The sacred groves of Mawphlang

January 9, 2017, 8:56 pm

A forest  that has not been plundered ;where 1,000 -year-old trees loom above the rare orchids and herbs; where people venture only to pray  to the almighty ; where legendary tales of supernatural punishment keep people  from pilferage. This heavenly place , Mawphlang  forest , is a protected area located in the East Khasi Hills of Meghalaya . The Khasi village  community that protects the forests believes that this is the abode of their gods, and their stories trace the origin of this forest to more than 1,000 years ago.Many of the trees  in this region are easily that old ( if not older, and the forest, which is  bordered by grassland , also abounds with rare herb and medicinal plants.

While the idea of conserving forests is only now picking up in the rest of the country . Meghalaya has long been showcasing  the green story  in Mawphlang ; just like its counterpart in the East Khasi Hills_Mawlynong village_ known worldwide as "the cleanest village in Asia". The tribal community that  protects this forest  considers it a sacrilege to even say or do " bad things " here;and according  to Hurbert Nongrum , a resident of Mawphlang , both fear and faith  have kept the locals from cutting the trees in this forest. " Those who spoke bad things inside the sacred grooves lost their speech and those indulging  in wicked acts had their head  turn 180degrees"adds Nongrum.

One of the legends  from these lands says that a man from neighbouring Assam had a vision  while walking  through this area ;a vision that the entire forest  would one day disappear  and become  a meadow. Treating it as a sign , the legend  goes on to say that villagers then banned the cutting of trees from the forest . Whatever the truth of the matter, the centuries of conservation have resulted  in rich foliage of rudraksh trees, Khasi pine trees, rare flowers, herbs, and ferns in Mawphlang forest . Within  the forest , there are sacred groves encircled  by rich vegetation .

Among the legends surrounding  the sacred  grooves, one particular story centres on the age -old Blah clan . According to Alan West Kharkongor , a local tourism promoter, Mawphlang ,and the grooves, were originally settled by the Blah community , formerly known as Langblah , who migrated from the Pnar  area in Jaintia hills. The move happened  after a divine intervention ; the chief received  a heavenly sign  that the tribe should move northwest ,to the Khasi hills, by travelling through U Syiem Shillong territories . When they reached Lum Shillong --now known as Shillong Peak , a famous tourist spot -- they followed the Umiew river, now called  Umiam Mawphlang . After travelling  about five miles down  from Lum Shillong , they climbed westward and settled at Pdenshnong , Mawphlang.

Once they reached Mawphlang, the Blah elders took on the role of chieftain, begining  the tradition that stand to this day( A hillock on the periphery  of the forest known as  lait-tyrkhang is today a well preserved sacred spot where the Blah had performed rituals  and sacrifices  to propitiate  their gods )Eventually Mawphlang village became  famous ,andmany other clans travelled here  to join the Blah clan in setting this region . The  12 clans- Kharshiing,Kharsohliya,Kharhunai,Kharnarbi,Kharsahkhar, Kharmawphlang, Kharmaram,Kharlanguih, Kharphynrap,and Kurkalong--- together form  the Hima Mawphlang. The Blah remained the leaders of this new community until the  Mawphlang --Syiemiong war, which was won by the Mawphlang clan.

Interestingly,after the war , the Blah clan decided that since many of their people had fallen in battle, they could  no longer rule over the others.They then declared  their onetime subjects as fellow comrades . This decision required the appointment of a leader for the welfare of the people,and so the search began . Since all the members of the Hima Mawphlang  had similar sentiments , no one agreed to sit on the throne.

After much deliberations , the name of the distinguished  woman-- Ka Khmah Nongsai, know for her wit and statemanship--cropped up.Though she refused  to take on the role ,she sought a sign from the gods for her own son to take up the responsibility . To that end she planted  two saplings --- one of Dieng Sohma or Rhus semialata and another of Dieng sning  or Castronopsis Indica-- at a place called Phiephandi( some say that there was a third plant also , known as  ka Diengdoh,or Exbucklandia populnea). The stories  say that she believed that if the saplings survived for three years,her son was destined to be the chief of the Hima Mawphlang .  it so happened that the sapling did survive and it was decided  that the son of Khmah  Nongsai would become chief. (The stone seats where the chieftian and his ministers sat at Phiephandi during the crowning ceremony  have been preserved  till date). The chief took thetitle of U Lyngdoh , and the territory that he ruled has been known as Mawphlang ever since.

With time  the Lyngdoh  Clan  began to use Phiephandi as a place for rituals  and sacrifices > The Khasis believed that there can be no ruler or kingdom without a sacred grove,and conversly, that there could be no sacred grove without a ruler. A core area of around 40 hectares was then identified as the most sacred ,and altars were erected to perform the rituals and sacrifices. At some point during its history , the Lyngdoh also asked  the ruler and his ministers to mark out more  space around  the sacred  grove to safeguard  the site form fire or other dangers ;this was agreed to. Thereafter,parts of the community forests were attached to the sacred grove .The whole area was then sanctified , and it became the 78.88 hectare  forest that is today know as Mawphlang Sacred Grove.In Khasi , the grove is called Law Lyngdoh or Lawkyntang .

Soon after the Anglo- Khasi War ended in 1893,attempts were made by some people  to cut down the trees in the sacred grove. The Lyngdoh and the elders from the different village of the Hima fought hard against this scarilege ,and even sent volunteers to prevent people from doing so . They performed sacrifices to invoke the deities  and punished those who dared  to violate  the sacred grove bycutting the trees or even plucking flowers.

Nonetheless,the restrictions are not insensible ;the fruits,nuts herbs,honey and water that the grove so richly provides can be consumed inside the forest , but these cannot be taken outside for  profit making business purposes. It was after this prohibition began  that stories started doing the rounds of people who defied  the order being cursed with strange afflictions . So strong wasthe belief that even today ,no one daresto disturb the  sancity of the grove. (EOM)..


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