Ka Pahsyntiew ( A Khasi folktale)
In the Khasi Hills, Shillong peak is the highest of all. The people long ago venerated this peak. Thinking some evil spirits to be residing there, they were greatly afraid of it. What appears to be a forest now-a-days used to be a profoundly dense woodland at one point of time.
There lived a god in the Shillong peak, unworshipped and unknown to the Khasis until a wise man called U Shillong through his deep intuition discovered the existence of the great god in the hills. He taught the people about the greatness of the god and advised them to offer sacrifice and reverence. He taught them how to perform the rights to please the great god. But the god's name was known to none, not even U Shillong. People named him U 'Lei Shillong or god of U Shillong. Afterwards, people started calling the god as Shillong. The name of the hills was also named Shillong. The former capital of Assam was named as Shillong following this fable. Among the Khasis, Shillong god is the most widely revered name. He is worshipped in the Jaintia Hills likewise.
He was regarded as a generous and benign deity. Because of his benevolent attitude towards human beings people could enter the forest easily to hunt. He helped people in trouble and saved them from the clutches of evil spirits.
He had a family consisting of a wife and three daughters. Many tales are prevalent among the Khasis about the three daughters. One of the three started living as a human among the Khasi people. Her children were later known as Syiems. The other two daughters altered themselves in frolicking fits into two rivers. This tale is all about the goddess who lived as a Khasi maiden.
Hundreds of years ago there was a cave named the Cave of Marai. Near this cave stood a downright rock. Young cowherds would gather there, merrymaking all around, playing on their flutes while their cows would graze on grasses. The rock was so straight and high that they assumed it must have never been touched by human feet.
When the young cowherds gathered as usual one day, they were surprised at a sight. A very beautiful girl was sitting on top of that rock looking down at them wistfully. All of them got freightened and ran back to their villages leaving the cows grazing by themselves. The name of the village was Mylliem. After the news was spread among the villagers they held a meeting to discuss among themselves as what to do about the girl. To see for themselves if it was an apparition or a human being they decided to walk there. Led by the cowherds they really saw an exquisitely beautiful girl sitting on the rock.
The clothes and apparels she was wearing seemed to be much more beautiful and expensive than theirs. Hence they assumed she must belong to a very rich family. They were so much in awe of her beauty that they forgot to blink their eyes. But how could they bring her down from such height? It was not possible for them to climb so high a rock as that. They tried to talk but she did not utter a word. They waved their hands indicating her to climb down, she did not make a move. The people found themselves confused.
Among the people a man called U Mylliem Ngap known for his wisdom and valour thought that she was not responding because she was freightened. He then collected some bamboos and joined them into a pole adequately long so that it can reach her. He beckoned at her to take hold of it, but she kept sitting on.
Then Ngap noticed a tuft of flowers blooming near the cave. He immediately fastened it to the end of the pole and held it up in the girl's view. She uttered a cry of delight and held out her hands to take them. As U Mylliem Ngap immediately lowered the pole, the girl moved towards it. The pole was again lowered and she moved closer. Slowly and slowly while the people were watching the whole process with bated breaths, the girl was brought down on ground immediately.
U Mylliem Ngap takes her responsibility and names her Pahsyntiew which means 'fascinated by flowers'. No one knew about her origins. Following everyone's consent Ngap brought her up as his own daughter. Likewise she respected him as her own family.
What people thought of Ka Pahsyntiew as a little girl spread far and wide when she grew up into a woman of mesmerising beauty. She excelled others with her unique intelligence and wisdom. She took a leading place in the Khasi dance and all the merrymaking. She taught the other girls how to dance and sing. Ka Pahsyntiew initiated the Virgins Dance in the Khasi Hills. Even to settle matters pertaining to solving disputes of the village her foster father consulted her. When the people realised she was more intelligent than their rulers they made her Ka Syiem or their queen.
When she reached the marriageable age Ngap married her off to a man of wisdom and prowess. She gave birth to many noble sons and daughters.
After the children grew up one fine day she called them together and revealed to them who she actually was. That she was the daughter of U Shillong and to live among mankind she came with her father's permission and that time had arrived for her to go back to her actual home.
A few days later Ka Pahsyntiew walked in the direction of Cave of Marai. No one accompanied her for all knew who she was and that it was time for her to return. In the Khasi Hills her descendents had two families of Khasi Chiefs or Syiems. These two are known as Kharim and Mylliem. Two provinces of these names are still there.
Illustrations - Utpal Talukdar.
(Utpal Talukdar is an illustrator and a cartoonist. He has completed several projects of children literature with National Book Trust of India. He is a reciepient of Parag Kumar Das Journalism Award)
(Translation from Assamese – Daisy Barman
(A doctoral fellow at the Department of Folklore, Gauhati University, Daisy Barman is a scribbler and translator. She can be reached at email@example.com She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org )
About the Khasis
The Khasis are one of the most colourful tribes and live in Khasi hills of Meghalaya. They follow Matriarchy, the descent is followed through mother. There are very few tribes in the world, which follow matriarchy. The Ka Khadduh or youngest daughter normally inherit the ancestral property. Khasi people have special expertise in weaving, bamboo and cane-craft. They are harworking and love music. Nongkrem dance is their main festival, which is held during October and November annually.
This folktale was published in Asom Deshor Sadhu, a collection of folktales, published by Sri Bhumi Publishing Company of Kolkata in 1955. It was renowned Assamese writer Prafulla Dutta Goswami, who collected these folktales of different tribes and communities in North East.