A tradition of the Pnar tribe, Behdienkhlam festival talks of the spirit of Meghalaya. Celebrated for three days every year, the festival is a customary celebration among the natives of Jowai- a scenic little plateau surrounded by the Jaintia hills. When translated literally, Behdienkhlam means driving the evil spirits. A hindu festival, behdienkhlam is celebrated by the Pnar people, the followers of the Niamtre tradition.
The myth surrounding this festival leads to an interesting story. The people believe all of Jowai was once devoid of human population. The only inhabitants of the area were five deities, four stones and a river maiden. The five requested god to convert the lonely forest into a thriving human dwelling. Their prayer was heard and the eldest of the deity-U Mokhai is said to have rejoiced with dance and song.
One of the more popular stories about the festival is that of the plague curse. There was a mythical prophecy which claimed Jowai would be struck by a fierce plague. The scare spread among the natives and they rushed to their revered deities-U Mukhai, Mulong, Mooralong, and Musniang. The deities advised them to worship the divine elements to fight the natural calamities. Behdienkhlam is an extension of this belief which suggests health epidemics are an effect of the evil forces.
The festival is essentially celebrated by farmers. It is said to be a significant way to pray for a bountiful harvest in the season. The locals suggest Behdienkhlam has a regional significance too. And the elders say the meaning of the festival lies in its name-’Beh dien’ to make something go away by beating sticks and ‘khlam’ means fatal epidemic. As a customary tradition people gather around and climb on top of their houses to beat the roofs with sticks.
In recent years, the people of Jowai have become aware of the need to safeguard the environment. They have extended a new purpose to the festival and have started awareness campaigns to educate people about the safety of the environment.
The cultural ecstacy of the Jowai people echoes through a colorful celebration. People carry colorful bamboo structures called ‘Rots’ or raths and gather at the celebration site. These rots carry different social messages and it has made the festival more of an honest effort to fight social evils today.
Source: Dhiraj Singh
The festival is celebrated in Jowai, Meghalaya. The town is well connected to both Shillong and Guwahati through road. It is 67 Kms from Shillong which is almost an hour away. From Guwahati it takes a three hour drive to reach Jowai.
11 July - 14 July 2019
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