The Rong Khil (Tiger Festival) of the War Jaintias 1


The Khasi predominantly inhabit the Khasi and Jaintia Hills Districts of Meghalaya. They comprise of the four main tribes, the Khynriam, Pnar, Bhoi, and the War. The Khasi, are a happy and lively people, they love dances, music and songs, which are connected with their various colorful festival and religious association, though a few of the celebrations are plainly secular 2. The festivals and dances play a very important role in the life of the people. It is during these occasions that the people can be joyous and happy and can forget their everyday monotonous life. It is through the festivals and dances that the life of the Khasi is reflected. To them festivals and dances are not only religious ceremonies but also social festivities. During these occasions, ceremonies, rites and rituals are performed which shows that the Khasi are a deeply religious people, they pray to God for His blessings, peace, well being and general prosperity and at the same time, they do not forget to thank Him for all the blessings that He has showered upon them. It is also during these festivals and dances that they could meet their relatives, the near and dear ones from far and near. The young boys and girls could be joyous and happy; the girls in particular, could display their beauty, gracefulness and their rich costumes, gold and silver ornaments.

The Khasi have a rich cultural heritage, they have many festivals and dances and their own distinctive dancing costumes, gold and silver ornaments and jewelleries, which are artistically made. Their musical instruments consist of various kinds of drums, pipes, harps, flutes and cymbals. Their most important festivals are the Pomblang Syiem or the Pomblang Nongkrem or more popularly known as the Shad Nongkrem of the Nongkrem dance, which is the religious festival of the Khyrim Syiemship, held annually at Smit, the official residence of the Khyrim Syiemship a few kilometers from Shillong. This festival continues for five days, it is held to honour and respect the ancestors and to ask God's blessings for the bountiful harvest, well being and general prosperity of the people on the whole. Another important festival is the Behdeinkhlam, which means a festival to drive away plague with sticks. It is a religious festival, that is celebrated annually in the month of July at Jowai, the headquarter of the Jaintia Hills District, and also in some other places, of the District. This festival is held to drive away evil spirits that caused various diseases to the people, and to invoke God's blessings for a good harvest, well being and to free them from all evils, so that they could live happily throughout the year. Another important festival is the Shad Suk Mynsiem or Shad Weiking, which is an annual Thanksgiving Dance held under the auspices of the Seng Khasi, a socio-religious and cultural organization of the Khasi who are still in their traditional religion. Shad Suk Mynsiem means the dance of a happy or peaceful heart. The dance is of comparatively recent origin, when a need was felt to preserve the rich cultural heritage of the people.

Besides these major ones, there are still many more festivals and dances in the different parts of the Khasi and Jaintia Hills, but here only one important festival known as the Rong Khil is to be highlighted. This is the most important festival of the War Jaintia, living in the southern part of the Jaintia Hills District of Meghalaya; it is performed at Nongtalang village, the biggest village in war Jaintia area. Most of the people in this village are still in their traditional religion. The people of Nongtalang have festivals; one of them is the Rong Beh Lyngkan, a festival to drive away evils that is similar to Behdeinkhlam festival. Another festival the Rong Pyrtuh is also an important one and the Phur, which is connected with the bone collection ceremony of the dead. Rong means festival and Khil means tiger, in the local dialect, so Rong Khil means the Tiger Festival.

The Origin of the Festival

About the origin of the Rong Khil festival, nobody could tell when it was first started, as the Khasi have no written records. However, whatever traditional is available, it seems that this festival is very old, and is handed down through the ages, from generation to generation. It might have been started long time back before the people settled at the present village of Nongtalang, they might have brought it from the place of migration or have learn it on their way. The dance known as Shad Khla or Tiger dance that is performed during the festival is believed to be a war dance, in which certain religious rites and ceremonies are performed after the victory in the war. There is a tradition that in the ancient times, after the victory in the war, the head of an enemy is chopped off and put in a long pole, and the people came-along with the enemy's head, shouting and dancing all the way to the accompaniment of music played by the drummers and piper to celebrate that victory. Whether or not this practice could be taken as the origin of the festival. We cannot say. However, some cases of head hunting were reported where the head of an enemy might be carried away as trophy 3. To the people, the tiger is symbolized as an enemy and is hated by them. This hatred might have started with the origin of the people itself. According to a Khasi tradition, God in the beginning created sixteen families, who used to go up to heaven and come down to earth as they pleased through a golden ladder. It was so, till the seven families known as U Hynniew Trep U Hynniew Skum, or the seven huts decided to remain on earth, and thereby the golden ladder was severed. These nine families stayed with God in heaven and the seven families stayed on earth and became the fore fathers of the Khasi. Then grew up on U Diengiei peak, a tree known as Diengiei, which grew to be so gigantic, that the earth was overshadowed and became very dark. The people were determined to cut this tree, so that light would come to the world. They started cutting the tree in the morning and went back to their homes in the evening. As the tree was very tall and big, they could not finish cutting in one day, when they came the next morning they found that the tree grew again and the cutting mark disappeared. The people were surprised, every time they cut it, the next day, the cutting marks disappeared and the tree grew again. They wondered how this happened, then ka phreid, a very small bird, told the secret to the people, that it was the tiger who came every night and licked the part of the tree which had been cut, and the cutting marks disappeared, and the tree grew again. Having known the secret, after cutting the whole day, they did not take their axes and knives home, but kept them upwards on the portion of the tree, which had been cut. The tiger came as usual and licked the tree, but the sharp edges of the axes and the knives cut his tongue. From that time, the tiger did not dare to go and lick the tree anymore, and the mission of man was successful, the tree fell and light appeared once more to the world. Since then the tiger is looked upon as an enemy of man. The tiger asked the goddess that he would fight a war with man, whether he won or lost, but the goddess, and the tiger's head would be carried and put in the village gate in his memory. The goddess agreed, hence the tiger festival originated 4. If this event is to be taken as the beginning of this festival that means, it is very old and as the society itself.

According to another tradition, when one of the powerful Jaintiapur Chief was ruling, he wanted to get one tree, which grew, in Nongtalang village. Some people belonging to the neighboring villages of Pamchedong and Padu went to cut this tree to give to the chief. On hearing this news, the people of Nongtalang prepared their best warriors, the best two were u Khew and U Ktah. These two warriors were able to chop the heads of some of their enemies. They came back to their village with the enemies' heads along with the swords and the beating of the drums and playing of the pipes. On their way home they passed by one village over the two villages. As a sign of good gestures and brotherhood, the people of Nongbareh came and joined the war dance, together with the people of Nongtalang. The people of Pamchedong and Padu planned to come and follow them again, but they could not find them, they only heard the beating of drums on their way to Nongbareh so, the people of the two villages, having no other alternative accepted the defeat. They were afraid, lest the people of both Nongtalang and Nongbareh would jointly come to their villages and that would be very dangerous to them.

Another story tells us that in the ancient times some people used to keep on the watch, to guard their village, in case any enemy might come and harm them. If any enemy happened to come, the watchmen cut his head and ran as fast as they could to their village, beating their drums very hard to produce a loud sound, and beating continuously till morning, once, they heard the sound of the drums, the enemies got frightened and could no longer enter the village. When the sun rises in the morning, they dressed up and started dancing. The Tiger festival of Nongtalang must have originated from this performance of their ancestors.

We cannot say for certain, how this festival originated, but when we go through all the traditions. It seems that the festival is very old, as old as the society itself. We cannot say that the head of the tiger substitutes that of the human head; the tiger too is symbolized and look up as an enemy of the people. The forests are infested with wild animals and a tiger is a danger and a menace to the people, who come to the village, killing the people, sheep, cattle and other domestic animals. So, the tiger is their great enemy and its killing is like killing of an enemy which brings relief to them.

Contents of the Festival

The Rong Khil is held whenever the villagers kill a tiger accidentally or on an organised hunting. The festival is not a regular one; it depends on the killing of the tiger. Sometimes, a tiger comes to the village in search of prey, if it so happens, that someone shoots or kills the tiger, even then, the festival has to be performed and God is to be worshipped. Sometimes, the people of the village organised group hunting, where the male members take part. Sometimes, a particular clan organizes hunting, in that case, the members of that clan meet together and unanimously decided to go for that hunting. Peoples from other clans are also invited, in case a man who does not belong to that particular clan who has arranged for the hunting, happens to shoot or kill the tiger, he and his clan will not have to perform the ceremony, as the organizing clan has taken the responsibility of performing the festival, and as assign of good gesture, one who kills the tiger, will get one turban on the day of the festival. In whatever manner that the tiger is killed, God is to be worshipped, else certain calamities like epidemic diseases, starvation, blindness, ill luck will befall on the people, Killing the tiger by someone in the clan is said to be a good omen for the prosperity of the clan. The carcass of the tiger, when consecrated, becomes holy and to have a small piece of it may bring luck to such a person 5. If anybody kills the tiger, the clan to whom he belongs must perform the ceremony, if for example the man who kills the tiger belongs to the Bareh clan, this clan has to perform the ceremony, and the festival is known as Ka Rong U Bareh or the festival of the Bareh clan, and if he belongs to the Pohsnem clan it is known as Ka Rong U Pohsnem or the festival of the Pohsnem clan and so on. Even if any particular clan performs the sacrifice, the whole village is involved.

The festival is usually held during the months from January to March. After killing the tiger, the clan, to whom the person who kills the tiger belongs, informs the Lyngdoh or religious priest, and when the Lyngdoh and the Dorbar Manniew or the Durbar of the uncles have agreed, the clan can perform the festival. If due to some unavoidable circumstances, the clan cannot perform the festival after the killing the tiger, they can perform later on, but by any means, they have to perform the sacrifice, or their clan would suffer from certain diseases, death and other calamities, after the clan gets the permission from the Lyngdoh gives the drums, which are used only during the festival.

Stages of the Festival

Before the festival, the organizing clan performs certain ceremonies to inform God about the holding of the festival, the actual festival lasts only for one day. The tiger after being killed, the flesh and intestines are taken out and dried up, and the body of the tiger is kept outside the village in the phlong or village gate. There are two village gates, one in the east and another in the west. The body of the tiger cannot be brought inside the village, until one day before the festival. When the day of the festival is nearing, the people in their various dong or localities used to beat the drums and play their pipes till the day of the festival comes.

On the day before the festival, usually in the evening, all the people gather together in the dancing ground along with the beating of drums and playing of their pipes. They all go to the village gate to fetch the dead body of the tiger, the elder uncle of the organizing clan will lead the group in his dancing attire, carrying the shield and the sword, he dances in front of the other dancers and they continue to dance all the way. The dead body of the tiger is taken from the village gate and they all come back to the dancing ground. The tiger's body is kept in a special place, which is purposely made for the occasion. The male members have to wait for the whole night, along with the beating of drums and playing of the pipes. They keep on dancing for the whole night till the next morning, but this is not a religious dance. A big fire is lit and the clan who is organizing the festival provides the food and drink.

The Festival day

On the day of the festival, early in the morning, the people leave the dancing ground and they all go to the elder uncle's house of the organizing clan. At his house, they perform certain religious rites, the elder uncle pours libations and the Lyngdoh along with the elders of the Dorbar Manniew pray for the well being of the people, for good health, general prosperity, good harvest and to free the people from other evils, they also pray to their ancestors. When the religious ceremonies are completed, then the male dance follows. They dance in front of the elder uncle's house, they first dance a particular dance known as ka niam chai wat, and then they dance another dance known as ka mastieh. In this dance, persons from the organizing clan will dance first. Firstly, the person who kills the tiger will dance with his elder uncle, then follows the dance of the elder uncle with the Lyngdoh or anybody from the Lyngdoh clan. Then follows the dance known as the mastieh of the Kur or the dance of the different clans. Here they dance two by two: the dancers should be from different clans and not from the same clan. They dance as follows (1) U Rymbui and u Pohti, that means a man who belongs to the Rymbui and Pohti clans. (2) U Pohsnem and u Myrchiang. (3) U Bareh and u Padu (6) U Pohtynniar and u Manar. (7) U Pohlong and u Pna. (8) U Pohing and anyone from the Lyngdoh clan. The dance is accompanied by the music played by the drummers and pipers. The dancers carry their shields and swords, after this dance of the clans; the other dancers can also participate in the dance.

After the dancing is over, next they go to the Lyngdoh's house, to show respect to him. At his house certain rites and ceremonies are performed with due solemnity. After these ceremonies, then a dance is performed which is similar to the dance at the elder uncle's house. Here the Lyngdoh will dance first with anybody from the organizing clan, the other dancers from the different clan follows. After the ceremonies and dancing are completed, they all go to the village gate here the head of the tiger is cut off and fixed at a bamboo pole. Supposing, they want to put the head of the tiger in the east gate, then they go first to the west and if they want to put in the west gate, then they go first to the east. This is known as ka pynnguh phlong, which is a kind of respect. If in the last festival, the tiger's head is put in the east, then in the next festival, it must be put in the west and vice versa. Here at the village gate they also dance and before putting the body of the tiger, they pour libation and prayers are said. Here the religious ceremonies came to an end, and they all leave to their respective house. At night , there is only a female dance, which continues throughout the whole night till morning, along with the beating of the drums and playing of the pipes by the musicians.

Dress and Ornaments

The dancing dress of both men and women are different from that of the Nongkrem and Weiking dance. The women dancing costumes consists of a jainsem dhara, which is a costly silk material and a traditional dress of the Khasi women, it is of many colors and is tied at both ends in the shoulders and reaches below the knee. They also put on a jaintawah, which is a kind of a small shawl. They also wear their sopti kti or long sleeve blouse. They put on necklaces of gold and coral beads, but they do not wear a crown like the female dancers in the upland region. They put a flower made of paper and is tied to their hair knot. The men's dress consists of a long sleeve shirt, and a kind of a lungi with black borders, on their heads, they put on a turban. Like the male dancers of the Nongkrem and Weiking dance, they also carry a sort of a fly flab or whisk, a sword and a shield.


Although the Tiger Festival is being organized by a particular clan, yet the people in the village as a whole take part. People from the neighboring villages also come to take part in the dance and Tangmuri competition. Which is a sort of music competition. Competitors from the different villages come to compete and prizes which are always in terms of cash, are given to the winners and even the losers. The judges are selected from the elderly persons who are considered knowledgeable persons of the arts and their decision is final. The Tiger Festival is important because it is in this kind of festival that both religious and cultural activities are combined together 6.

The last ceremony of the festival is the sacrifice, which is known as Rongchyndi-Rong Khil, which is held after the festival. It is a concluding ceremony where a goat, two hens, a dove and bananas are offered.

As we have seen, the people of Nongtalang have many festivals, but most of these festivals are no longer observed regularly now, due to the social change, which is going on among them, as all among other tribes. Some of these festivals are celebrated in connection with their agricultural activities, and also as thanksgiving to God their Creator, other few festivals have cultural and religious connection. The Tiger Festival is still performed, but some other festivals like the Rong Pyrtuh, Rong Beh Lyngkan, and the Phur are not held regularly now.


  1. Abstract from the author's M. Phil and PhD Dissertations based mostly on field works carried on in between 1984-1987.

  2. I.M.Simon, Meghalaya, P.32.

  3. I.M.Simon, Khasi and Jaintia tales and beliefs. P.55. P.R.T. Gurdon. The Khasis, P.97.

  4. D.T.Laloo, Ka Ksaw ka Kpong u Hynniew Trep, P.7.

  5. L.S.Gasah, "A note on few festivals of the War Jaintias" in the Journal of NEICSSR, Vol.7, No.2 October 1983.




The Triangle in Transition


The Triangle in Transition refers to the area in between the Ganol-Selbalgre-Rongram River Valley in the West Garo Hills of the Sate of Meghalaya. The place is situated at about Long. 90°15' E and Lat. 25°35' N. The area is of triangular in shape with the base towards the east and the apex towards the west. The site or the area covering the area of about 16 square km. The site is bounds in the south by the Famous Ganol River and by the Selbalgre-Rongram River in the north. Both the rivers met at the confluent known as Chibragre in the west.

The site is perhaps on of the biggest stone age people habitats/pre-historic site. The stone implements generally are being classified into two classifications i.e. the Paleolithic and Neolithic or the Old Stone Age and the New Stone Age. The stone implements of the area in between of the Ganol and Selbalgre-Rongram River Valley belongs to the latter classification or the Neolithic stone implements. This site of about 16 in its span comprising the areas of the villages of Selbalgre, Misimagre, Bibragre, Resangre, Rongram, Ganolgre, Chibragre and pushing further towards the north west up to Tebronggre.

The Exploration carried out during the month of March with effect from 12-31st Dec., 2001, along with the Anthropology Department of Guwahati University and the Department of Arts and culture, Government of Meghalaya under the advice of the ASI Guwahati Circle was of a fruitful success. During the above minute and detailed exploration covering the hills ranges, the stream and river valleys about 6(six) important Neolithic site had been located and 293 stone artifacts of various sizes consisting of axes, scrapers, points, blades, borers handpick, chopper etc. were collected for the purpose of preserving and exhibiting them in the museums of the state, etc.

However this place which had been once upon a time the habitats of the fruit gatherer, root eater and primitive hunters today has transformed in all spheres of human activities ranging from black smithy, agricultural, farming, poultry, piggery, tea factory, educational institutions and other modern societal activities. This area within few years may become a satellite township of Tura.



Prospect of Khasi Literature
(An overview)

By Tarun Bhattacharjee

The Khasi Authors Society has been demanding from time to time that the Sahitya Akademi, the premier apex body in Delhi should extend the long delayed recognition to Khasi Literature which has already matured over the years with substantial contributions to enrich the language to bring it at par with the other developed languages and literatures of the country. There is enough justification in this stand as the language is old with a rich oral literature. When a script was introduced by the great pioneer missionary, Thomas Jones during the yearly forties of the 19th Century, there arose immediately many gifted writers who brought out prose, poetry and other compositions in articulated forms which contributed immensely to the shape of literature for the future. It is worth mentioning that as early as in 1903, the language was recognized in the Entrance Examination of Calcutta University when no other tribal languages were developed to caim for such an honoured acceptance. In less than two decades since then, it made another significant achievement when the same University gave recognition for the language in the Degree Course. Today, it has traveled far to be at par with other advanced languages like Assamese by admitting students for M. Phil and Ph. D courses.

Though there is no two opinions that Khasi literature has built up a strong base on the sustaining power of its language, it is to mention that to built up a powerful literature, the focus should be more on the creative writings delving deep in the present socio-economic realities. It hardly can remain stereotype and only based on fables and legends or harping on past glory. The contemporary situation in the society is more vital as literature is supposed to be the mirror, which reflects reality. This literature should be accessible to many people and should also go out of the confines of the locality through translation to elicit appreciation of others. To build up such a literature requires assimilation of ideas from other literatures of the country and abroad. The trend is visible in many literatures of the world today as there is ever increasing demand for translations. Such an endeavour argurs well for the growth of healthy literature. It is except for those who remain within conservative thought that assimilation of ideas would appear as " Corroding influence" on its exclusive growth.

Interestingly, the Khasi language has a history of evolution unlike other tribal languages of the country and possibly of the world. To many, it might appear that the language had a beginning only after Thomas Jones introduced a script for it in 1841. Prior to that, it was least known that the language had already much developed by heavy borrowing of words from outside. Those words were not only from Bengali but surprisingly included many Persian, Urdu words. This shows that the Khasis already had great flexibility and were not at all conservative. No other tribal dialect of the region whether belonging to various groups of Arunachalees, Naga or Mizo has borrowed even a fraction of the words during the contemporary period. This is certainly unique in he history of evolution of Khasi literature.

There is unusual view that the Khasi language owes its growth and development only from the time of the colonial era as earlier it had no script and so the question of literature did not arise. But this is a fallacious view as sufficiently enriched oral literature was already in existence. In the history of literatures, there had been many instances where written scripts came much later. In parts of India, stories and fables or even serious discourses were spread by word of mouth from generation to generation. Even now in certain remote and isolated parts of the country, sacred texts are still not reduced to writing as these are presumed to be divinely ordained!

As already mentioned, to build up a powerful literature, a great deal of flexibility is essentially required. There cannot be rigidity as unfortunately till recently the trend in Hindi literature had shown by divesting its association from a rich language like Urdu and leaning too heavily on borrowing liberally from Sanskrit. To cite an example, the official 'Rastrabhasa', is so much overloaded with words from Sanskrit that it becomes ludicrous as hardly any common people in the Hindi-speaking belt communicate in such overloaded language. Ironically despite the overdrive to popularize the 'Rastrabhasa', it has not gained the foothold even after several decades precisely because it did not have that realism that language cannot be stereotype and need to be acceptable to all. This is the valid reason that 'Rastrabhasa', should be a mix of Hindi and Urdu commonly known as Hindustani and should be in 'Roman script' as said to have been suggested by the well known philologist and national Professor, late Dr. Suniti Kumar Chatterjee.

As for instance, Bengali, the language of 170 million Bengalese was a non-starter hardly 150 years ago. The literature was then wholly unintellible to the common people because of extreme prosaic narrations. There was a hilarious comment that any one, who made an attempt to read a text, invariably broke a tooth! Later, the transformation was dramatic with the beginning of the renaissance. It was Tagore who revolutionized the entire concept by making it intelligible to the common people. Heavy borrowing of words from many languages including English today has enriched the Bengali language. It is true also in respect of many other regional languages of India. The trend is discernible as more and more translation works are appearing in Prose, Poetry, Scientific treatise etc. to keep in touch with the contemporary world. Interestingly, one can find in the Oxford Dictionary these days, many Indian words incorporated into the English language.

It is for the Khasi authors to think anew to incorporate ideas from other literatures. A god deal of translation from other developed languages including English can be much helpful.
When literature is focused more and more on creative writings then it will be only a question of time when others will evince an interest on it. To get a wider readership, the Khasi authors must develop a broader perspective i.e. the works of Khasi literature have good materials for translation to other languages. Mere recognition by Sahitya Akademi will not suffice. It can at best fulfill an aspiration but the goal should be set aside to popularize the literature outside its own arena.

Creative literature is explicit in its meaning that it is concerned with social realities. Much talked of corruption, unemployment and collateral maladies, which afflict the function of a civil society, should arouse the consciousness of the people. Literature and society are not independent of each other rather they are correlated. The aim of literature is to create an ideal society and society too should endeavour to develop healthy existence influenced by the thought process. The end result is social awakeness.

A creative writer can find a theme from every day life. In fact, there is no dearth in finding a story line. The Assamese writer, Late Norode Chowdhury is well known as a creative writer. In one of his stories, which is apparently not fiction as such happenings are not uncommon in present day life, he relates about an unemployed youth desperately in search of a job. Unknown to him, his uncle, a smuggler, enticed him with good remuneration to function as a courier, to ferry a briefcase everyday to a town. One day, out of curiosity, he opens the lid of the briefcase only to find to his horror that it was full of contraband articles. In utter disgust, he leaves the job immediately but only to land again in the jobless market.

When he is passing through the agonizing days, some time later, during an early morning walk he goes to a restaurant for a cup of tea. Near the table, there are two persons having hush hush talks. As he strains his ears, he hears that one of the colleagues in the offices who expired had just been cremated. Losing no time, he immediately rushes to his house, drafts an application, praying for the post just fallen vacant! But to his utter dismay, the reply came with a note of regret that vacancy in the meantime had already been filled up!

There is another story by the well-known Bengali writer, Manoj Basu. Here, the writer wielded his powerful pen to narrate the picture of a decadent society. Two notorious thugs, whom every one hated and feared, suddenly became the 'heroes' in the locality. Earlier, their very appearance in the vicinity was enough to scare the people and all doors, windows in the houses werw quickly shut. It happened some time later that there was an outbreak of a communal riot. These thugs butchered a person of another community. There was instant jubilation in the locality, as two thugs arrived and were acclaimed 'heroes'! Ladies vied with each other to feed them sweets and doors were opened in the houses!

These stories are relevant as such incidences are not unfamiliar here also. The job of a creative writer is to weave a story by realistic portrayal.

Literature encompasses also arts and culture. So far, there has been no worthwhile contribution in making art films. It will depend on powerful story lines. An art film based on a powerful story line and with appropriate direction and technical backup will be immensely popular after dubbing in English and possible in regional languages. One need not follow common gimmickry of trash Hindi films, which are after all not part of healthy literature.
There is one last word to be said for popularising Khasi literature. A good glossy tabloid printed in offset printing press, reasonably priced, may be brought out. Initially, it might be a costly affair but a consortium may be formed to generate capital. Later, with the gain of circulation and advertisements, the cost can be recovered. The tabloid can be in the similar pattern of mass circulated regional magazines, which features short stories, serialized novels, poems, miscellany topics like sports, science etc. Undoubtedly, such a magazine will be much popular in Khasi houses.





Gure Rodila or Horse Festival


Gure Rodila or Horse Festival is one of the major festivals of the Garos of Goalpara and Kamrup districts of Assam which bears relationship with the Ganna Nokma Ceremony of highlander Garos. Ganna Nokma ceremony is performed by a man who can show his wealth among the members of his village community. He performs this ceremony to gain respect from the relations of his wife's chra male members and other members of the village. The person who performs "Ganna Ceremony" is respected and honoured in the society. Gure Rodila is also an act of showing the wealth of the performer. It is done by offering sacrifices to the diety " Gure Mitde" or Horse God with much feasting, drinking and merry making.

The "Gure Rodila" literally means looking after the horse. It is believed that the deity takes the form of a horse. Then horse here represents the god of fertility. In early days, god was worshipped with pomp and grandeur. But it has lost much of its importance at present. This festival has connection with the Nokma Ganna Ceremony and Nokma Jaksil Ceremony, another festival of the Garos. The Nokma wears 'Jaksil' - a brass elbow ring as a sign of richness followed by animal sacrifices where feasting, drinking and merry making went on for two or three days together. This festival has both religious and social functions. This ceremony is performed to appease 'Misi Saljong' - god of wealth. 'Misi Saljong' is believed to have blessed mankind with food grains. Therefore, this deity is worshipped by the rich men to show their wealth to the members of village community to gain honourable and respectful place in the society.

The ceremony starts with "Gure wata" which means literally 'Woven Horse' is linked with the preparation of the image of horse god as soon as the Nokma Jaksil Ceremony ends. It is on this occasion a rich man wears 'jaksil' an elbow ring. The Garos believe that the horse god remains in the house of a man who regularly performs the ceremony, 'Gure wata' by offering sacrifices. 'rokkime' - the mother of rice sends the horse god to a person to become rich. Therefore, to worship this god animal a sacrifice continues. Then this family starts becoming rich more and more. But if a family once propitiated this god and later discontinued this practice of offering sacrifices, the adverse effect is becoming poorer and poorer. Thus in the long run, it brings misery, sickness and curse on the entire family.

The shape of horse god cannot be woven by any person other than the selected one. The selected one should either be a participant in the ritual ceremony or he should be well versed with the ceremony. The image of the horse is made out of a shapely bamboo structure to bring the image of a horse. The head of a horse is somewhat similar of a common horse. There are two horns similar to the horns of a goat. Tail is also similar to a tail of a yak. This image of horse god cannot be installed without offering sacrifice and the ritual ceremony 'guru wata' starts. After completing the head of the horse god, the body is covered by a special cloth known as "Ba'ra a'sim". Yak is known as 'Matchik or Donggru' in Garo. To complete this image of horse god takes seven days or more. Thus with the installation as first stage of the ceremony comes to an end.

The next ceremony is known as "Gure Ba'a" which denoted releasing of a horse. Literally it means carrying a horse on the back. This horse god thus carried by a well-known person. The belief is that he rides on the horseback and dances. Actually the person carries the horse on his back. It appears that the horse is dancing. So a well known person has to be selected from amongst the villagers who are well versed with the rites and rituals of this ceremony. Usually the village priest, known as "Kamal" takes the rein and dances from house to house in the village. In this dancing, "Kamal" is followed by the 'Oja' - the medical practitioner of the village. While dancing from door to door, the dancer suffers from natural convulsion and in trance. The 'Oja' has to give medical help as soon as the madness appears in the dancer. So the duty of 'Oja' is very important in this ceremony to control the horse god, Otherwise the dancer becomes mad permanently where the 'Oja' has to over power the strength of the horse god. This is known as 'Mitde Rim'a'.

This door-to-door visit continues many days depending on the number of houses in the village. The dancer is followed by the 'Oja' as well as 'Kamal Tuara' the high priest to meet any eventuality.

The third stage of the ceremony is 'Gure Rimnapa'. In this ceremony the horse god is allowed to bring inside the house in the evening only. Another sacrifice is offered to the horse in this occasion. As soon as the horse is brought near the house the 'Nokma' village chief and the 'Kamal Tuara' burns the incense in front of the residence of the 'Nokma' and recites prayer. The wife of the 'Nokma' then brings an egg and puts the contents of it by breaking on the forehead of the horse god. She slowly carries the egg to the center post of the house known as 'maljuri'. Then the 'Nokma' and his wife along with the horse god move slowly and come to the center of the house. Then the Nokma and the Kamal Tuara move towards the 'maljuri' and offer sacrifice by killing a fowl. The blood of the fowl is smeared at the post 'maljuri'. Again the incense is burnt in the process. Immediately after this sacrifice and incantation of sacred words the Kamal Tuara and the Nokma partake in leading the dance as 'grika'. Thus all others present there start singing in chorus and participate in the dance of this ceremony.

The Nokma and the Kamal Tuara along with the dancers come out in the next morning which is known as 'Sa'ra or A'tilla Roa' and dance in the court yard of Nokma and then the horse is carried to the nearest house and dance there also. In that they eat, drink and enjoy merry making. Nokma does not go further this house but the other dancers go on dancing and collect eggs as much as they require for the sacrifices until they cover the whole village. In this they collect eggs, rice etc. which they distribute among themselves. Sometimes the priest is fooled by the dancers throwing rotten eggs at him, for which he does not show any effect. Then the horse god again brought back to the house of the Nokma where another round of eating, drinking and enjoyment is done.

Then the last day of the festival, the Kamal comes out of the Nokma's house right after the cock's crow, and takes bath before the sun rises. When the sun is bright, the procession again starts towards the water source like river, stream or pond for immersing the horse god. Thus the ceremony starts by immersing the horse god in the water and it is known as 'Gru Sim'a or Gopa'. During the preparation of immersion, the cover of the horse god is removed and the 'matchik ki'me' (the tail), susuak the anklet bells, and the horse are also taken out. In this ceremony, a goat is sacrificed in the Nokma's house. All the villagers tried to touch the horse god, which they believed, touching the horse god before the immersion cleans all the sins. At this place, the indigenous games are also organised like gando makkal pala, wa'pong sika, etc.

With this, the festival of horse god comes to an end. Similar type of horse worship is also found in Tamil Nadu in South India known as 'Karpana' (horse god) as well as Village god.


Primary Sources

  1. Shri Hales Sangma, Village Mallangkona, West Khasi Hills Interview taken on 17th September 1991.

  2. Shri Goblin R.Marak, Village A'magoan, Kamrup, Assam. Interview taken on 5th April 1998.

  3. Shri Roston R.Marak, Village Badaka, East Garo Hills. Interview taken on 3rd June 1992.

  4. Shri Gajiram R.Sangma, Village Mariampur, Goalpara, Assam. Interview taken on 2nd April 1995.

  5. Smti Ratche R.Marak, Village Mariampur, goalpara, assam. Interview taken on 6th August 1998.

Secondary Sources

  1. Carrey, William, "The Garos Jungle Book" (1919) page. 192.

  2. Magazine, "North Eastern Affairs Annual" (1976) page. 82.

  3. Magazine, "Nokdangni Ripeng" page 27.