layers, was created by God U Tre Kirot. The upper layer, known as Soorkep, contains God and ki Puri blei (immortal angels). Here, man's judgment takes place. In the second layer, named Bneiñ (Heaven), lived ki Khadynru Wasa (16 huts), and in the third layer, known as Sla Khyndaw Pyrthai (Earth), lived ki Khadynru Wasa again.

God's (U TreKirot) aim is to have his 7 huts (Niaw Wasa) descend from Ka Tangnoob-Tangjri (golden ladder) for a happy, prosperous life. God chose U Syiem-Lakriah (Leader), and endowed him with supernatural qualities so that he could maintain communication with God on Niaw Wasa's behalf. U TreKirot appeared before U Lakriah in the form of a rainbow. The Rainbow is a sign of God's covenant, a bridge to the divine. It is a symbol of optimism and peace. However, this literalism is not worldwide. In various societies, the colour spectrum might be seen as an evil presence- even looking at it can be harmful.

When God created the planet, there was only rock, water, and air on it. There was no soil that is necessary for farming. As a result of this, the Niaw Wasa was dissatisfied. They told Syiem Lakriah that in such a barren place they could not build their huts and could not cultivate. God, then, set things in order. The first step was for God to instruct Ka Bei-Rymaw (Mother of Earth), to provide three baskets full of dirt called "ka-le khoh-le-sun" so that the earth could be cultivated and productive. As a result, the planet became verdant.

Second, He instructed the goddess of fertility, Ka Bei Wabooh (goddess of reproduction), to fill the planet with birds, animals, and fish in order for the Niaw Wasa to survive. The Niaw Wasa appreciated the Earth's beauty and became a lovely place to call home. God subsequently gathered a Dorbar of Divine (Dorbar Blei) to provide an ethical and moral basis for living together after seeing that Niaw Wasa lived in harmony and comfort. He informed the people about the law of life by His Divine command (Ki Hukum). This provided the Niaw Wasa with a belief system known as Niamtre. As a result, the Niaw Wasa was ecstatic.

However, one day, while they were in the Divine Dorbar, God informed them that they would no longer be able to see Him since His work of creation was finished. He would not meet face-to-face with them. They appeared stunned as if struck by a lightning bolt. They were streaming tears.

Then God revealed to Syiem Lakriah that He would come to them once a year and stay with them for four days and three nights, at which point he was unable to respond. U Syiem Lakriah was unable to reply. He said that he'd like to see a dance. He told them they could dance in any environment, including mud, rock, or water.

They would experience their pounding heart, which would indicate God's presence within their hearts and lead to good health and success in life. It was as if God had given Niaw Wasa a divine sanction, which it agreed to fulfil.

God then ordered U Syiem-Pyrthat (The God of Thunder), one of the Khatsaw Waheh (14 elders) to go to earth. He, along with U Mooralong, U Mookhai, and U Moosniang, called on Ki Soodwar-sooluti (stone gods) and Ka Sati-Myntdu, Ka Lamynchi, Ka Myntdu, and Ka Sangman, together known as Ki Tawiar-takan.

They descended into this world in order to protect people and their land: U Blei Langdakh (Great Protector), U Thangkharak (Guardian of the Sky), U Tariok (Protector of the River), and U Khasi Sohiong (Protector of the Mountain).

They also brought a sacred pot known as U Tynrong which was used to store the rainwater. They taught the people how to make offerings to the gods and how to give respect to their elders. The Niaw Wasa was grateful and they offered their first fruits and produce to the gods. This is how the Niaw Wasa began their religious practices.

Then, as the story goes, Joo Syiem Pyrthat wished to obey God's instructions and stay on earth with his friends until he returned. The Phra Kur Phra Kmei, or "Five Saints" refers to the five founding clans: Sookpoh, San Syng kon, Jongkyrmen, Lyngngam, and Khyriem. They were the first to receive the directive from God to stay on earth.

From these families came the sacred and secular authorities known as the sacerdotal ruler, or Ki Khatso Wasan. They are U Langdoh, U Dalloi, Pator, Ka Lyngdoh, U Sangot, U Harnamooid, U Maji, U Myrliangot, Dhulia, and Chutia.

The Niam Behdeiñkhlam is a ceremony to commemorate the landing of Niaw Wasa on earth. It represents gratitude and respect for God, the maker. The traditions and ceremonies performed during the festival are ultimately intended to honour legendary forefathers like U Syiem Lakriah and the four sisters, KaBon, KaTeiñ, KaWet, and KaDoh. Obeisance is paid to God, asking Him to wade off all evil spirits.

Sacrifices are made to K Blei Chnong, Blei Raid, and Nang Phuak Pheng Dtao invoking them to defend the people from natural disasters and prevent starvation and sickness. Obeisance is also paid to Ka Bei Rymaw for a bountiful harvest. During the festival, "ritual food" (Ki Sangia Ki Saret) is offered to the ancestors to represent a means of contacting gods and ancestors who are invisibly present in their homes during the four days of this religious occasion.

The Niaw Wasa is brought closer to God on Behdeiñkhlam, which also explains the genesis of a community and its religion: Niamtre. Behdeinkhlam is generally observed during the high monsoon and after sowing, at which time rites and rituals are performed to drive away evil spirits of epidemic and pestilence. This is an age-old agricultural custom.

There can be little doubt that events like this, which build the pride of indigenous people, would appeal to many throughout the world. It is deserving of public acknowledgement and promotion by both the government and its agencies.

Our Behdeinkhlam prayer is that we are blessed with good health and happiness; calm and prosperity; love and compassion; friendship and brotherhood, as well as an eagerness to serve selflessly for the benefit of humanity.