Very often Behdieiñkhlam is being defined by merely describing the literary meaning of the name of the festival, the term beh-dieñ-khlam comprises of three words ‘Beh’ literarily means to chase or to rid off and ‘dieñ’ means wood or log and ‘khlam’ means plague, epidemic or pestilence. So Behdieñkhlam literarily means the festival to rid off or get rid of the plague but that is not what Behdieñkhlam is all about.
Very few people know that altogether there are 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. Rupaia Lamarr lecturer of Kiang Nangbah Government College has aptly described the festival when he said: “Behdieñkhlam is an agrarian festival which is a testimony to an advanced culture of wetland cultivation as against Jhum cultivation practiced by other indigenous communities.” Lamarr also said “It is also during the festival that family members and relatives experience the joy of homecoming. It is a time to be at home with Mother Nature and dance on its lap, its soil and its water, Behdieñkhlam also expresses the relationship between man and god, man and nature and man with fellow men.” He also added that “at the community level Behdieiñkhlam is a joint effort to drive away evil and diseases, the prayers and sacrifices offered to god are for the health, the economy and the society.”
K.C. Rymbai Daloi of the elaka Jowai recently has confirmed to this writer that the festival indeed has a fine connection with the agricultural activities of the people. The main part of the festival was the council of the 4 high priest of the four raijs, the raij Jowai, raij Tuber, raij Chyrmang and Ialong. Rymbai also said that every part of the rituals performed throughout the year in preparation of Behdieñkhlam intricately link with agriculture. The significant of Thoh Langdoh is after the ritual is performed then people can start planting cucumber, pumpkins, beans and various types vegetables and it is only after another ceremony ka Chat thoh that farmers can start tilling their paddy fields.
The various Behdieiñkhlam klam festivals celebrate by different raij also signifies the many important events of rice cultivation. The first raij to celebrate Behdieñkhlam is the raij Chyrmang and it indicates that time for tilling the paddy fields has started. The Jowai Behdieñkhlam signifies the season after the seeds was been placed on the lap of mother nature and the raij Tuber’s Behdieiñkhlam coincides with the time that farmers has done with weeding the weeds from the fields, the raij Ialong celebrates its Behdieiñkhlam when the rice plant starts to flowers and the celebration of the raij Mukhla’s festival suggest the advent of the harvest season.
So Behdieiñkhlam is not merely about the plague but it testify to the fact that the Pnar of Jaintia were the first tribe in the region to develop their farming from Jhum cultivation to a more developed farming practices, while their counterpart like the War Jaintia, the Karbis and even the Biates still practice Jhum cultivation till as recent as the early nineties.
The three days and four nights Annual Behdieiñkhlam festival of the Pnars always starts with the tradition of offering food to the ancestors 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. 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. 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.
In the traditional calendar “Mulong,” is the day before the market day “musiang,” the market day in Jowai 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 at Iawmusiang by the 7 localities 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 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 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. 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. The day started in 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 ‘ia knieh khnong’ traditions at the sacred pool is whence men compete to set foot on the ‘khnong’ symbolized 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. It is a football played using a wooden ball with no goals bars. 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.