The Greatest Festival of the Pnars is here and here’s a chance for the Khynriam, Bhoi, War etc to know their Pnar brethren a little better. Do forgive us, if you knew them rather well already.
‘Ka Chad Soo Sngi – Le Iaw’
Behdeinkhlam was originally called ‘Ka Chad Soo Sngi Le Iaw’ but when a plague broke out in the old Jaintia Kingdom, people gathered to offer their prayers to the Creator -‘U Tre Kirot’ – to cast off the plague and that was when the gathering came to be called Behdeinkhlam which, as is widely known, means to ‘drive away the plague’. But the festival is also closely related to agriculture and prayers are also offered to ‘Ka Syiem Rymaw’ or Mother Earth for her protection of the crops and to guard against the vagaries of weather
‘Leave the dead to be looked upon by the dead’
It is prohibited to burn the dead during the four days of the festival. But if the demand is urgent then the concerned clan has to perform purification rites. ‘Leave the dead to be looked upon by the dead’ is the directive of ‘U Tre Kirot’ to ‘U Ynniaw Trep Ynniaw Skum’ with an order that all male members of the faith have to come out and join the dance procession.
‘Ka Knia Aitnar’
The second day of this festival is called Mulong and it is the day when ‘Ka Knia Aitnar’ takes place. Ka Aitnar, as you know, is the sacred pool where the last day of the festival takes place but the ritual Knia Aitnar or sacrificial offerings to the divinity of Aitnar is important too because none of the residents of the localities can fetch their sanctified logs or Deinkhlams before the completion of this ritual. After this ritual, it is prohibited for anyone from washing their hands or to set foot in the sacred Aitnar pool.
Apart from chasing away the plague, the Dienkhlam or sanctified tree trunk is also meant to be a path by which God can walk on in the name of a particular locality. And how many Dienkhlam, do you think, are used in the festival? Apart from the 7 dieñkhlam representing the 7 localities of Jowai there are two trunks called Khnog Blai and Symbud Khnong. Besides these, hundreds of small tree trunks called ‘ki Dieñkhlam khian’ (small Dieñkhlam) are cut by the followers of the Niamtre and 2 or 3 of these are kept in the front of every house for the community dancer to come and beat the rooftop of the house symbolizing the ridding away of the plaque and evil spirits from the house.
A lot of people still think that there is only one Behdeinkhlam – the one celebrated in Jowai. The fact is that the festival is celebrated in Jowai, Chyrmang, Tuber and Ialong and these are collectively known as ‘Ki Soo Langdoh’. Besides this, it is also celebrated in Mukhla, Muthlong and Sohkymphor and all these celebrations are unique and traditionally different from each other. And although each ‘Raij’ or cluster of villages performs its own distinct rites, there is one sacrificial rite known as “Knia Pyrthat’ or libations to the God of Thunder that all Raijs are bound by tradition to perform together as brothers.
Khon Raij and Kmai Raij
Traditionally, the Raij or cluster of villages is divided into two sections during the festival: these are, Ki Khon Raij or Chilliang Raij constituting the residents living to the west of the sacred Aitnar pool and Ki Kmai Raij who are the residents living to the east of the Aitnar pool. In the preparation of the sanctified logs or Dienkhlam, Ki Khon Raij or Chilliang Raij are only supposed to prepare the logs known as Ka Symbood Khnong and Ka Khnong Blai. The boundaries of these two sections are also clearly defined in the celebrations as Ki Kmai Raij cannot ever take their ‘boms’ or drums to the jurisdiction of Ki Khon Raij and if they have to beat their drums, they would have to borrow the boms belonging to Ki Khon Raij.
Iungwalieh (The House in White)
After 1931, Behdeinkhlam was suspended for 17 years due to a disruption in the administration of the office of ‘U Dalloi’. Yes, from 1931 to 1947 there was no Behdeinkhlam Festival and it was the fear of this festival vanishing forever that drove a group of dedicated men to convene a meeting at a local durbar Hall called ka ‘Iungwalieh’. So, in 1948, they decided to perform at one go all the rites and rituals pending for the last 17 years and in order to meet the expenses they drew upon the rich theatrical tradition of the Jaintias i.e staging plays at, where else but, ‘Iungwalieh’. They were able to do this in two phases – the first plays staged were able to raise enough funds to only perform the rites of the first 10 years. So in the winter of 1948 they staged more plays and they were finally able to complete all the rites and rituals of the pending 7 years in that second phase.
The ‘La-Wa-Kor’ is a ball shaped object made out of bamboo stumps and it is played (‘Dat’ means to strike at something) not unlike the ‘beautiful game’. But the football similarities end there as ‘Datlawakor’ is an act of propitiation to the gods. It is believed to have started at a time when the crops in the two valleys of Jowai – Pynthorwah and Pynthornein – started showing signs of decay. It was learnt through divination that Mother Earth wished that a game be played between farmers of the two valleys where the purpose was to get hold of the ‘Lawakor’ by foot and victory lay in simply beating the opposition by out-passing them and kicking the ball all the way to one’s side of the valley. The lower side of the valley (Pynthorwah) is led by ‘U Langdoh’ while the upper side (Pynthornein) is led by ‘U Sangot Paswet’. The game is always played under the supervision of ‘U Dalloi’.