Khasis are not Hindus, Hindus are Khasis

By Bhogtoram Mawroh

According to the Khasi creation myth, in the beginning there stood a tall tree in a hill (today located along the Shillong-Guwahati road) called Sohpet-Bneng. The tree was so tall that its branches reached the sky. Earth at this time was uninhabited by people except for the trees and flowers that grew in abundance.

Recently while addressing a gathering at the U Soso Tham Auditorium, the Chief of Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) Mohan Bhagwat declared that everyone in Meghalaya is a Hindu. According to him, all those who stay in India are part of the Civilization of Bharat whose values have been named as Hindutva. As such all those who reside within it are by default Hindus and do not need conversion. Through this he wanted to allay the fears of people who were worried that the Sangh wanted to convert everyone (including the Khasis) into Hindus. However this is a very wrong reasoning since the Khasis are not Hindus but it is the Hindus who are actually Khasis. This may appear to be a strange statement but in the following paragraphs it will become clearer why this is the case and not the other way round.
According to the Khasi creation myth, in the beginning there stood a tall tree in a hill (today located along the Shillong-Guwahati road) called Sohpet-Bneng. The tree was so tall that its branches reached the sky. Earth at this time was uninhabited by people except for the trees and flowers that grew in abundance. It was this beauty which attracted the heavenly beings to often visit the place. To descend upon Earth these beings used the tree as a staircase. In fact Sohpet-Bneng means navel of heaven.
These heavenly beings found that the land around the tree was very fertile and started cultivating it. Altogether there were 16 families who would come down to Earth for cultivation. However they never stayed for the night. After the work was done they would promptly return to heaven. Now according to the version provided in the 1920 book ‘Folk tales of the Khasis’ by Rafy there was one heavenly being who wanted to remain back on Earth to realize his own ambitions. So one day when only 7 of the 16 families went down to cultivate he took his axe and cut down the tree leaving the 7 families stranded on Earth. Having no way left to return, these 7 families decided to stay on Earth. It is from these 7 families i.e., the Hynniew Trep Hynniew Skum (the seven huts) that all nations on Earth are said to have sprung.
These seven families who came down from Heaven to stay on Earth became known as the seven sub-tribes of the Khasis, viz., War, Jaintia/Pnar, Lyngngam, Maram, Diko, Khynriam and Bhoi, i.e., the Hynniewtrep people. All the groups except one are still found to be residing in specific locations around Meghalaya. The only sub-tribe which has become lost with time is the Diko. There have been speculations as to who this group might now be, with some suggesting that it denotes the Garos who also follow the matrilineal customs. However, in my opinion, since all the six groups have been accounted for in Meghalaya the last group are what we today call the non-Khasis, i.e., every other group in the world. This is because all human beings were once staying in heaven and only the 7 families who came down populated the Earth. Out of the seven, six are currently the ones which make the Khasi people today. So the remaining people on Earth are actually all the non-Khasis who came from the lost tribe, i.e., the Diko.
As the Dikos left Meghalaya and wandered to different corners of the Earth they divided themselves into distinct cultural groups. One of those groups are the Hindus who today are found spread throughout the Indian sub-continent. Although they had become distinct in their traditions, the Hindus still looked up to the Khasis (who still stayed closer to the now destroyed stairway to heaven) when creating some of their customs. The story of U Manik Raitong from the same book gives a clue how that happened.
A long time ago there lived a great Syiem (Khasi King) who ruled over vast territories and great many people. This King had a beautiful wife, the Mahadei. Within his kingdom also lived a poor beggar who went by the name of U Raitong. In the past, U Raitong had a happy family and many relatives who cared about him. However, this happiness did not last long. One day a terrible epidemic swept through his village leaving him orphaned and alone. He, no longer had any kin to stand by his side during sickness and no one to perform his funeral rites should he die. Distraught and overwhelmed by grief he vowed that he would spend all his days roaming about the village mourning the loss of his loved ones. Others, who did not know of his vow thought that he was an idiot and avoided him. In this way, U Raitong would spend his days roaming through the village, clothed in filthy rags and his face covered with ashes. He never talked to anyone and always kept to himself.
At night, however, when no one was watching him, he would remove the old rags and put on fine clothes. Then he would pick up his sharati (Khasi flute) and play it for hours. A born musician, he had perfected the craft through constant practise. It was said that never did sweeter and richer notes flow than those made by U Raitong on his sharati. When he played on the instrument he would become absorbed by the music and lose awareness of his surroundings. At the same time, he was careful not to let anyone know of his talents in case they should interfere with his vow.
Now it happened that because of affairs of state the Syiem would often be gone for long periods leaving the Mahadei behind. On one such night, when the Mahadei was restless she heard the faint sounds of music wafting through the night breeze. At first she thought it was the fairies signing. But after hearing the same strains for many nights she proceeded to the source of the music. Soon she found herself in front of the hut of U Raitong. Upon gazing on him and hearing his sweet music she instantly fell in love with him.
Many months later the Syiem came back from his travels to find that the Mahadei had given birth to a son. Knowing that the child could not be from him and afflicted with grief and shame, he vowed to extract extreme penalty on the person who sullied his honour. He called a great durbar where all the inhabitants of his realm were invited to come to take part in a test. All those who came were ordered to offer a plantain to the baby who, it was reasoned, will accept one only from the real father. U Raitong did not come first because of his vow but was ordered to come for the test. And surely when U Raitong offered the plantain the baby took it, thereby proving him to be the father.
Enraged the Syiem ordered him to be burnt alive on the pyre. U Raitong did not protest and only asked that he be allowed to build his own pyre and play his own dirge. Having donned his fine robes he walked into the pyre playing his melodious tunes. Hearing the music, the Mahadei who had been confined to her room, burst through the door and ran towards the pyre. Upon reaching it, she threw herself in the fire to die with her lover. On learning of this, the chaste wives of India, i.e., Hindus, decided that they could not allow this sacrifice to be more famous than the holy bonds of matrimony. Hence, they would now offer themselves on the pyre of their husbands to prove their devotion and fidelity. And thus the custom of Sati was born. What the Khasi creation myth and the story of U Manik Raitong proves is that all the non-Khasis in the world are actually descended from the lost Khasi sub-tribe, the Diko which includes the Hindus. Since the Hindus still stayed close to the Khasis they continued to looked up to the latter for guidance in creating their customs and traditions, Sati being one example. So when Mohan Bhagwat says that everyone is a Hindu, he is wrong. What he should have said instead is that everyone, not just in India but throughout the world, is a Khasi. That would have been the correct statement.

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