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Praying to keep away the plague

Though Pnars celebrate Behdieñkhlam after sowing season, the preparations begin months before that

O R Challam

Behdieñkhlam, a religious festival of the indigenous Pnars of Jaintia Hills, is performed for the general well-being of the Ki Khon Ka Raij Ka Shnong (inhabitants).


The festival requires observance of a series of rites and rituals mostly executed by the traditional head under the supervision of U Doloi, U Langdoh, Ka Langdoh, U Pator, Ki Sangot wa ki Wasan Waheh of Ka Raij. The rituals are performed by every household under the consent of U Kni (uncle) and Ka Kchu (motherhood), which is known as Ka Niam Iong Iung.

The origin of Behdieñkhlam may be traced back to the time when Ka Bon, Ka Tein, Ka Wet and Doh (the incarnate ancestors of Ka Kur Soo Kpoh) first settled at a place called Loom-soo-iung. According to the legend, the first Behdieñkhlam was celebrated when U Dongsynriang was a Doloi and U Het Langdoh was a Langdoh of Jowai. Thus ‘Behdieñkhlam’ means driving away of plague, devils and all kinds of evil spirits with prayer to the Almighty God.

The Behdieñkhlam festival in Jowai is celebrated every year after sowing season but preparations begin before the season in the lunar month of U Bnai Wisu (March) with a ritual called Ka Kbai MooKnor.

However, all these rites and rituals cannot be performed without a prior pronouncement of Ka Dih-soo-pen, which plays an important role in maintaining the sacredness and sanctity of each ritual as Ka Dih-soo-pen forbids the concern priest(s) from bodily contact with one’s spouse. Religious obligations also forbid them to attend any religious ceremony related to birth or death of any family in the Raij until the completion of that particular ritual.

Ka Kbai Mooknor: This is the first custom in preparation of the Behdeinkhlam festival. The Doloi and his subordinate make a public announcement at a particular sacred place called Ka mooknor Blai Iaw, at Iawmusiang (market area) about the beginning of the rites and rituals. The announcement is made on the Sngi musiang, or the main market day.

Ka Thoh Langdoh: On the fourth day from Ka Kbai Mooknor, U Langdoh (a priest) performs Ka Thoh Langdoh on the Sngi Hat at a sacred place called Ka Blai Langdoh (Langdoh Sacred Grove). Thoh Langdoh is a ritual where prayers are offered prior to the sowing of seeds by U Langdoh in his garden symbolising the beginning of a new season. Unless Ka Thoh Langdoh is completed, no one in the Raij can take up sowing of any agricultural plants.

After the farmers finish their sowing, the Chad Sukra Festival and the ka Bamphalar (communion feast) performed by different localities.

Chad Sukra Festival is also one of the magnificent cultural festivals of the Pnars and is celebrated in April.

Ka Chat Thoh: On the onset of u’Naitung (April), Chat Thoh is being held on Ka sngi Mulong (a day before the main market day) at a place called Ka Um-Chat-Thoh. This is a ritual symbolising the importance of cleansing one’s soul.

Though, all the religious rites and rituals in preparation of the Behdieñkhlam festival are in order of the day since March till its culmination on the second week of July (July 14 this year), but on the ’nai san (May) no rituals are being performed during this month because customarily all Ki Wasan (subordinates of the priest) are engaged in catering to the needs of Ka Langdoh (priestess).

Ka Knia Khang: It is a series of rites, rituals and offerings in four places — Mookhai, Mooralong, Musniang and Mootong. These four important places are believed to be the protectors of Jowai town. Further, a day before the commencement of Ka Knia Khang, there is one of custom called Ka khrong ka tri is being performed on a sngi musiang (main market day).

Ka Knia Pyrthat: It is one of the most important religious rituals performed a week before the main days of the Behdieñkhlam festival. It is the biggest offering in the honour of Mother Earth, rain, thunder to protect from any turbulent or calamity.

Kñia Pyrthat begins early in the morning with the observation of Ka Chet Tpu Ka Peit Tpu by U Doloi, U Langdoh, Ka Langdoh and others. In this ritual, it is a customary practice that Ki Le Langdoh (the priest of three different raij) under the jurisdiction of U Doloi Elaka Jowai takes part in this ritual.

At the end of Ka Knia Pyrthat, U Doloi ka Elaka, Jowai (Chieftain of Elaka Jowai) and U Kongwasan, Langdoh Chyrmang offer a communion in prayer called Ka Iutang Knia Pyrthat.

After Ka Knia Pyrthat, everyone gets busy with the preparations for the main festival.

Ki Kmai Raij or Ki Dong (localities) starts constructing their rots, which are replicas of tableaux, showcasing the skill of art and creativity. By ka Sngi Khyllaw (three days before the main market day), everything is on set for a colourful festival. On the next day, U Doloi, U Langdoh, Ka Langdoh and Ki Wasan after Ka dih-so-pen go for an inspection in all the religious places where the Behdieñkhlam takes place.

Behdieñkhlam festival in Jowai is celebrated for four days and three nights. The first day begins at Ka sngi Pynsin (the 6th day of the week after market day), Ka sngi Mulong (the 7th day of the week day after market day), Ka sngi Musiang (market day) and culminated on Ka Mushai (the first day of the week after market day). The celebration of this festival continues with the performance of prayer, religious rites and offering, thanksgiving, cheering and rejoicing in the tunes of piping, beating of drum, bugles, tambourine and cymbal.

Ka Sngi Pynsin: In relation with Ka niam Raij, the day begins with Ka Khrong Khoo Pyrnah in the morning by Ki Wasan thereafter followed by Ka Li-dain Khnong in preparation for Kyntin Khnong.

In the evening, U Doloi is escorted to inspect these Khnong, followed by prayer and ritual called Ka Bam Tyngkong, Ka Booh Pyrnah and Ka Kdoh Sarang. In the afternoon, all the households offer Ka Chyllap Ka Chylliang to their ancestors at their respective Kmai Iung (a special home of a clan).

Ka Sngi Mulong: The second day begins with an offering called Ka Knia Aitnar. As soon as the Knia Aitnar is finished, devotees leave the locality along with the beats of bom (drum) and bhuri (piping) proceeding for the assembly at Mynkoi Pyrdi. When all the localities arrive, they dance together for a short while before leaving for Ka Biar Ka Blai. From here they depart to the place far down the hills in the deep jungle to pick up a polished and a well circular solid shaped, elongated tree called Deinkhlam.

In the afternoon, when all the localities bring their Deinkhlam at Iawmusiang, they again dance together until Ki Khon Raij brings Ka Khnong Blai and places it at Loom-soo-Iung. After Ka Khnong Blai reaches its resting place, all the devotees return home leaving their Deinkhlam at Iawmusiang for the night.

Ka Sngi Musiang: The third day of the festival is on the market day, or musiang. This day is marked with the erection of Ka Dienkhlam Ka Bon (a purify tree of Ka Bon) at Iong Rngad  (an ancestral clan of Ka Bon), Ka Dienkhlam Ka Doh at Iong Langdoh (an ancestral clan of Ka Doh) and Ki Dien Khlam Khian (a solemnised small tree) in front of every house early in the morning.

The Ki Kmai Raij gather at Mynkoi Pyrdi in the midday where the elders enlighten the important instructions and deliver short speeches. After this short gathering, the dance procession begins en route to Iawmusiang through Ka Biar Ka Blai. It is time for Ki Khon Raij to bring back Ka Khnong Blai to a place called Pohsawiar.

Ka Sngi Mushai: The culmination is the most spectacular event of the festival. At the dawn of the day, U Doloi, U Langdoh and Ki Khad Soo Wasan offer a worship, Ka Bam Tyngkong, at Iung Langdoh to honour Bei pun Doh whereas U Sangot Paswet and U Chutia set out to Khon Raij to carry out the same worship in honour of Ka Beipun Bon at Iong Rngad and Iong Nikhla.

While U Sangot Pakyntein and U Harnamoid set out to fetch Ka Dong Loompyrdi (a customary demarcated locality by Dong Synniriang bound to perform this particular religious rite at Iung Langdoh) to perform the religious rites called Ka Kyntin Khnong. This rite is performed in honour of Ka Wet, Ka Tein and Ka Doh who were the ancestors of Ka Kur Soo Kpoh and the first settler to set foot in Jowai town. The Loompyrdi enacts these rites.

A series of ritual continues throughout the day. After the ceremony at Iung Langdoh, U Doloi and U Langdoh move to Kmai Raij to perform Ka Bam Tyngkong at Iong Paswet and Iong Pakyntein in honour of Ka Bei Pun Wet and Ka Bei Pun Tein, respectively, while U Pator and U Sangot set out to perform the same rites at Khon raij.

Bam Tyngkong is also offered at Iong Syngkon and Iong Lato. The significant part in the morning is Ka Choh Thyndai in each and every household seeking blessings of U Tre Kirod and this is carried out by Ki Wasan as well by the elders and selected youth.

By midday, people throng Aitnar to witness the culmination of this splendid festival.

The localities escort their rots towards Aitnar and dancing gains momentum. On entering the sacred pool of Aitnar, people splash the water over their heads and bodies. The rots are then put into the Aitnar.

The crescendo of cheering and merry making reaches its zenith when all the rots arrive.

Finally, the Ka Khnong Blai is placed in the middle of the pool. As soon as the Ka Khnong Blai is brought to the other side, the ambience changes as the rots are thrown into the pool one by one. The devotee and people leave the Aitnar for Ka Dat-La-Wakor,  which is a game of football played with a wooden ball.

The unique occasion of Behdeinkhlam brings people together, closer to Mother Earth and nearer to U Tre Kirot. It is a festival well preserved by tradition of being where one belongs with their kith and kin. People visit their Iong Ki Pa (paternal grandmother’s house) for supper. They pray for protection throughout the year and every day.

(The author is the president of Seinraj Jowai)

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