Shillong: Beautiful damsels in gold ornaments and valiant young men brandishing their swords was a feast to the eyes as they danced in the annual festival – Shad Nongkrem –showcasing the age-old religion, culture, and heritage of the Khasis.
Like every year, this festival was in the scenic hamlet of Smit, the headquarters and capital of the Khasi state of Hima Khyrim, just twenty km from Shillong.
The Shad Nongkrem dance is observed during autumn at Smit. The five-day-long religious festival of the Khasis, Ka Pomblang Nongrem dance is known throughout for showcasing the rich culture of the Khasi, one of the three indigenous tribes of Meghalaya. The Nongkrem Dance is performed to appease the all-powerful Goddess Ka Blei Synshar for a bumper harvest and prosperity of the people.
The Syiem (King) of Khyrim, along with the high priest, performs the Pomblang ceremony. He offers an oblation to Lei Shyllong; the God of Shillong peak by sacrificing a cock. An important part of this festival is Pomblang (sacrifice of goats). The offerings are made to the ancestor and ancestress of the ruling clan.
The religious part takes place before the Nongkrem dances. In the dance unmarried girls in all their exotic costumes take part. Young men dressed in their rich traditional attire also dance in front of the Iing Sad (thatched palace). They hold swords and white Yak hair whisks in their hands, keeping time to the changing beats of drums and haunting tunes of the tangmuri or pipes.
The women dance in the center called ‘Ka Shad Kynthei’ with such tiny steps that the lifting of the feet is hardly seen. Their arms are held at the sides and their eyes are solemnly cast down to show modesty and obedience.
The silver or gold crowns that they wear signify the glory and dignity of the Khasi matrilineal society. The ‘Tiew Lasubon’ (a rare sweet-scented golden flower found only in the deep jungles), worn on the crown indicates the purity of women. They wear the finest silver and gold chains, bracelets and earrings during this festival.
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