Sunday, December 5, 2010

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.