Concept of God in the Khasi Pnar Society
Traditionally the Khasi Pnar, the naitve of the Khasi and Jaintia hills of Meghalaya are monotheistic in their belief, the most common term or name by which the Khasi Pnar use to call God is ‘U Blei Nongbuh Nongthaw,’ God the Creator. Even though the Khasi Pnar believe in One God, they also pay obeisance to other deities like the hundreds of Nature gods and protectors (30 Ryngkaw Basa) and family deities (Blei iing), in their pantheon of Gods.
In his article KHASI CONCEPT OF RELIGION (Late) Dr. R.S. Lyngdoh Professor and Head, Khasi Department, North-Eastern Hills University , which was published in Centenary Souvenir of the Seng Khasi (1899-1999) defines as follows:
“They believe that at the beginning, they were the children of God in heaven as members of the Khadhynriew Trep Khadhynriew Skum- the sixteen huts the sixteen roots…From time immemorial, through the ageless unrecorded history, the Khasi have developed a definite idea about God and Man; about the existence of heaven, earth and hell; about the existence of the body and the soul; about the subjective and objective values; about sin and external truth; about the existence of evil spirits; and about the relationship between man and man, man and all values and man God. They have their own belief in the beginning and the end of all things and their belief in the beginning of creation.”
“The Khasi believe in one God called “Blei” who can manifest Himself in all forms and values. Mr. David Roy, in his celebrated article entitled “Khasi Religion” gives the following description of God Almighty: - U Blei Nongthaw Nongbuh – God the Creator of our bodies and the creation (Nongthaw), and God who fills up and fills the universe with life. U Blei Trai Kynrad – The Lord God and Master, U Blei Shihajar Nguh – God to whom all obeisance is due, U Blei na jrong na tbian – God who fills the heavens and the earth (the universe), God who is immanent and transcendent, U Blei U Nongsei – God who causes to be and to grow, U Blei Uba iohi Uba tip – God who sees and who knows – to whom nothing is hidden or unknown.”
Dr. H. Kelian Synrem again in the same souvenir in her article RELIGION OF THE KHASIS said, “The Khasi believes that U Blei the Creator is the Universal God who created everything living and non-living, big and small to be multiplied and to prosper in this beautiful wide world. According to the Khasi belief, U Blei created different races of mankind and in each race he gave different cultures and religions, different traditions and customs to be followed and in their own way of life.”
U Blei Nongthaw Nongbuh is not the only name that the Khasi Pnar uses to call God, they also have another name for God and that is ‘U Trai kynrad.’ Whether ‘U Trai Kynrad’ is Khasi translation of English ‘Lord’ which again derived from Greek word “Kyrios” is a matter of debate. Certainly in the Christian context; the using of word ‘U Trai’ connotes the New Testament concept of Lord which many times refer to the second person in the holy trinity which means Jesus Christ. This is what Christian churches assumes and would like others to believe that the name Trai that Khasi gives to their God has a Christian origin and hence a Christian meaning.
U Trai is not a post Khasi-Christian period invention, in the Khasi parlance, the term has been in use since time immemorial. Apart from using the name God, the Khasi also use the word Kynrad or U Trai Kynrad in paying obeisance to God Almighty. Incidentally the word Trai in Khasi also has the same meaning with that of the English Lord, which means owner, foundation, foothold etc.
In the context of the Pnar or the indigenous people of Jaintia hills, they use two terms when refer to God. God the creator, ‘U Blai wabuh wathoo’ which is identical to Khasi Blei Nongbuh Nongthaw and God in English and “Tre Kirot” which is equivalent to Lord. The word “Tre” in the Pnar parlance literarily means Owner, Lord, foundation, foothold or roots. “Kirot” means Caring and Compassionate and the other meaning of Kirot is bountiful and perfect. Tre Kirot literarily means bountiful Lord the caring and compassionate one.
The War Jaintia, which is a sub tribe of the Khasi, people who live in the southern slopes of Jaintia Hills, speaks a Khasi language which is quite different from the other dialect use by the other Khasi sub tribe. Infact scholars believe that the Amwi dialect spoken by the people of War Jaintia is the foundation of the whole Khasi language. And in the War Jaintia dialect there is only one word for God and that is “Prai”. There is no one word equivalent to Lord in the war Jaintia, but just “Prai u ae thia” which literarily means “U Blei Nongthaw” in Khasi and its English translation is God the Creator. Whether ‘Prai’ means both God and Lord is another question, but base on the evidence use by the War Jaintia people, ‘Prai’ which incidentally similar to both ‘Trai and Blai” in the Pnar language, connotes the same meaning.
H.K. Singh’s concept of God as appeared in the Unitarian Hymnal.
It is obvious from the hymns that he composed; Hamjom Kissor Singh’s concept of God is that of a traditional Khasi Pnar concept, God the Creator and who is both God and Lord at the same time. Like the traditional concept, he does not differentiate one from the other.
In his Statement of belief, of H.K. Singh in the stanza 2 of the hymn number 1 in the Khasi Unitarian hymnbook describes his idea of God as ‘The living God is one only God/ He is our real father-mother/He is filled with love and compassion/ And forgive those who repent.’
By calling God of being both “Father and Mother” entity; HK Singh went a step ahead the traditional concept of a male creator God, his concept of God is God beyond gender. This is the uniqueness of Khasi Unitarian theology that although generally God is referred to as male even in the Khasi matrilineal society, yet God is beyond gender. Although Khasi Pnar tend to use the prefix ‘U’ before the word God which represents the male gender of God, Khasi Pnar have no image of God and their concept of God is more of a spirit which pervades. Singh’s concept of God beyond gender and more of a formless spirit in nature is Khasi’s own concept of God.
HK Singh further elaborate his idea of God in hymn no 61 when he said, Sing God’s praise; Lord of heaven and earth,/ His wisdom unfathomable,/ All creation on earth and in heaven,/ Is living proof of his greatness all over./Sing God’s praise, Lord of stars and moon,/ He is filled with glory, righteousness and lights;/ All things that we see,/ He made thus to teach us. Sing God’s praise, he is our mother and father;/Giver of spiritual light, He blesses us too./ He is loving, forgiving and wishes that,/We love our neighbors, do good and live courteously.
Sing God’s praise, Lord of lords, King of kings/Lord of life and death Lord of the spirit/ Lord of times is also Lord of seasons,/ Peace be unto us who worship him eternally. In the hymn number 5, HK Singh says: One God/ One truth/ One true religion. In the hymn no 22 of the Unitarian hymnal, he says, One God, one church/ One people, one mission/ Love God love friends/Live a blessed life.
In Hymn number 59 he further said, Praise the Lord vociferously, / Our Creator, / Care giver, Keeper and benefactor/ He is the greatest Lord. /With God support/ Heaven and earth last forever;/ by divine love and grace,/ He showed us way of life. /He bestowed wisdom on us,/ Lights, Spiritual consolation too;/ Understanding and overall progress,/ And plant love inside us. /That we may attain perfection/ Peace in him we’ll find;/ In love we’ll flourish forever/ We’ll all live in peace with God.
Hymn number 70 when translated says /Sing sweet praise for God,/ Spirit filled with joy,/ We only trust his benevolent / That flows and flood forever. /In his benevolent, / We live and were blessed;/ Only he can quench the thirst,/Of a dry and thirsty soul. /There is no other like God,/ In heaven and earth;/ Fill with love and forgiveness/ For us to give and fill. /Let us sing to the Lord,/ Kneeling we’ll pray;/ Our souls will be enlightened,/ With perfect peace.
In the stanza 1of hymn number 137 he says, /Oh God who is eternally wise / Creator and everlasting provider/ Heaven and earth cannot/ encompass all your riches.
Two Khasi stalwart Radhon Singh Berry and Job Solomon were contemporary of HK Singh. They were also known for their contribution to the literary field of the nascent Khasi language. RS Berry and J. Solomon had also immensely contributed to the growth of the Unitarian movement by composing hymns for the Church. Radhon Singh Berry , a Seng Khasi man who composed more than 30 hymns in the Unitarian hymnbook later became Unitarian and Job Solomon remain a Presbyterian deacon till his breath his last. Both these men of letters emphasized in the hymns they composed in the Unitarian hymnbook the truth that Khasi Unitarian’s God is God in the traditional Khasi Pnar context.
R.S. Berry in the hymn number 43 stanza 3, says: /This is not a foreign God; / God of our own he is,/ He created you the way you are;/ Now he come to awake you. Then Job Solomon in the hymn number 6 he again stress on the idea in the stanza 5 which says, This is our God;/ God of our ancestor too,/ God of the Pnars and the Khasi;/ He is also Lord of the Lords.
The concept of God in the Khasi Unitarian context is God in the traditional Khasi concept a Universal and formless God. Khasi Unitarian concept of God is not God in the Judeo-Christian context -the father in heaven, God in an anthromorphical form or God in human image. The Khasi God is God in spirit and all pervading God. Hence Unitarianism in the Khasi Jaintia hills is an indigenous religion precisely because unlike other faith organization; it was not brought to these hills by a missionary, but it sprung up from its own soil. It was on the September 18, 1887 that a Khasi Christian whose search for the ultimate truth found solace in the faith in one God. Hajom Kissor Singh Nongbri faith in one God found a home in Unitarianism. The basic belief of Unitarian Church in the Khasi Jaintia hills is based on the Khasi Pnars own beliefs. Hence, Unitarian in the Khasi Jaintia hills is a like a tree which grows and spread its branches and leaves and the same time draw strength from its roots.