The Tale of Mawphlang and its Grove

grovePathTradition told us that , the Blah (formerly known as Iangblah) migrated from Pnar area (Jaintia Hills). The elder of the clan prayed and asked the almighty God to give them permission to move out of the land, and also asked him to show them the way through signs. They got a sign that they should proceed towards the North Western parts to Khasi Hills by passing through territories of u Syiem Shillong. They did so and they reached Lum Shillong (now called as Shillong Peak, a famous tourist spot of Shillong). When they reached there, they followed the river Umiew (Umiam Mawphlang, which now ends at along its down stream. On reaching about 5 miles down from Lum Shillong, they climbed westward and settled at Pdenshnong, Mawphlang.

Here in Mawphlang, the Blah Clan took the role of a chieftain and everything was under his control. Some times after they identified a hillock on the periphery of the present Mawphlang Sacred grove known as Lait-tyrkhang, to establish as one of the place for sacrifice/perform rituals to communicate with the almighty to protect them and their territory from external aggression, dreaded diseases through Rites and rituals. This area is being regarded sacred and well preserved till date.

groveStoneTime passed, and eventually Mawphlang village became famous and many other clans came to join the Blah Clan and settled at Mawphlang under the Chieftain of the Blah clan. These clans are: Kharshiing, Kharsohliya, Kharhunai, Kharnarbi, Kharsahkhar, Kharmawphlang, Kharmaram, Khallanguiuh, Kharphynrap, and Kurkalong, 12 in total to form the Hima Mawphlang. The Blah carried out on their chieftainship until the end of Mawphlang Syiemiong War, in which the Mawphlang were the victors. The Blah Clan thought that they would not rule over their own people who sacrificed along with the rulers during the war and declared the subjects as fellow comrades (What a way to declare democracy during those times!!!). to invoke the deities to know whether this would be a wise move to do so, and when they did, they were given a sign of approval. This step required a leader to be made responsible for the welfare of the people. So the search for another leader (Chief) went on amongst themselves. But since, all members of the then Hima, thought the same way, none agreed to take the throne.

Finally after much deliberation and discussion, the name of ‘Ka Khmah Nongsai’ was mentioned, a lady. This lady, wife of Lyhir Sohtun, originated from Baligaon in Assam. At that particular time, she was residing at Laitsohma, overlooking Mawphlang village towards east on the way to Sohra.It is told that Lady Ka Khmah Nongsai was even feared by the Syiem of Shillong for her great wits and statesmanship. But she did not allow her son to take over the throne without the consent of the almighty God (We don’t argue as to why she herself did not take the responsibility !!!!).

She asked time from the former clan to give her to testify the wish of the society as valid. In order to know the will of God, she planted two saplings of Dieng Sohma (Rhus semialata) and Dieng sning (Castonopsis Indica). Some say that there was a third plant also which is ka Diengdoh (Ex – bucklandia populnia).

All these saplings were planted at a place called Phiephandi. Her precondition was that three years time, the saplings should be able to survive to testify that her son should assume the throne to be the ruler of Hima Mawphlang.

It happened that the trees found to have sprouted well at the end of three years. So it was testified in the son’s favor.
A crowning ceremony was arranged. The son of Khmah Nongsai chose his Maha Mantris from the Blah clan, the Kharshiing clan, the Kharsohliya clan and the Kharhunai clan. The ceremony was solemnized at Phiephandi where the stone staging with five seats were made. The Chief sat in the middle and the Myntris sat on both sides. These stone stagings are preserved till now and is respected as it was during their times.From that onwards, the chosen chief assumed the title of U Lyngdoh and his territory is known as Mawphlang
Lyngdohship. Since that time, all the descendants of Khmah Nongsai assume the title of Lyngdoh Mawphlang till this date (the descendants are counted from mother’s side, which means it was not Ka Khmah Nongsai’s son’s children but her daughters’ daughters and grand daughters who can transfer this distinction to their next generations and only a son of such a daughter can be a Lyngdoh at any time).

The original Clan plays a vital role in Administrative, judiciary and also in the executive positions. They summoned the annual and bi-annual Durbar (Meeting with respected men of the community) and gave directions and suggestions to the Lyngdoh as he was new to the responsibility of rulership. They have their own rituals and sacrifices done collectively with the original clan. The group together with 12 clans in total are now known as “Khad ar Kur” and the Durbar is known as Durbar Khad-Ar-Kur. All administrative things had been decided through this

groveStones1As time passed, and the Lyngdoh Clan used Phiephandi as the place for doing rituals and sacrifices (the Khasi believe that there can be no Ruler or kingdom without a sacred grove or there can be no sacred grove without a ruler). Therefore the ancestral mother of Lyngdoh clan sanctify this particular area into Ka Lawlyngdoh. This core area is around 40 hectares, has been regarded as the most sacred place and alters were erected to perform the rituals and sacrifices, with a bull (brown bull). This sacrifice is done when the case is major or the threat is quite great, as in the time of war, epidemic, and famine. The almighty is prayed to save the people and the Lyngdohs ask for special strength, power, and gifts of wisdom to himself and the Ministers.

At one time, the Lyngdoh asked the Durbar to give some more space around the sacred grove space to safeguard the sacred sites from fire or any danger that may harm the place, which the durbar approved. Thereafter, parts of Community forests were attached for the sake of safety. The whole area was then sanctified and it became a compact structure of about 76.88 hectares known as Mawphlang Sacred Grove. In Khasi it is called Law Lyngdoh or Lawkyntang.
It was told that, few years after the Anglo-Khasi War ended in 1839, attempts were made by some people to cut down the trees that grow in the sacred grove. The Lyngdoh, his Myntri and the elders from different village of the Hima tried hard to prevent this and even sent volunteers at night time to prevent people from doing so. It was told that once those people wanted to cut off all the trees from the grove, but one person named ‘U Kun Lyngdoh’ Mawphlang stood alone to protect the grove by saying defiantly that ‘who will take away the clothes of my mother, one tree felled, one head will be chopped off.’

Due to sporadic attempt to destroy the Sacred forest, the Chief and his Myntri of the Hima invoked the deities by offering sacrifices to U Ryngkew U Basa, to punish those who dare to violate the Sacred grove by cutting trees, plucking flowers etc. or creating nuisance in and around the grove. Actually, all the fruits, nuts, herbs, eatables, honey bees and water can be consumed freely, but not to be taken outside the grove or to take home for profit making business purposes. It was after this , that anyone who violates these rules are said to be punished by getting their heads twisted, or becoming weak and feeble and eventually die if prayers are not done for pardoning them. Lots of such stories are told in this regard, and eye witnesses recount this to be happening till about 10 years back. Hopefully, now a days no one dares to disturb the grove against the prohibition. And why should anybody be, because it has become one of the nation’s pride because of its rare flora and fauna.

We should be as proud as the locales are, of this heritage of theirs!

groveTreeComing back to the grove, the deities act as the guardians of the forest, and they protect the forest from destruction and anything that may lead to the downfall of Hima Mawphlang. They not only move actively inside the Sacred forest, but they come out of the forest to help out people. They even come to appear to those who do something wrong by crossing their way, or disturbing them while going inside the sacred forest or their works in a form of snakes (Apprehending snakes implies an alarming signal). Sometimes they even appear in their bedroom, to give them a sign that something is being wronged by the person itself or the family members. Many stories are told that in olden times, the deity (Ryngkew –Basa) used to appear in the form of leopards (for good signs) or snakes (bad signals – sign of apprehension). Do feel free to try and talk to the trees which are abode of the deities.. and be pleasantly surprised by their response in an otherwise quiet place.

The leopards accompany anybody from Mawphlang village at the time of danger or odd hours of the night when they have to go out or when they come late from their work places due to unavoidable circumstances. They will accompany till safety, or until sent back by the person they are accompanying. These leopards can be called upon in the times of need.

The other deity appears in the form of a snake or a number of snakes when someone breaks a rule, by plucking leaves, flowers, cutting woods, or doing anything that is thought to be the destruction of the sacred forest. They may appear in dreams . They may appear in the form of a big python or any small snakes; all implying the same. Stories of apprehending the snakes are still going on till date.

Mawphlang sacred grove is the only one among the Sacred grove in India and is a world of pristine beuty that has survived the test of time. This aged old grove, is also one of the largest sacred grove (in area) . It has become a house of biotic , and a nature university as a result attracting many researched scholars, scientists, nature lovers and tourists to visit and enjoy the bliss inside the grove. There are many types of Orchids , amphibians, reptiles, rodents which are rare in nature.

As retold by Mr. Tambor Lyngdoh,
Secretary Federation of Hima under Umiam Mawphlang Sub watershed,
Khasi hills REDD+ Project,
President MSTS,
Mawphlang Lyngdohship.

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