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Behdeinkhalm Festival, Jowai (2019)

Behdienkhlam festival holds primary importance and is the biggest and the most important festival of the Pnar community that inhabits the East and West districts of the Jaintya hills of Meghalaya. The festival is observed annually by the religious sect “Ka Niamtre”. The festival is celebrated in accordance to the indigenous beliefs and traditions in conformity to the will of the almighty, “U Tre-Kirot”. The festival goes on for four days and people celebrate these four days joyously dancing, praying, and yelling to the beats of the dream and the tunes of the windpipe.

The first day of the festival is called Ka Sngi Pynsin, the second day is Ka Sngi Mulong, the third day is known as Ka Musiang, and the final day is Ka Sngi Muchai. Behdienkhlam serves various aspects in the Pnar community and is celebrated since time immemorial. I will be elaborating briefly on each aspect with the limited data that I have collected during my stay in Jowai in the time of Behdienkhlam.

This festival marks its presence every year in the Pnar community. The festival is in accord with philosophical, religious, economic, and material aspects of the community and their relationship as well as their interaction with their immediate environment. I wanted to get an insight on the philosophical, religious, and the social aspects, dynamics, and consequences of the processes happening during the festival and the activities that take place during and around the festival but due to certain limitations such as lack of networks in Jowai, the language was also a barrier and I had not been in the place for long enough to build connections with people to extract complex information about their culture.

The information that I gathered is entirely based on my observations during my stay in Jowai. I stayed in the Jowai circuit house and I became friends with the chef there and had long unstructured conversations with him about the culture there and also about the rites and rituals of the festival. This is an informal source of information but since this was my best shot, the themes of my photos have been based on the conversations with him. I got a chance to interact with some other people who were the circuit house staff and were originally from Jowai, and a few local people who were taking an initiative in the activities of the festival and two of them were representatives of their localities.

The first day of the festival is Ka Sgni Pynsin. On this day, people offer food to their ancestors. The food items are generally fruits and rice cakes, along with rice beer which is stored in dried bottle guard. The women in the are the ones who stay at home and prepare the food items and they serve it in plates which would be offered to the ancestors. After the offerings are made, they eat these food items themselves marking an end to the first day of the festival. The second day of the festival is very joyous and full of energy. On this day, all the localities of the town team up, they wear shirts of different colours as one would wear jerseys, each locality wears a unique colour and all male members are found to wear it. On the second day, the male members go to the nearby forest to collect the tree which they have already chosen and cut some time before the festival. Each locality gets a tree of their own. This process is full of singing, dancing, and cheering. As a group of men go down to the forest and also on their way back to the town, several people are to carry the tree on their shoulders, regardless of the size and heaviness of the tree, while some carry the traditional wind pipe and drums, generally made of the skin of a pig or a cow, and they play these instruments joyously. On several occasions I saw modified cars amped up with great speakers and it was peculiar to see the people continuing to use their traditional music instruments in their celebrations. During the time when the people are getting the trees to the town, the roads are blocked by the police. Once the people have arrived with the trees, they set them on the market road and they dance for hours, women stand around the road and watch the men dance. It doesn’t matter if it is raining, the festivities don’t stop, neither do the viewers hesitate in coming to watch. After they have presented the show on the market road, they take the trees to their respective localities.

On the third day of the festival, the people perform certain rituals and this is coupled with the dancing. One of the rituals includes the group of Lyngdohs going to houses of the believers and the head of the house as well as the son has to drink rice beer, but before drinking it, they pour it down the floor of the entrance of the house, this is to make sure that all the evil is washed away and the family can begin their journey anew.

The fourth day is the final day of the festival and on this day, the people are supposed to get rid of the tree which symbolises all the existing evil in their society. All localities make huge towers which they call “rong” for this day, and they display it in the main ground, “Aitnar” during the celebration. All the localities bring their trees and towers to the Aitnar and there they dance in circles carrying the tree and revolving around the circle with it. People hit the tree and they scream and shout and pray for a wonderful year ahead without any social evils, draughts, famine, etc. People from everywhere come to watch this. I met a person from Gujarat who had come to witness the festival. Once the dance performance is over, they throw the trees there only and they destroy all the towers that they had made after putting a lot of effort into it. This has been practiced since a very long time and is deep rooted in their tradition.

Men bring the khlam (tree) from the forest to the town.

Young girls gather to watch the dance performances.

Women and young girls dress up and gather in the market.

Boys playing drums and eating food items offered to them as they go to each house of the town to share their good wishes.

People at the market of Jowai.

Boys breaking the towers and the decorations on the final day of Behdeinkhlam.

Young boys eating food items offered to them as they go to houses of Jowai to share their best wishes.

A tower (rong) made by one of the localities as a part of the decoration. It raises awareness against the usage of drugs.

Man running in the field filled with rainwater.

Men and young boys playing drums and windpipes as the khlam (tree) is brought to the town.

Boys playing drums.

Young boys running towards the market as the khlam (tree) is brought to the town.

Young boys dancing.

A girl selling food in the market where all people gather, the men dance, and the women dress up and watch the men dance.

People offering prayers to the khlam (tree) on the final day of the festival.

People offering prayers to the khlam (tree) on the final day of the festival.

All localities bring their khlams (trees) to the field in the market and keep them there for a period of three days.

People gather in the field to dance after they place the khlam.

People offering prayers to the khlam (tree) on the final day of the festival.

Young boys playing with mud.

Young boys bring a decorative tower of their locality to the Sein Raij (town head of the non christian population) office.

Boys playing drums and windpipes as they go to each house of the town to offer their best wishes.

A father teaches his son how to play a trumpet.

Kids walking in the market, playing with a water bottle.

Individuals from all localities gather and dance on the final day of the festival. They bring their towers to the field and run circles with it to display them to everyone in the town.

People gather at Aitnar (the field where the final day rituals and celebrations are held every year) to witness the final day celebration.

Town of Jowai, as seen from the Jowai circuit house.

Man takes a short break from dancing to pose in front of the camera.

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