Monolith Festival - The newest metaphor of Khasi Culture
The single yet multidimensional identity of a race is its culture. Culture is never subject to annihilation, the only phenomenon happening to it is the fact that its forms and metaphors change over time. The pith of culture no matter what remains forever the same. Time tends to change its superficies and enhance its periphery. Taking up newer forms as various newer metaphors in accordance with time's pace culture makes a race or community single and unique. Even in a modern capitalist society wrecked heavily by the wind of globalisation there appear rare examples of people that prove living with one's ancient identity and at the same time establishing one's unique cultural traits in modern times are actually feasible. One such example is that of Khasi community and its worldly-wise culture. The kernel of Khasi culture is still profoundly and inseparably inlaid in the main root of its ancient heritage. Monolith Festival can rightly be termed the newest form of the rich Khasi heritage. This festival has carried the splendid forms of tradition through the pulse of people.
Even the hills change its colors during spring they say.
Mawphlang, a picturesque village situated 26 km to the South of Shillong is blessed with Nature's bounty- unique and utterly rich. The area namely Mawphlang is well-known for a sacred forest of the Khasis.
Faith and anxiety of people have shaped this sacred forest ages after ages. The folk beliefs have it that not a single leaf is ever plucked from this sacred forest. If all the greens of planet Earth disappear some day, a green tale will gently emerge from this sacred forest. In its neighbouring areas a Khasi heritage village is endearingly set up with a view to introduce the rich culture and tradition of the Khasi hills to rest of the world. The Khasi Hills Autonomous District Council had organised Monolith Festival at the beginning of Spring season. This festival was on from 31st March to the second of April. Participating in this festival has been a unique experience for me - to have seen it from nearest distance and to have immersed in it.
The songs and music of people from the hills are characteristic of nature praise or worship. The tunes easily touch our souls. In the festival venue at a time on two stages, one temporary and the other permanent, dance and songs were being performed. The use of folk instruments in the musical performances was soothing and soulful. Apart from the local artists, their counterparts from across the world also graced the event.
The centre of attraction in the festival ground was Nuragunya, a musical band from Australia whose advent to Meghalaya occurred as part of cultural exchange. Not only they spread the redolence of their own folklore and culture, they also carried the exuberant fragrance from the Khasi hills. Most interestingly, people flooded to the event to watch performance of Na Rympei, a band that had already achieved much popularity among the new generation for its amazing blend of Khasi and Western instruments. Another band Summer Salt, widely popular for its rock music have amazed the flocks of visitors by using folk instruments like the chohaprouor.
The vastly renowned musician of the Khasis Rana Kharkongor's solo renditions were spectacular.
The festival venue was adorned with mouth-watering delicacies. The savory items of the Khasi, Garo, Naga, Jayantiya and Gonese dishes became immensely popular among visitors. Besides, a festival of local wine was held too. In addition with their popular local drink 'kiyad' home made sweet wine made of plentiful fruits available in the hills quenched the thirst of all that came down long distance to enjoy the mesmerizing event.
Everyone nurtures a longing to see the old as new. The organisers took special interest in displaying the local hand made clothes woven with sheer dexterity by the weavers of Khasi hills with an intent to showcase to the contemporary world. Fashion shows were held putting up newer forms in traditional clothes. Provision for exhibition cum sale of such clothes was also there.
At a time when the traditional sports of the Khasis were believed to be long lost, this festival appeared to have revived most of it among people. The sports that were played long back in their childhood, the old generation soaked in their reborn form. Tourists from Italy, Germany, USA were seen to be enjoying the sports in great bustle. A sport much similar to that of Chess attracted all- it was "Tiger Chasing the Goats". Others were -"Siat Sbai", "Mawkynting", "Diyandang", "Taid Raandos" etc.
Workshops on traditional sports, art, folklore for children were held on the Second day. The little ones-inheritors of once a warrior race from the past practised hitting the goal.
More than anything else, this festival had created a huge market for the local artisans. From dried fish and meat to wild orchid, from bamboo crafts to clothes, from hand-made weapons to colorful junks all found a significant place. The variegated delicacies and fruits were served by Kongs right on the spot with salt and chilli. Having never seen a large market the organisers of the festival made sure that the Khasi folk artists got a chance to showcase their art and sculpture as wells as a great chance to find buyers for them.
Parallelly in accordance with the festival in the museum there exhibited small things of daily usage and weapons made of rock circa 220BC discoverd following an excavation in the Chohpetneng were also displayed. The folk beliefs depict that the forefathers of Khasis seemingly seven particular tribes from heaven landed on earth.
Moreover, the Khasi material culture exhibited everyday during the festival reflected the cultural and social richness of the people.
On their way back from a vibrant place buzzed with the cadence of Khasi drums every person carried with him/her the lingering love of the people. Their discipline and soft-spokenness as well as mild behaviour fascinated all.
While walking down Mawphlang through the zigzags of the hills maybe everyone like me must have reverberated in the air - 'Khublei Chibun'!!! Many many thanks.
( Bipasha Bora is a creative writer and author. A Masters of Cultural Studies, Tezpur University, she is equally interested in studying folk-study and folk literature. She can be contacted at – 8415010746)
Translation from Assamese - Daisy Barman
(Daisy Barman is a scribbler and translator. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org )