The Rainbow of Behdieñkhlam

By HH Mohrmen

The annual Behdieñkhlam festival this year will be an unusual festival. It will be different from the festivals celebrated in the past and perhaps there will be no Behdieñkhlam like this one even in the future. Covid-19 has dimmed the spirit and fervour of the festival but not the true essence of Behdieñkhlam. The major difference is because the prevailing situation demand that all the rituals and religious ceremonies that go with the festival, will be celebrated with the participation of limited numbers of people.

The celebration will be without many of the festivities, but Behdieñkhlam is not only about pomp and gaiety. It is not only about the physical colours which one can see, but it is about the profound elements that make Behdieñkhlam a truly unique festival. This year the commemoration is about celebrating the essence of the Behdieñkhlam festival without the paraphernalia surrounding it.

Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, just the bare necessities of the festival will be performed this year. The organisers are making sure that the rituals due to God, deities and divinities are completed without compromising the standard operating procedures (SOPs) of the government. It is indeed ironic that the celebration to rid off the Khlam (plague) is affected by COVID-19 – the khlam that has affected many countries in the world. The celebrations may not be what they were in the past but the importance of this year’s Behdieñkhlam is in its value. This year only the fundamental aspects of the festival are being observed and by a selected few. It is therefore the festival of the invisible colours celebrating the true meaning of the Behdieñkhlam.

First and foremost it is worship of the Almighty and paying obeisance to the deities and the divinities. Ka kñia khang is paying obeisance to the four guarding deities of the raid Jowai, providing them the annual offerings due to them. It is connecting people with God and with the deities and divinities. It bonds the human soul with spirits and divinities around it. The celebration of the festival is not only a four-day, three-night affair, because preparation for Behdieñkhlam starts from the month of March each year.

It is therefore heartening to know that in spite of all the challenges posed by the pandemic, the essence of the festival is intact. All the offerings and sacrifices that are required as per tradition have been completed. It is believed that even rites yet to be performed will be completed by the leaders of the Niamtre with the guidance and the blessings of the U Trekirod. The first invisible colour of the Behdieñkhlam is that it is not just a ‘rong’ or festival, but it is a religious festival. Some of the religious rites performed by the elders which is connected to the Behdieñkhlam festival are ‘ka suit ka choor’‘ka kñia khang’‘ka kñia pyrthat’‘kdoh sarang’‘ka kñia syiem Aitnar’ and ‘pynleit sarang’ etc.  The purity of the rites and sacrifices is testifies by the fact that every rite which starts with the tradition of ‘dih-soo-pen’, the elders involved in the ceremonies will have to observe ‘ïait thiah’ meaning avoiding physical contact with their spouses. This is the first of the seven sacred colours of Behdieñkhlam.

 It may be mentioned that the festival has an unpleasant history in the pre independence period. The celebration was stopped by the British rulers for almost two decades. From 1931 till 1947 the celebration of the festival was suspended by them. It was only after attaining independence that preparation for reviving the festival and annual celebrations resumed and celebrations continue till date without fail. The major challenge of reviving and reorganising the festival is because all the pending rites and sacrifices had to be performed. It was difficult but it was ultimately overcome. The festival this year will be different but this too shall pass and next year Behdieñkhlam will be celebrated with the usual fervour. This is because the other important aspects of the Behdieñkhlam is the celebration of the triumph of good over evil.

The term ‘behdieñkhlam’ is made up of three words in Pnar parlance, ‘beh’ literarily means to chase or to rid away, ‘dieñ’ means wood or log and ‘khlam’ means plague, epidemic or pestilence. Even if the festival derived its name from the ‘khlam’, it is not solely about the ‘khlam’; it is also about the fulfilment of the covenant. One would have to know the creation story of the Pnar and the role of u woh Lakriah and u Synriang to understand that Behdieñkhlam is more importantly about fulfilling the covenant between U Trekirod and his people (Lamar D. An Insight into Behdieñkhlam, 2015). This is another very important underlying colour of the festival.

Another significant aspect of the festival is that it has a very profound connection with the agrarian culture in the region. Although preparation for Bedieñkhlam starts with ‘kbai mooknor’ official announcement of the commencement of preparation for the festival, the ceremony following that is called ‘ka thoh langdoh.’ This particular ceremony is connected to the agrarian culture of the community. People are prohibited from ploughing or tilling their fields till the ceremony is completed. This is followed by ‘ka chat thoh’, which prohibits sowing or planting certain kinds of vegetables without completing the ceremony. The final public activity of the festival also has agrarian connection and that is ‘ka datlawakor’ which is similar to a game of football. The ultimate goal is to pray for a good harvest this year.

Another important aspect of the Behdieñkhlam is the home- coming of the children of the raid. During Behdieñkhlam people who owe their origin to raid Jowai but live elsewhere ‘cha ki ryngkaw para’ revisit their ancestral home to join in the festival. People of Jowai origin who live in Shillong or Ummulong make it a point to touch-base with the place of their origin. In is a pilgrimage as much as a home-coming of the soul. It is not only about worshipping  ‘ki ryngkaw ki basa’ of one’s ancestral home, but a return to the land which is the origin of one’s being.

Behdieñkhlam is also about strengthening community bonds starting with the family. This starts from ‘ka tip kur tip kha’, respecting both sides of the family, to the ‘maïa dong maïa chnong’ loving one’s community to ‘ka bhalang uwa boon wa lang’ common good or well-being of all. This is perhaps the reason why the town was divided into ‘ki kmai raid’ and ‘ki khon raid’ because though communities are divided, yet they are one. Behdieñkhlam is the time when one sees not only the camaraderie amongst the residents of the dongs or localities but the oneness of the people. It is reliving the story of the four divine sisters ka Wet, ka Teiñ, ka Bon wa ka Doh and how Jowai came to settle in Jowai.

The prayer during Behdieñkhlam is not only about the followers of the Niamtre but for the good of all in the community. It is celebrating the bonds within the community which started with the founding clan ‘ki sookpoh khatar wyrnai’ and the other main clans ‘ki San syngkong’‘ki Le kyllung’‘ki Ïawchibidi’ the  ‘phra kur phra kmai’ or the eight primary clans.

Behdieñkhlam is also about showing reverence to the ancestors. During the festival different ‘kur’ or clan in their different ‘ïung blai’ would perform the offering of ‘ka siang ka pha’ or ‘ka siang ka phur’ which is an offering in honour of the departed souls. The preparation is done by ‘ka kchu ka pliang’ or the female head of the clan. Other ceremonies conducted at the residence of some kur which starts from the house of the priestess ‘i ïung langdoh’ is ‘ka bam tyngkong’ or eating at the courtyards of some kurs. Bamtynkong is also about showing respect to the people who established raid Jowai.

Behdieñkhlam this year is about bringing the heart of the festival to the fore. It is the time when the aesthetic aspects of the festival gives way to the invisible colours or its core values. The pomp and gaiety maybe lacking in the festival this year but the embodiment of many aspects of the religious festival will be completed. Even in the absence of the physical colours the essence of the Behdieñkhlam which is in the spirit will be alive during this celebration. It is the celebration of the seven important elements of the Festival which is the core of Behdieñkhlam.

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