Tuesday, April 16, 2024

How did Shillong get its Name?


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Dr Omarlin Kyndiah

Shillong is the present capital city of Meghalaya. Historically, the headquarters of the British Political Officer was shifted from Nongkhlaw to Cherrapunjee in 1835. In view of the latter’s unfavourable and humid climate and its non-strategic location, keeping in mind the reinforcement to quell the Jaintia Rebellion led by U Kiang Nangbah, the search began for a new site for shifting the headquarters. A Committee was appointed in 1862, which recommended Yeodo (Iewduh). Yeodo was renamed Shillong on 28th April 1866 by Col Henry Hopkinson.
A section of the Austric people called T’sin-taing or T’sin-tein migrated from China. They were later known as Zyntein or Synteng and now as Jaintia. The view point that the Jaintias derived their present name from the goddess Jayantesvari or from the puranic Tantric literature or from their subject people in the plains is still debatable. The Jaintia came to the northeast and settled at Kamrup now known as Guwahati. Due to the threat of raids and conquest by the Brahman of the Indo-Aryan, the Jaintia migrated to the east and settled at the bank of the Kolong river. Subsequently, they moved south to establish an agricultural civilization on the fertile valley of the Kupli River which they called Kremlamet and situated in the present-day North Cachar Hills.
French scholar Przyluski mentioned an interesting finding that the Austric tribes used to migrate in batches under a leader. Like other Austrics, the Jaintias according to oral traditions and folklore was led by their great leader U Lakriah. The myth of U Lakriah and the descendant of U Niaw Wasa (the Seven huts) through Ka Tangnoob Tangjri (the golden ladder) is connected with the origin myth of U Niaw Wasa or Hynniewtrep. Myths usually came about during a time when history, science, philosophy, and technology were not very precise.
But in the course of time and due to population growth and the pressure on natural resources availability like land and water, the Jaintias under the leadership of U Long Chyllong decided to find an additional settlement area having enough resources to feed all its inhabitants. U Long Chyllong and his men crossed the Kupli River and traveled on foot and reached the bottom of a mountain later known as Shillong peak.
The place they called Saphohlynrum, has a large variety of wild fruits and vegetables. The area is known for its rich soil and abundant access to water, a favourable spot for settlement. A section of the Jaintias who migrated from Kremlamet decided to settle at Saphohlynrum, while the majority remained at Kupli valley under the leadership of U Long Chyllong’s nephew, U Synriang. He is the son of Long Chyllong’s sister, Ka Lisan Chyllong. U Long’s other siblings are U Siñ Chyllong and Ka Rah Chyllong. As they settled at Saphohlynrum, gradually they domesticated the land and started agriculture.
Worshipping mountain and river gods was one of the most important forms of nature worship. Around each god sprang up myths, legends, sacrificial rites, and procedures. Analysis of mountain god worship leads to a fuller understanding of Hynniewtrep mythology. According to tradition, U Long Chyllong built a sacred place of worship at the peak of Lum Chyllong (Shillong peak). Hence, the peak began to be deified and U Long Chyllong was made a King (Syiem Chyllong) who was regarded and revered as a god.
Meanwhile, the issue of ownership of the place of worship emerged between the Jaintias and the people of Mylliem. Oral tradition has it that both the parties decided to resolve the matter by prayer and libation to the deity. The Mylliem people cleverly faked the ceremonial rites. The Jaintias who are the early settlers of Saphohlynrum eventually decided to return to their original native land at Kupli valley. On their way back, different clans and clan-clusters joined together and formed villages or Chnong in the present-day Jaintia Hills. Some migrated to the present Laitlyngkot and further down south to Mawphanrang, Sohra, Mawphu, Thied-dieng, and Jadien. This migration led to the redistribution of the Jaintia population across the Khasi and Jaintia Hills and the Jaintia plains.
Thus, the origin of the city name Shillong is thought to be that of the reputed founder and first ruler, the legendary U Chyllong. U Long Chyllong was tragically killed by his nephew, U Synriang during a fierce battle.
These are stories handed down from the remote past by word of mouth from one generation to the next, reflecting the people’s traditions, feelings, beliefs, and judgments. It is one of the numerous versions of the narrative of Shillong peak. There is an agreement these days, not only among the folklorists but social scientists as well, in accepting the historical potential of folklores. It is recognised as a social phenomenon being the expression of the shared experience of the people at a stage when they could not write their own history.


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