Friday, July 23, 2010

Status of women in the contemporary matrilineal Khasi Pnar Society

Like the mythological Kumbha Karna in the epic Ramayana, I woke up one fine morning realizing that that there is something than what meets the eye in the debate which few months back; had occupied much space in the printed media in the State of Meghalaya. I hope it is not too late to join in the inconclusive debate on the volatile subject of the contemporary Khasi Pnar society. The debate gain more currency when coincidently the nation as a whole was also debating during the same time the contentious proposed women reservation bill.

Earlier during the late eighties and early nineties, I remember Khasi Pnar society was described as a matriarchal society, l personally made this mistake when a student at a seminary in Manchester who was then studied about the status of women in Christianity, asked me how does women in your matriarchal society react to male oriented Christian church? The question caught me off hand and I was not able to provide her the answer which can be of help to her study. It was this lady during one of our long discussion who helped me understand from my own account that we are matrilineal and not matriarchal society, because the female enjoy no special status than the fact that she merely carries the lineage or the family line.
Does a Khasi Pnar women share the same status with her male counterpart? The argument is that Khasi Pnar women share the same status with man because both enjoy equal rights as per Khasi Pnar custom and traditions. It was also argued that in the Khasi Pnar society women were never barred from competing with her male counterpart in whatever field of work or for whatever position in the societal hierarchy. In that case one can use this same parameter and conclude that the Tribals in India do not need a reservation because they were never barred from competing with other community in the country. Is this a fair argument? The question is not whether women is given equal rights and privileges in the society or not, but rather why very few women succeed in politics or why very few Khasi Pnar women occupies high offices?
The answer is though we all share this false perception, the fact of the matter is Khasi Pnar men still have this prejudice against women that we inherited from our ancestors. Woman is still a second class citizen of the society.

Women have no political power or no role in politics for that matter. Traditionally, from grass root politics to the top echelon of the political authority woman has very limited or no role whatsoever to play. In the Khasi context the very name U Syiem connotes a male entity; the limit that a woman can achieve is the preordained position of ka Syiem sad. The Myntris the Laskor are reserved and can only be occupied by the dominant half- the male species of the Khasi Pnar homo sapient. In the Pnar of Jaintia context; women do not even have the right to vote in the election to the Daloiship not to mention entering in the fray which is traditionally a taboo and is a reserved male bastion. This bigotry is obvious even in the grass root level of the so called Khasi Pnar democracy (if we can call it democracy), when by tradition only person who sport a moustache can take part in the community deliberation (dorbar shnong). Even the highest office in the local council is preordained for male species for the title of the office itself is biased towards man and it provides no opportunity whatsoever for a woman to become u Rangbah Shnong. It should always be a man- u Rangbah. So much about the about the so called Khasi democracy.

Status of Khasi Pnar woman in Religious context of the society. During one of our debate a friend who is the editor of a Khasi biweekly published from Jowai, argued that in his church women have equal rights and opportunity like any man. He elaborated that they even have their own wing or organisation, where they can do things at their own pace and understanding. Does that mean equality? I doubt it. When I ask him can a woman preside over the offering of a mass? Then he answered except that. Is that equality, when women were not given the same right as man? How many churches allow women to become a deacon or member church committee when by definition only a man can become a Tymmen Basan or a Rangbah Balang? How many churches have ordained pastors or minister and gave woman pastor equal rights and opportunity to those of her men counterpart? How many churches had had a woman as the head of the church? Sadly not even a liberal church like the Unitarian has a history of a woman President, although the church since its inception by virtue of its tenet women were given equal rights and status and had ordained a woman minister (who was trained both at Meadville in Chicago and Harvard) since 2002 and that woman has rose to occupy some higher position in the Unitarian Union but still not the president. My editor friend then said, it was written in the Bible you know, that women should bow before her husband he meant to quote Paul letter to Ephesians (5:22) “Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as unto the Lord.” Then I ask him was it Jesus who said that or Paul the apostle. We can quote many such anti-woman saying from the Bible, and it is always someone else and not Jesus who was recorded to utter those saying. Till now in many churches particularly those in the villages one can see women attending church covering their head as a sign of submission while a man no matter how young or old, does not have to do so. I am no trying to say that submitting to the Almighty is wrong, but the question is why is this disparity, this double standard even in the church which is supposed to liberate the souls and that too in a matrilineal society?

Even in the traditional Niamtre religion all the top slots on the religious hierarchy is by ‘divine ordination’ meant for men folks, every top post be it, u Daloi, u Pator, u Sangot or any other position other than ka Langdoh the Priestess, is always occupied by a male candidate. It is indeed ironic that in spite of the fact that in the contemporary Khasi Pnar society; any religious gathering be it Christian church services or other, it is always the fairer sex who are in majority yet, they still have to satisfy with the position that their male counterpart and the tradition had pre-determined for them without contesting. Why our women folks readily accept this status as if it is preordained by the Creator for them?

Is it because we still have this archaic mindset against women that our thought process is still very much influence by ancient adages like “hens do not crow, or if and when hen crow then the world is destined to doom?”

A friend who is a leader of one big organization in Jaintia hills, asked in one of our debate, why should we allow women to wield more power when she already enjoy the right to the lineage and property? As for lineage as per the Pnar traditional belief, women earned that right because during the whole birth process for nine long months she fought a lone battle. The Pnar saying have it that she carries a double edged sword “ka wait samen,” with the same sword she can help bring new life to the World and it can also kill her in the process. Legend also has it that during one intertribal feud, the enemy conducts a surprise invasion on the Pnar settlement, while all the men folks were out in the field. The women who were in the village had no other option but to fight to the last to defend their children and property. The men folk on arriving realized what their mothers, wives, daughters, sisters and nieces had accomplished; arrived to a sensible conclusion that women naturally have the right to lineage and property. Is taking lineage through a female line a status or a burden for a woman?

It will not surprise me if the 2011 census comes up with a startling revelation that the numbers of single parent families is growing in the contemporary Khasi Pnar society, and by that I mean a family in which the mother is the head and the sole bread winner of the family. Single parent family in the Khasi Pnar society only means one thing and that is mother having to take care of all her children, why? Because it is very easy for a man to leave his wife, the children do not belong to him, because they do not take his family name. Many factors which are obvious even to the naked eyes indicate to the grim reality of a growing number of single parent families. In a way giving a lineage through the female line is a burden than a status for a woman, but a burden that every mother cherishes even if she had to face the challenges of doing the parenting single handedly.

Much hue and cry was made about the fact that Khasi Pnar women also enjoy the sole rights to property. A friend remarked that the double edged sword really means that female of the society had both the lineage and the property in her custody and left man bereft of anything. This is also the argument of the SRT. But the question is what property? How many families in the Khasi Pnar society really own property? In fact if by property we mean land, as per Khasi Pnar tradition, land belongs to the community. Individual or the family owns the land only while one is using it, the ownership of the land return to the community the moment one stop using it. Even in the contemporary society only middle class people has property and such family share their property equally among all the siblings. So this argument is also not free from flaws.

My appeal to our male-chauvinist leaders both the CM (I means DD Lapang because on the last count there were four of them) and one of his Deputy BM Lanong, who had started the ruckus (if they are still holding the posts by the time this piece is published) to shed one’s prejudice and try to understand the fact of the matter before one jump to conclusion. It is the general expectation that our leaders should educate us makes us wiser and come up with informed views whenever they made any statement in the public. Public space is not their private domain to be use as an opportunity to vent personal vendetta against anyone. Nobody has that right because public space is sacred.

Border Dispute: Doctor Mukul Sangma’s wrong Diagnosis

Doctor Mukul Sangma very unfortunately inherited a thorny seat from his predecessor and the issue that demanded his attention most is perhaps the border conflict both international and interstate. A medicine man by qualification (by mistake) and a politician by choice, Dr. Sangma’s arrival on the scene as the chief minister of the state during the ill-timed period was in a way a blessing in disguise, his earnest desire to solve the problem has earned him sympathy from the people, the NGOs and even media are willing to give the doctor the benefit of the doubt. Obviously, the layman in the street who depends on the NGOs and Press to formulate their opinion also saw his sincerity and his willingness to walk an extra mile to solve the border problems. Good going doctor, so far so good.

The good doctor may show his utmost sincerity in his effort to solve the border problem, but unfortunately his good efforts seem to go waste. The border dispute both interstate and international seems to go from bad to worse every passing day. One would expect a person trained in medicine to conduct a proper examination and order for a thorough and proper investigation before one would arrive at a conclusion and diagnose the cause of the problem. But the doctor seems to loss all the credentials that he had earned spending more than five years of his life in med school. Dr. Sangma is becoming a hundred percent politician and right now; like any of his predecessors, he does not seems to have any remedy under his sleeve to solve the problem.

Of course the long pending border dispute is a complex subject; but perhaps a little background information about the conflict in Jaintia hills will throw some light; at least, the dispute on this side of the state. I frequently visit the conflict zones both in peace time and otherwise. With regards to the dispute in the Muktapur sector of the indo-bangla border, a suggestion was made that the only solution to the problem is for the government to compensate the people for the land they owned which falls under adverse position. I have a reason for that and my recent visit and meeting with some of the land owners confirmed my theory that the only way to silence the gun in Muktapur is compensation. The cause of the problem is; when ever Indians tries to plough their fields (recent incident) or catch fishes from the pond in the adverse position (previous incident), the BGB resorted to firing in the air to stop the Indian from doing what they use to do. Some may argue that Bangladesh should maintain status quo and let farmer farm in the fields which lies in the adverse position. In my opinion; that is just wishful thinking. How long has the status quo been maintained and what status quo? After independence it was Indo-Pak border and now it has become Indo-Bangla border, what status quo are we talking about here? Is it a status quo with Pakistan or with Bangladesh ? Let us be realistic Dr. Sangma. The only solution at least on this sector of the border is to talk to prime minister and ask the Central Government to compensate the poor farmers for the land they are going to lose; because come what may, the BGB will never let the Indians carry out any activity in the land which they hold in adverse position. They deserve compensation because it is not their fault to keep holding the land. In fact it is the officials in government of India who gave them false hopes that status quo will be maintained and most of these lands have been registered in India . The Government of India is duty bound to compensate the farmer for this lost for no fault of theirs.

When it was reported in the press that Assam has started constructing road to connect Psiar, Khatksla and Moolaber, I said God bless their souls, the first thing the people of these area need is some motor-able road to connect their villages with the rest of the country be it Assam or Meghalaya. I am a frequent visitor to the area and I saw the kind of road; or to be honest the absent of any kind road to connect these villages. The three villages remain cut off from Meghalaya during the entire monsoon period because the bridge that the PWD department of Meghalaya has constructed on the Myntang River at Tihwieh which was sanctioned since 2004 is yet to be completed- trust Meghalaya to develop the border areas and it will take ages. The only connection that these people had with Meghalaya is the hanging footbridge across the same river. If our own department failed our people; can we blame Assam for doing what Meghalaya has failed to do so? The NGOs should take the PWD to task for taking more than five years to complete the crucial bridge.

Fellow Khasi Pnar can blame me for being soft or may be; even accused me of siding with Assam but I can help being pragmatic. The dispute area on Jaintia segment of the Assam-Meghalaya border which is also known as Block I and Block II has its genesis in the creation of the then Mikir and Cachar hills district. A commission was instituted to decide the boundary between the United Khasi and Jaintia Hills District and the new Mikir and Cachar hills district and the hope of the Pnar people to get back the land they claimed to belong to Jaintia hills lies on a thin thread of the so called note of dissent of one of the member of the Commission. Base on this lone dissent voice of late Larsing Khyriem MLA, a movement against the inclusion of some of the villages in the border with Mikir and Cachar hills district erupted and like any movement, this one too died a natural dead.

The main contention then; was that the villages, the rivers and the hills in the area bear a Khasi Pnar names, the rivers name is always prefixed with ‘um’ or villages with ‘nong’ so on and so forth and that majority of the people who live in these villages are Pnars. That is not true anymore, except for the three mentioned villages (Psiar, Moolaber and Khatkasal), the rest of the villages from Myngkoilum to Umkhyrmi and Jrikyndeng (now Zirikyndeng) are inhabited by the Karbis. It is rather unrealistic for Meghalaya to claim these villages because the majority of the people living in these villages are Karbis. It is also rather ironic that even the MDC who represents this area in the Karbi Anglong Autonomous District Council is half Jaintia or half War Jaintia to be more specific; his mother is originally of the Khonglah clan. But in spite of all that, the villages from Myngkoilum onwards are now under the KAADC.

In conclusion, I think good sense has prevailed on the DC of Jaintia hills and his counterpart from Diphu that they had come to a sensible understanding. Isn’t it is rather awkward to fight for a piece of land when we are all but part of the same country? When border between countries in Europe has started to vanish, why are we beginning to build walls between us? The people of these interstate border villages need development and sadly; they are yet to have road or even electricity connection. It is the duty of the state (whatever that may be) to provide them at least their basic needs. It is also the moral obligation of the two neighbours to arrive at understanding and bring to an end this long pending imbroglio once and for all and not to create breeding ground for insurgency on both side of the divide. Let the people in the border live in peace.

Writing on the walls: The signs of time

No piece of art or column in the recent history of Shillong ever had the kind of reaction that the stencil graffiti with potent messages achieved; with a single stroke. It has been a week since the graffiti was painted yet condemnation and debate about the graffiti continues unabated. The initial reaction of the people and particularly the religious organizations was that of condemnation, because the graffiti artist used religious images, but gradually there are those who had mature reaction of trying to look at what the graffitist is trying say? Certainly the graffiti were stenciled not just for the heck of it, but were splashed on the selected walls to stir some kind of consciousness in the society.

The objective of every art form is to convey certain message to the society and rightly so the graffiti was called by someone as ‘the voice of the voiceless’, the voice of neglected people and the expression of a community whose time has finally arrived. It is now for the society and power that be to take serious note of it. The graffitist achieved what many writers, poets, painters, journalist, cartoonist and social activist has been trying to do for so long, to grab the headlines of city’s major dailies both vernacular and English and more importantly to be able to prick the conscience of the readers. The Maitshaphrang Movement did not even manage to grab the second lead of the newspaper when it announced the CI sheets scam, and did it spark any debate on the issue? Did anyone condemn the corruption involving people in high place? Sorry to say the answer to all the questions is an emphatic no. Reams of newsprint has been wasted by columnist, concern citizens and social workers to protest against rampant corruption in the state, but the issue died the moment the new issue of the daily hits the stand. The life span of the issue is extremely short and it remains in the public domain for a period of no more than few hours.

The graffiti has achieved another feat and that is making people question. What is it that the graffitist trying to say? Why did one use religious figure? The public already has answer, at least to the message; that it has to do with corruption which is plaguing the state. There is no second opinion about that. But why the cross is used? No prize for guessing, the cross symbolizes Christianity in its various forms and sizes. So, can the message be ‘why in spite of the fact that majority of the people are Christian still corruption is rampant in the state?’

In a way the graffiti is also like a mirror shoved on our face to make us take a good look at ourselves. We have all the brand of Christianity worth its salt in the state and some has been here for almost two hundred years, why do we still have rampant corruption? What about morality in the society? The graph in the crime chart always head north and we have high number of reported rape case and crime against women is; at its all time high. Our greed has overtaken our concern for the environment. The rich and the powerful in the society dictate terms not only in the political arena but in the society and even in the church. Majority of our leaders are Christians and they also constitutes the largest part of the state work force. Why development and wealth is concentrates in certain pockets only? Why is it that there is so much inequality? If this is not a religious question, then what is a religious question? And in spite of more that eighty percent of the schools in the state are run by churches, why are we still in the present dilemma? Where have we gone wrong with regard to teaching our young ones?

William Cantwell Smith the famous scholar of comparative religion mentioned of an incident during one of his vacation; when he happened to passed through a holiday home which has the words ‘for Christians only’ inscribed on its signpost. His immediate remark was ‘it was so unchristian.’ Are we becoming ‘exclusive Christians’ with an enormous ‘holier than thou’ attitude that Christians are predestined for heaven and others are doomed to hell? Do we still have this attitude that even among Christians; my Christianity is true and the other is not. If the graffiti has achieved anything is to make us question ourselves ‘what does it really means to be a Christians and how good a Christian am I? Does my Christianity confined to the four corners of my church and my fellow church members only? Do we reach out to the people outside the fold just because we hope to convert them to our fold some day? Or for that matter how do we consider when the church has achieved its goal? Is it when the church has the largest numbers of followers and the maximum number of church building? Or by how much change the church is able to affect?

One may argue that the Holy Father was unnecessary dragged to the controversy, what does the Pope has to do with the corruption in the state of Meghalaya? We cannot define the numerous graffiti with a single brush, anybody who follows the international news know that the church was and still is in a big problem due to the worldwide sex scandal which involved the priests. The allegation was even the Pope was involved in the cover up of a case in Germany when he was the Bishop in that country. The Pope has apologized to those hurt by the sex scandal many times and the last one even from a place no less than the Holy See. There is nothing for the church to hide everything is in the public domain.

The head of the Catholic Church in the state in one of his immediate interaction with the press in the aftermath of the graffiti affair, after clarifying what the church has done against corruption and social evils; requested that the person(s) involved in the act (graffitist) to come up openly and state what they want to say clearly. But that is not how the graffitist wishes to communicates and obviously the medium they use is very effective considering the impact that it has been able to create. The lesson that the people of the state should learn is that another medium of expression or protest has emerged and how tolerable are we to new changes? Are we willing to listen?

Recently; the press also carried report of business firm using religious figures as part of their brand designs, the media tried to provoke the people to react against such depiction of holy figure. NGOs and religious institution took the bait and instantly react which only indicate the society’s growing intolerance. Others have Shiva, Ganesha, Durga and etc on any brand one can think of and they don’t seem to mind. What have we become? Have we become like bunches of fanatics who tried to shut down anything from tweeter to facebook and ransack and abuse painters just because they have opinion different from what we believe? We live in a multi religious and multi race society; hence intolerance has no room in our world. To be able to live in peace with one another; we need to be more open minded and allow room for those having opinion different from ours. In the word of the famous Unitarian King John Sigismund “you don’t have to think alike to love alike.”

The last of the farmers of Lumshnong

It was finally over and the cameras stop rolling; I bate her goodbye and wished her a long and healthy life. Then I realized from the stifled voice of her answer; the deep feeling of emptiness and sense of hopelessness to continue with live. Her response was that of a spirit bereft of the zeal for life. She said why should I live long? Why would I want to live long? What is the point when there is no more land for agriculture? Grandmother Thrin Lamare is the remnant of the last farming community of the lost generation of Lumchnong village.

She is a jolly good old woman whose smiling face and jovial mood hid more than it reveals and like many of her contemporary she does not know her age. ‘Neither of my parents can read nor write,’ she told me when I asked how old she is. Hoping to roughly estimate her age by guessing from the age of her children, I asked, how old is your eldest son? ‘Do you for one moment think I can read or write? Do I look like somebody who can read or write?’ was her answer to my question. The unkempt grey hair on her head, the wrinkles on her face and her teeth less mouth is the only proof of the hardship that this genteel life had toiled for so long.

It was in the afternoon when the secretary shnong ma Puson Gympad took me and the crew to meet her. The woman with a frail and forward bending body has just returned from her small garden, the only remaining priceless possession she treasures. She was sitting near the fireplace with fire burning in the hearth and throughout the interview she was busy cutting the bamboo shoots, banana flower and green-chillies she collected to prepare dinner for the entire family. During the conversation; when occasionally smoke started to fume; she would take the bamboo cylinder and blow air on the fire wood to rekindle the fire while she continue talking to us. She was frank and spoke candidly about the past and her feelings about the predicament the village is in.

She nostalgically recollected the time gone-by when agriculture was the mainstay of the village and no doubt they lived through hard times, but they seldom experience starvation. In spite of all odds; they practice Jhum cultivation because there are no paddy fields in the terrains of the Narpuh sub-tropical forest and the bank of the Lukha. There are times they face hardship because of poor harvest and they do not have enough rice; so they cook few grains of rice with millet and corn to satisfy the family’s hunger, yet they live a life of heart content,’ she recounted. She remembered walking bare feet and lived in the grace of the nature and the only disease that was prevalent those days was malaria, stomachache and fever. Health care was still a distant dream then; so the medicines they use are those available in the nature.

Her face brightened, and smiles broaden when she narrated about the recent past two three decades when Lumchnong was famous for its oranges and orchard covered a large part of village. One can still see these orchards dotted the landscape of Lumchnong, albeit in the shadow of their former glory, but the land does not belong to the villagers anymore. Ma Olbin Shylla an elderly man we met earlier in the morning, smiled as he reminiscence how he used to transport trucks of oranges to Silchar and to Jowai. Those were the heyday of the orange orchard in Lumchnong and the boom of orange business has benefitted all the people in the area. ‘Then, people were gainfully employed throughout the year’ he said. I asked him what he is doing for livelihood now. He said nothing, since they stop farming. When asked ‘now that there is no agricultural activity in the village, how do people earn their livelihood?’ He said ‘earlier our job was either in the woods among the trees or in field with the crops, now we just move among people.’

In the Grandma’s kitchen she continues with her chore and when asked what about the young people, do they still involve in any kind of agricultural activity? The old woman stared at us for a moment and then answered with action, ‘the young people now are busy in one thing only’ moving her hand in a gesture which imply drinking something from a bottle -‘this’ she said. Puson Gympad and Mario Rymbai who accompanied us, has nothing else to say but laugh and at the same time nodded their head in agreement. When I asked her about their orchard and plantation in the village, grandma Lamare’s answer was ‘what orchard, what plantation? Every piece of land in the village has been sold to the cements companies. Gympad the secretary of the village dorbar came up with approximate statistics that more than sixty percent of the land in the village and may be in the entire elaka Narpuh is owned by the many cement companies. I think ma Gympad is very mean in his assessment. Most of the families the only plot of land they owned is the land where their houses stand. The cement companies have literarily bought the entire elaka for a song.

Gympad the young secretary of the Lumchnong was obviously very angry and lamented ‘it seems the Government’s main intention is to quickly rob the eleka of its mineral wealth and not to develop the region as such. If that is not true; how else can the government permit the construction of 9 cement plants in the area within the radius of 5 kilometers only? In addition to the 9 cement plants there are also few captive power plants which are operative now. How long will the coal and lime stone last? The term sustainable development; it seems is not in the government of Meghalaya lexicon.

Puson foresee a bleak future for his village because till now no cement companies had even bothered to reclaim the top soil; that people can reuse the land for agricultural activity once the minerals are exhausted. One may question why, what happened to the proposed state mining policy? Who can wait for the government of Meghalaya’s mining policy? Will it ever see the light of the day when everybody in the Government from the MP, the CM of the state to the Magistrates and Police officers are mine owners by proxy through their wives or close relatives? Meanwhile the government can insist on the mining companies to device a mechanism to reclaim the land by conserving the top soil and also make it mandatory that each cement and mining companies plant trees as part of the company’s Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR). But nothing of that sort is happening, our leaders are either busy in the business of government toppling or on a voyage to foreign land while topsoil is on its own journey to Bangladesh.

If the top soil is conserve by the companies then, we can still hope to see agricultural activities in the village sometime in the distance future. But few decades from now and while cement industries are still active in the area, agriculture will be the think of the past. How long will it take to revive agriculture again is a million dollars question.

Beimen Thin Lamare’s almost instance response to my usual polite gesture on June 28 was like a thunderbolt from the blue, it dawned on me then, that the moment I wished her goodbye; I also bate farewell to the agriculture activity in the area for she is one of the last of farming generation of Lumhnong village.

Behdieñkhlam The Greatest Festival of the Pnar

Behdieñkhlam is the most important and the biggest festival of the Pnars of Jaintia hills District. It is the festival paying obeisance to Almighty God the Creator to bless people with good health and prosperity. The term beh-dieñ-khlam comprises of three words in a Pnar parlance, ‘Beh’ literarily means to chase or to rid away and ‘dieñ’ means wood or log and ‘khlam’ means plague, epidemic or pestilence. Behdieñkhlam literarily means the festival to rid away plague.

The three days and four nights Annual Behdienkhlam festival of the Pnars always starts with the tradition of offering food to the ancestors. In the morning families would visit the market to purchase the best and the finest of fruits and foods available in the market. Come afternoon, families will be busy preparing offering from all sorts of foods bought from the market to offer to their ancestor in a tradition call “Ka Siang ka Pha” or “Ka Siang ka Phur.”

Of course preparation for the annual Behdieñkhlam festival was started many months back but the immediate rituals and sacrifices that precedes the designated days of the festival are the ‘kñia khang’ performed on Muchai; the first day after the market day of the week and ‘kñia pyrthad’ sacrifice to the thunder god on the Mulong the seventh day of the same week. But the festival officially begins on the sixth day (Pynsiñ) of the eight days a week traditional calendar of the Jaintias. The feast of offering food to the death is a mark of veneration and gratitude to the ancestors the forbearer of the clan and the tradition.

In the Khasi Pnar concept of the afterlife, departed souls reside with the Creator and eat bettlenuts in the courtyard of his abode. The spirit of the death (ki syngngia ki saret) every year, decent down to the Earth to partake in the feast provided by the descendant still alive in the world to propitiate the departed souls. Ka Siang ka pha is celebrated by every clan except when there is sickness in the family or if death has just occurred in the family. The family which had just met with bereavement, do not perform the offerings because the annual ‘ka siang ka pha’ has already been offered to the departed souls as part of the last rite of a person. It begins with family informing the children of their maternal uncles or their brothers (khon kha) about the preparation for the offerings to the ancestors. The ‘khon kha’ offers money (pyn-nam) as a token of respect, love and affection to their paternal family. In the Khasi Pnar clan system, the dead body of the deceased is carried to one’s clan’s ancestral house and all the funeral rites are perform in his maternal family home and even the charred bones of the deceased are placed in the clan’s repository stone (mootyllein). This also has a connection with one of the cardinal principle of the Khasi-Pnar known as (ka tip kur tip kha,) respect for one’s family of both mother’s and father’s side.

Since the offering is for all the departed souls, foods of every kind are placed in brass plates and must be in odd numbers 5, 7 or 9. Care is also being taken that favourite food of the deceased is placed as part of the offering which could be anything from fruits, cigarette or even alcohol. The next part of the rites is the role of the maternal uncle to invoke the spirits to partake the offering. The maternal uncle will also pray to the departed souls to bless their descendant with the good health, prosperity and progress in all walks of life. After the Maternal uncle’s invocation, the whole family gathered for the rites, stayed in silence for sometimes in a symbolic moment to allow the ancestors spirit to partake the offerings. Then the offering was shared among the family members.

Only a clean female member of the family is allowed to prepare the offerings, women who is in her menstrual cycle is not allowed to do the preparation. Not all clan perform their offering to the death on Pynsiñ, there are also clan which perform ‘ka siang ka pha’ on Muchai the last day of the festival.

The significance of the ritual is the fact that even though the ancestors had departed from the clan many years ago, their love, respect and reverence for the deaths is still alive. Behdieñkhlam is appropriately starts with the offerings to the ancestors, because every tribal community has profound respect for their ancestors.

In the Pnar weekly calendar “Mulong,” is the day before the market day “musiang,” the market day in Jowai is also the local pay day and Mulong is also the second day of the fest. By the end of the day all the Dieñkkhlam, all 9 round neatly carved logs were kept at their allotted place in the Iawmusiang area. The 9 Dieñkkhlams cut from huge trees were prepared and carried to their respective place by the 7 localities of the town namely Tpep-pale, Dulong, Panaliar, Lumiongkjam, Iongpiah Loompyrdi Iongpiah, Loomkyrwiang and Chilliang Raij being the khon Raij was by tradition given the responsible to prepare and bring two round log called ‘Khnong blai’ and ‘Symbood khnong’. The important aspect of this day is that male members of the Niamtre marches in a dancing procession accompanied by traditional drums and flutes to bring the dieñkhlam from the different woods where the many dieñkhlam were prepared to the town. Early in the morning families are busy preparing ja-sngi (lunch) for every male member of the society to join the community to bring the dieñkhlam.

The third day of the holy week is “Musiang” it is also the last day of the week and on this particular day all the Dieñkhlam and the Khnong are carried from the heart of Jowai town to the respective localities. Apart from the 7 dieñkhlam and two khnong; hundreds of 15 to 19 feet trees called ‘ki Dieñkhlam khian (small Dieñkhlam) were cut by the followers of the Niamtre. 2 or 3 of these tiny Dieñkhlam were kept in the frontage or patio of every house of the followers of the Niamtre. The tiny Dieñkhlam are used when the community dancer come to bless the house with proper rituals and use it to beat the rooftop of the house symbolizing ridding away the plaque and evil spirit from the house and pray to the almighty God to bless the family. Behdieñkhlam will be incomplete without the ‘dieñ.’ KC Rymbai Daloi of Elaka Jowai also expressed his concern about the consequences from the large-scale cutting of trees during Behdieñkhlam. By tradition every tree cut during Behdieñkhlam was done so with proper prayer and asking for exoneration from the Mother Nature (Bei ram-aw) and the Ryngkaw the basa, the gods; the guardian angels of the area.

Muchai is the last day of the Behdieñkhlam festival of the Jowai Raij and it is also the first day of the eight days a week traditional calendar.
It is rather a hectic day for the religious heads of the Niamtre, the day started at the wee hour of the morning with the tradition of ‘kyntiñ khnong’ at the Priestess official house. The programme was followed by the Ka Bam tyngkong led by the Daloi at the clan-house of the first four settlers of Jowai town. But the main part of the festival was the coming together of all the khon (children) ka Niamtre at the sacred Aitnar, a pond in which the last significant part of the festival was performed. The dance at Aitnar was that of the people who finds joy on the arrival of U Tre Kirod (God) with the celebration of Behdieñkhlam. It also symbolizes the oneness of the people and everyone joyfully joins without any distinction. The ‘ia knieh khnong’ traditions where men compete to set foot on the ‘khnong’ symbolize cleansing of the souls and blessing for good health.

The climax of the day is the arrival of the colourful Rots brought by the many dongs of the Jowai town to be displayed at the Aitnar, and all the beautiful Rots are then rid-off as part of the offering.

Dat Lawakor, the last part of the Behdieñkhlam is about the farming community in the Jowai Raij, asking God to indicate which of the two valleys around Jowai, the Pynthor neiñ or the Pynthor wah will yield a good harvest this year. Interestingly, the Pnar sense of direction is only of the East and the West and they have no words for north and south but simply call the two direction as ‘wah’ and ‘neiñ’ which literarily mean up and down.

It is a football played using a wooden ball with no goals. The only rule of the game is that the team which can carry the ball to the designated end wins and the particular direction will reap better harvest that year. So if the team on the upper side of the road wins, the indication is that the Pynthor neiñ will reap a better harvest and if the team from the lower side wins, the valleys in the Pynthor wah will obtain a better harvest.

Dat Lawakor is the last public event of every Behdieñkhlam, although the Daloi, the Lyngdoh and the other religious dignitaries still have a last ritual to finish at the Lyngdoh’s residence called ‘pynlait sarang.’ Finally the Daloi and the other religious head can now go and sleep in their respective wife’s house. To maintain the sanctity of the religious rites, self-purification by way of abstinence from sleeping with one’s partners is observe by religious head. The religious are even prohibits from visiting their respective wives residence throughout the festival.

There altogether 6 Behdieñkhlam festival celebrated by the Pnars throughout the year, the first behdieñkhlam was celebrated by the raij Chyrmang, then followed by the raij Jowai, Tuber, Ialong, Mukhla and raij Muthlong.