I was blessed to grow up in a surrounding abound with fascinating folktales and legends that elders tells and retell their kids from one generation to another, I also owe it to my liberal upbringing to be able to appreciate and be objective in my studies on the subject without which considering my position in the church, I would not even been permit to do the kind of work I am doing. One of the stories in our folklore which fascinate me most is the stories of human sacrifices that were performed in the village of Nartiang in Jaintia hills. The religious way of life of the people of Nartiang village is unique in way that people were able to synthesize the two different religious traditions - Hinduism and the Indigenous religion and blend the two harmoniously into one. The stories of human sacrifices also flourished since time immemorial in the two systems of religious practices that the people of the village adopted as their religious way of life.
One such stories, is the tale of human sacrifice performed by the legendary Mar Phalangki of Nartiang but before we continue with the story of this particular human sacrifices incident, it is important for the readers to understand who are the Mars in the Pnar of Jaintia Folklores? Mars are men with extraordinary caliber patronized by the Royal Court of the then Jaintia Kingdom. It is believed that Mars are of giant size and the King used them in the battlefields to defeat the enemies and also to perform extraordinary feats for the King. Another opinion is that Mars are rank or status in the Royal army, Mar is perhaps the equivalent of a General.
In the famous Nartiang Monolith Park, the many monoliths and table stones, big and small have one common story that the monoliths and table stones were put up to commemorate the reign of certain Jaintia king, but it is the largest and the tallest monolith of them all which has a story unique of its own. The largest and the tallest monolith in the park and perhaps in the entire Khasi Pnar is believed to be the handy work of u Mar Phalangki. The giant tried to erect the monolith several times but failed to do so, finally they decided to seek gods’ intervention by performing egg divination. The sign from the egg divination implies that the gods require human head; human has to be sacrificed for the stone to stand tall was the clear message from the gods. It was a market day and people gathered around to watch the show of strength and finally Mar Phalangki came up with the idea to appease the gods. He dropped a lime and tobacco container made of gold (known locally as dabi/dabia) making it appear like it was not purposely done. Without any suspicion of the deadly trick; one of the spectators immediately went down to collect the golden container from the pit dug to put the monolith. Mar Phalangki immediately lifted the huge monolith and put it on the pit over the man’s body and thus human was sacrificed and the stone stand tall as it is till now. Legends have it that the person sacrifice was a “Bhoi” the name local use for the people we now call Karbi, legends and folktales provide evidence that the Pnars of Jaintia Hills and the Karbis shared a very strong bond and to some extend even common culture since time immemorial. For instance the Karbis also has a legend that there was a Mar from the Karbi tribe who served the erstwhile Jaintia king and his name is Thong Nok Be from a Teron Clan. Ma Dontha Dkhar also said that elders in Nartiang told him that once the time to sacrifice approaches, by divine intervention a man mostly a Bhoi or somebody from the elaka Nongkhlieh would in a way voluntarily come to offer oneself for sacrifice.
The other human sacrifice is the tradition which still continues to this day and is being performed by the Priest of the Durga temple in Nartiang of behalf of his King (the last of the Jaintia Kings adopted Hinduism) in the ancient time. If one would visit the Durga temple in Nartiang, and if you are lucky to be greeted by Uttam Deshmukhya, the young priest of the temple who claimed to be the 27 descendant of the first Priest institute by the Jaintia King and once you are inside the temple, he would take the very old traditional warrior double-edged-sword (wait thma) of the Pnar from wooden rack over the head of the goddess’ image and proudly show you what is believed to be the sword used to perform human sacrifice to appease goddess Durga or her many incarnations in the days gone by. In front of the sanctum sanctorum there is a square hole which is believe to be an opening of a tunnel from where the severed head of the person offered for sacrificed rolled down to the Myntang river hundreds of meters away from the temple. He would also tell you that in the days gone by; his ancestors performed human sacrifice on behalf of the King and also tell you the human sacrifice was stopped by the British, but that was not the end of the story.
Taking you round the sanctum sanctorum; he will take a white mask of a human face hanged on one of the wooden post near the goddess’ image and tell you that though the British has stopped human sacrifice but not for good. Symbolically human sacrifice is still going on and instead of human; a goat in the garb of a human is sacrificed in the Durga Temple every Durga Puja. As per tradition a goat which represent human, is being offered till date by the Daloi on behalf of the King, though the Kingship and the Kingdom is no more, the tradition continues. The black goat the Daloi offer must be a healthy spotless and is not sacrificed along with other animals on the common day of sacrifice, but the symbolic human sacrificed known in local parlance as “Blang synniaw” or mid-night goat was performed in the dead of the night before the common sacrificial day. Before the goat which symbolize human was sacrificed, a Pnar turban was put over its head and a pair of earrings known as ‘kyndiam’ was pierced on both of the goats ears and a dhoti (yu-slein) was tied around its waist. To complete formal transformation of the goat to a symbolic human, a white mask of a human face was placed on the goat’s face and the goat is ready for a special sacrifice. The symbolic human sacrifice was not only very strangely performed in the middle of the night, but the Priest also informed that while performing the sacrifice, the temple is completely closed for anybody except for the Priest all by himself and the sacrificial goat. Even the Daloi was only part of the sacrifice that was performed on the same night infront of the temple but he is forbidden from being part of the symbolic human sacrificed. In other words the tradition of human sacrifice still continues albeit only the offering (thank goodness) is not a human anymore but a real scapegoat.
So, if you think that the English has invented the word “scapegoat,” think again because the Durga temple in Nartiang has literarily killed a he goat every year instead of a human. A he goat which symbolically represents a human was sacrifices every year to appease the deity for the sin human being committed and the sacrificial goat is literarily a scapegoat because it has taken the place of a human in the altar.