Jowai (Meghalaya):The Behdienkhlam festival--one of the most popular religious festival of the Pnars (a tribal community in Jaintia hills district of Meghalaya in Northeast India) culminated on Sunday as thousands of devotees and spectators coming from all over Khasi and Jaintia hills and even tourists witnessed the colourful celebration held at 'Aitnar'--a sacred pool . Organised annually by the Sein raij ,Jowai, this unique festival is held after the sowing is over so as to overcome any destructive forces of nature including diseases by invoking the God for a good harvest.
This unique and ancient festival of Behdienkhlam,celebrated by the Pnar (Jaintia ) tribal community culminated in culminated today amidst joy and religious fervour. The festival is the ritualistic expression of the relentless struggle of mankind against disease since the dawn of civilization .
It is the most important and colourful festival of the Jaintias and is celebrated mid -July every year after the sowing is over. 'Khlam' means ' Plague or Pestilence' and 'Beh Dien' means to drive away with sticks.
'According to mythology, it had been foretold that there would be a widespread plague in Ri -Pnar(Land of the Pnars)and to ward it off the people sought help from their protector deities Mulong , U Mukhai and Musniang who advised them to hold the festival annually in the spirit of goodwill ,brotherhood and joy ' says Lambok Pde , a Pnar elder.
The four -day celebrations sees thousands of followers of the indigenous Niamtre faith converge at Wah Aitnar(a muddy pool) dancing to the tunes of the traditional pipes and drums,while 'Khnong ', A wooden post and rots ('rath') ,tall decorated structures of various shapes and sizes,which are the main attractions of the festival, were carried amidst chants and cheers.
'During the three day rites , Dolois (chieftains) performed a number of religious rites to chase away the evil spirits such as plague,epidemic etc. Young men , in a symbolic gesture of driving away the evil spirits, beat the roofs of every house with bamboo poles' says S.Passah, a resident of Jaintia hills.
Other highlights highlights of the celebration were -- the fight for a large undressed beam by two groups of people in opposition to each other at Wah Aitnar,dancing at the pool by both young and old , a game played similar to football , called Dad -Lawakor , which was played with a wooden ball between two sides. The merrymaking continues till late night.
The youths of each locality display their artistic skills by erecting coloured ' rots'--30--40 feet tall structures built out of bamboo, coloured papers and tinsel.Competition flares up as each group tries to undo the other in making the tallest and most artistic 'rot'.
The climax of the celebrations is the tussle ,as seen in a tug of war,for the 'Khnong 'by two groups of people opposed to each other.The trunk along with the colourful 'rots' is then immersed in the muddy waters of the Aitnar pool.
The festival is also an invocation to God seeking blessings for a good harvest. Women offer sacrificial food to the spirits the ancestors and the ancestress.
Interestingly,the tribal festival of Behdienkhlam , which involves the 'rots' or 'raths' is held around the same time as the famous Ratha Yatra of Puri is held to celebrate the dynamism of the 'wheels in the circle 'of life.
Photos by : Warlton Jyrwa and Rinibeth Patlong