Wednesday, September 22, 2010

The Core Belief of the Unitarians in Khasi and Jaintia hills

The Unitarian Church in Khasi Jaintia hills or the Khasi Unitarians as it is known by its sisters church in arround the world is a liberal church which is unique in it is own right. Though Unitarianism is a global religion, each group has its own distinct feature which is unique to the individual group. Unitarianism around the world is a liberal religion which was founded on the principle of respect and tolerance, encourages diversity and has room for different beliefs. Variation is the church strength, and one of the church’s core beliefs is diversity and not division.
The uniqueness of this church in the hills is not because it was founded by a native of the land and was the only church which was not started by the missionaries; but more importantly the birth of the Church was the founder’s ability to blend the best and the essence of the two thoughts and traditions into one. The church was established 123 years ago on the 18 of September 1887. Hajom Kissor Singh Lyngdoh Nongbri who has probably converted to Christianity along with his famous brother Nissor Singh in the year 1885 1 was an avid reader, like many of his predecessors in the many Unitarian movement across the globe; he too soon realized that the doctrine of the holy trinity was not adopted by the Church till the reign of the emperor Constantine more than 325 years after the death of Jesus Christ 2. He concluded for himself that the holy trinity was not only a complex proposition but also unscriptural. To his own understanding the core teaching of Jesus is to worship the one and only God whom he called father and to love God and love one’s neighbor as one love oneself 3. The Unitarian Church in the Khasi hills is also called “Ka Niam ieid i’u briew ieid i’U Blei” 4 the religion of love fellow human being and love God based on these core teaching of Jesus.
The three main principles of the Unitarian church in the Khasi Jaintia hills as propounded by Hajom Kissor Singh himself is the Oneness of God who is a Father and a Mother of human, the brotherhood and the sisterhood of humankind in spirit and the eternally everlasting living soul or immortality. In the same line H. K. Singh also affirmed that the human spirit has the potential to grow and progress into everlasting life, he hence coined an ever inspiring motto of the church “To nang roi” which literarily translates as ‘keep on progressing.’ Being a liberal church this is one aspect which confirmed the progressive facet of the church because it inspires one to strive forward and progress both at the individual level and as an organization. The three principles of belief of the church were firmly set in the first hymn of the Khasi Unitarian hymnal which H. K. Singh called “the essence of the church of God.” 5
The oneness of God is the foundation of belief of the Unitarian hence the name, but the belief in the one Creator God is also the core of the Khasi belief. The oneness of God which is the heart of the Khasi belief system was many a time put on the back burner by the Khasis of his time and instead the worship of the many deities and gods was more prevalent during those days. H. K. Singh vehemently opposed the worshipping of the various deities and lesser god(s). 6 He was, therefore, not in the good book of Khasi stalwart the like Babu Jeebon Roy. 7 Neither was he in good terms with his Christian brethrens who branded him heretic. H. K. Singh’s call was for the Christians to worship the one and the only God of the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament) and the “our Father in heaven of Jesus” and for the Khasi who spend more time and resources to appease the deities and gods in total disregard of the Creator God. His call for them was to pay more allegiance to the one and the only God the Creator whom they have often neglected.
It may be mentioned that in the Khasi Jaintia thoughts and understanding; there is only one word for the two English words the spirit and the soul -“ka mynsiem.” So when one says “Mynsiem” it could either mean the soul or the spirit. To the Khasi Pnar the human soul is the same with the all-pervading spirit. The Khasi does not differentiate between the two. Hence the other principle of belief of the Khasi Unitarian that of the brotherhood and sisterhood of human in spirit or the universal-spiritual-brotherhood and sisterhood of humankind can be understood in this context, that the spirit permeates in all creation and particularly in the human kind. To the Khasi, ‘ka mynsiem’ is that which connects one soul to another and that which encompass the entire universe and also that which transcend all creation. The universe and the entire creation is link by the spirit or filled with the spirit.
H.K. Singh’s concept of the everlasting live of the soul also bears the truth that his thought was inspired by the indigenous Khasi thoughts and philosophy of life after death. The Khasi concept live after is that the soul departed from the body will go eat bettlenuts in the corridor of God’s house, so traditionally the Khasi too belief that the soul lives eternaly. The immortality of the soul also prove that spirit even transcends the realm of mortality. The Khasi Pnar believe that during conception, the mother conceived only the body that which is mortal, the soul or the spirit was divinely instilled in the body in the womb. The spirit in the human body which was divinely placed in the mother’s womb lives and grows in the human body and on its death return back to God which is the everlasting source of all spirits.
Salvation to the Khasi is by deeds and character, the Khasi lays a great emphasis on the other cardinal principle of life of the Khasi which is known as ‘Kamai ia ka hok’ to earn righteousness. In the Khasi way of life, one’s entire life is governed by this principle alone. There are two schools of thoughts with regard to salvation, one is of the opinion that he who does not earn righteousness in his life will go to the nurok ka ksew, or the Khasi hell, and the other are of the opinion that whatever wrong one does in his life will befall on one’s descendant. One who lives in the path of righteousness shall go to eat bettlenuts in the corridor of the God’s dwelling. In the Christian context it is the challenge that Jesus called everyone to bear one’s own cross and to do the will of God. The Unitarian also shares a similar belief that salvation is by one’s own deeds and character and not by faith alone.
Unitarianism in the Khasi Jaintia hills is a middle path of the two prominent traditions of the area the Khasi Pnar tradition and the Christian tradition. The Unitarians worship the one and only God of the Hebrew Bible and the Father in heaven of Jesus and the love your neighbor as one love thyself. The cardinal principles of Khasi Pnar way of life is also base on a similar teaching of “Tip briew tip Blei and tip kur tip kha” (to know man; know God or live righteously and know God and know your families from both the mother and the father’s side. The two principles begin with the Khasi word ‘tip’ which is literarily translate ‘to know’ in English, but the word ‘tip’ here has other meaning too, it also means to respect and to love. Hence Unitarian in Khasi Jaintia hills is also known as the religion of love fellow human being and love God because it lays strong emphasis on the essence of the two traditions to love fellow human being and to love God.

1. Syiem, R.S. Ka Jingim u Nissor Singh Lyngdoh Nongbri, Ka Thiar ki Nongthoh Khasi.
2. Encyclopedia
3. New Testament Mk 12/28-31 and Mt 22/40
4. Edward, Rev. David. Hymn No 14 in the Khasi Unitarian hymnal.
5. Singh, H. K. Hymn No. 1 & No. 335 of the Khasi Unitarian hymnal
6. Singh, H.K. Hymn No. 18.
7. Roy, Jeebon. Preface of Ka Niam Jong Ki Khasi.