Growing interest in the Jaiñtia Kingdom

By H H Mohrmen

Thanks to the recent visit to Bangladesh by the delegation led by Chief Minister, Conrad Sangma which apart from other important outcomes has helped create interest about the Jaiñtia Kingdom or ‘Ka Hima Jaiñtia’ amongst the people of the state. The fact is that the entire itinerary was planned to explore the shared culture and history between the two bordering countries which hopefully will also encourage cross border tourism which will in turn benefit both the countries. Certain parts of Sylhet district not only share some history with the erstwhile Jaiñtia Kingdom, but one can still find people of Khasi Pnar origin living in the area.
After the delegation visited the palace which is in ruins now, I was hoping that the Chief Minister would also meet the 40 odd households of Pnar descent who live in Jaiñtiapur and are believed to be the remnants of the of the Pnars from the erstwhile regime. It is also interesting to note that in Bangladesh, the lingua franca of people in all the villages where the Khasi Pnar live, is War Jaiñtia or Amwi dialect, but it is only in Jaiñtiapur where they speak Pnar. Jaiñtiapur not only has monoliths in different parts of the town and of course in front of the ruined palace which is an evident of the past history of the area, but the Pnars also still tell stories which not only have connection with the kingdom, but also the market where they trade.
Like any history in different parts of the world, in the case of Jaiñtia kingdom too, scholars have to rely only on written records or evidence which can be proven to compile its history. But the problem is that the Khasi Pnars like many tribals have lost much of their history because they have to rely on oral history and have no written records and evidence of their early history which can be proven.
The history we have about the Jaiñtia Kingdom too, is based only on written records maintained by the other kingdoms they came in contact with, that were more literate than them. The history we have is post fifteen hundred CE which is when the Sutnga kingdom became the Jaiñtia kingdom, or when the Pnars ascended the throne and moved their kingdom to Jaiñtiapur. The fact that the Jaiñtiapur kingdom was ruled by the Pnars who are of Austro-Asiatic descent is well established and all scholars agree that the royal family which ruled the kingdom post fifteen hundred till the kingdom was annexed by the British in 1835 belongs to the Pnar tribe.
So the early history of the Kingdom which finds no mention in the records is lost but for the folk stories that have been told and retold from one generation to another. But like any oral tradition there are challenges as there can be interpolation or change of narratives intentionally or otherwise when the stories are retold from one generation to the next and at different places. This is found even with regards to the origin of the royal family of the Jaiñtias, and although there is a consensus in both the oral tradition as told by the Pnars and the records in the Jayantiya Buranji that it started from a fish which turned to a woman which was caught by a man, there are different versions of what happened after the couple had married. In all the stories told by the Pnar, the man who caught the fish is known as u Lo Ryndi and the fish or a nymph which turned into a woman is known as ka Li Dakha but there aremany versions of the story of what happened after the two had married.
One version says that the couple had two children a son whose name is u Ïakor Singh and the female’s name is ka Lasubon. Then there is another popular oral narrative which says that ka Li Dakha and u Lo Ryndi had four daughters, ka Lieh, ka Pung, ka Lang and ka Teiñ. Ka Lieh moved to Khasi hills and became the progenitor of the Syiemlieh clan which also became the dynasty of the Nongkhlaw Kingdom and ka Pung also became to progenitor of the Nongspung dynasty and from ka Teiñ came the descendants of the Sutnga dynasty or ka Hima Jaiñtia. Another version according to Namita Catherine Shadap-Sen is that Lo Ryndi and ka Li dakha had two daughters ka Rapunga and ka Raputing. Ka Rapunga became the ancestress of the Sutnga dynasty and from Raputing came the Nartiang dynasty.
Hamlet Bareh Ngap Kynta suggested that ka Li Dakha and u Lo Ryndi had four daughters, namely; ka Teng, ka Lieh, ka Pung and ka Lang, while there is another version which says that the couple had only two daughters, ka Rupunga and ka Raputong and three sons, u Shyngkhleiñ Am, u Bania Am and u Tetia Ksaw.
The other challenge with regards to the history of the Jaiñtia kingdom is to establish the facts of how and when the Pnars came to rule over Jaiñtiapur? Although it is an established fact again agreed by all the scholars that the two kingdoms were earlier independent of each other, it was also agreed that the Pnars has dominated Jaiñtiapur and ruled over its kingdom in the latter part of the history. SM Ali, Gait and N.C. Shadap-Sen have proposed different theories of how the Sutnga annexed Jaiñtiapur and H. Bareh Ngap too on his own suggested two theories of how the Pnars gained control over Jaiñtiapur.
Much of the information of what we know about the Jaiñtia Kingdom is the interpretation of the Jaiyantiya Buranji which are in fact records maintained by the Ahom kings of their encounters with the Jaiñtias which was collected by Prof S.K. Bhuyan. The history recorded is also the history post fifteen hundred after the Jaintiapur kingdom became well established in the plains. The recorded history is also after the royal family had adopted certain aspects of Hinduism in their religious lives.
The much talked about chronology of the Jaintia kings in which we have kings with Hinduised names or the names which sound more Hindu or names of Hindu origin, should be understood from the fact that by this time the kings had adopted Hinduism as their religion. The popular culture of the people during those days in the area was the Hindu culture and it is not surprising that the kings adopted the same.
In fact it is no different from what it is now when we have popular names of the people in our community which are either of English or Christian origin because of the influence of the popular culture of our time. The case of the Jaiñtia kingdom should also be looked at from the fact that the dynasty was influenced by the popular culture then, hence we have kings with Hindu names. The case of the Jaiñtia kingdom should also be seen and understood from the fact that it is one of the few Khasi Pnar kingdom which has some written history and more importantly and most probably the only Khasi Pnar or the kingdom of Austro-Asiatic and Monkhmer origin which issued coins. This is a well established fact and the coins of Jaiñtiapur can be found in many places and it also helped compiled a more accurate chronology of the kings from fifteen hundred till 1835 when the kingdom was annexed by the British.
Leave aside the historical side, the fact of the matter is that the visit has brought to light once again the importance of the Jaiñtia kingdom and hopefully it will help create some interest in the people to visit the different places in Bangladesh which have some connection with our history like Jaiñtiapur and the jail in Dhaka where Tirot Singh was imprisoned and died.