Thursday, April 18, 2024
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The King is dead; long live the king

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By H H Mohrmen

They say history is dry and boring, but there has not been a more exciting time for local history than this. The excitement, the interest, and the penchant to learn the history of the Jaintia kingdom are rather unprecedented.
Why the King is dead; long live the king?
It is the phrase used to announce the death of the monarch and the installation of the new king, but in this context, it connotes a new meaning. Not many of my articles have sparked the same interest as the article that was published on Monday last. The debate that followed after I had shared my last week’s article on my Facebook page continued for days together. From a layman in the street to an activist, a former bureaucrat, and scholars, they all took part in the debate. This compelled me to do a deep dive on the subject and try to answer the questions that friends raised and clear some of the doubts that still exist in the minds of the people. Therefore, in this context, the phrase has a different connotation, and though the Jaintia monarch has ceased to exist since 1835 when it was annexed by the British, the interest in knowing about the kingdom has only begun. Though the kingdom has ceased to exist for 200 years, yet the Jaintia kings continue to live in the minds and hearts of the people.
Don’t blame the
good old Brits
One of the arguments suggested on my timeline was that the term ‘Jaintia’ was introduced and promoted by the British by employing their famous “divide and rule policy” to divide the tribe. It was alleged that the name was suggested to create a schism in the tribe where none existed before. The British officers may have made many mistakes and created a lot of mess during the heydays of the British Raj, but blaming them for naming the region Jaintia is too far-fetched. I think, at least on this issue, we should spare the good old Brits and stop blaming them for the mess that is of our own making. The reason is that although many may not have been aware of it, or even the locals may not realize the fact that the profound relationship between the people and the kingdom runs deep in the psyche, the stories, the structures, and the traditions of the people.
The kingdom, the pride of the people
The two articles help rekindle the pride that people have in their kingdom. In fact, my interest in the kingdom started from the stories I learned when I was a kid, and it grew when I saw for the first time the coin of Jaintia kings at the Museum in Kolkata. Now there is a book on the coinage of Jayantiapur by N.G Rhodes and S.K Bose. For many, the fact that unlike other tribal chiefs, the Jaintia king is not a mere tribal chieftain and one of the few kingdoms which issues coins is an eye-opener. They have also constructed paths and structures to showcase their greatness. Since ancient times, the Jaintia kingdom is known as the female kingdom and, till the last king, like any matrilineal institution, the kingship in the kingdom also passed from uncle to the nephew, not from the father to the son.
It’s in the name?
The naysayers have asked, why the name Jaintia and not Sutnga? If (as one theory suggested) the Sutnga kings expanded their kingdom to the plains, why did they adopt the Jaintia name? The Jaintia kingdom has been in existence, and it is only natural for the king to move their capital to a more developed and advanced locale, but the palace and the monolith in and around Jayantiapur still stand tall to testify to the glorious reign of the Jaintia kings. Even now, how many people who have moved from their villages to the town or cities would want to return to their villages? It is only natural, like the river does not flow upstream; they left the hills and moved to settle at Jayantiapur.
There is another question (and these are all pertinent questions), why did the king use non-tribal/plain names? Now that we consider ourselves modern and advanced what names do we use? Are we not using foreign names like Francis, Fabian, John, Phillip, Mary, Margaret, Rebecca for our kids? The point is the more advanced culture always influences the other cultures, and in the case of the Jaintia kings, they also followed the Tantric form of Hinduism. When we also converted to Christianity we adopted Christian or Biblical names, likewise the Jaintia kings used Sanskrit or Hindi names.
What would we miss if there’s no kingdom?
‘Ka luti syiem’ or the Royal path remnant of which can be seen till date would not have been there if it is not for the kings. Oral narratives have it that the king commissioned two of their Mars, u Mar Bailon Khynriem and u Mar Luh Laskor, to construct the path from Nartiang to Jayantiapur. But the study suggested that the path goes much beyond Nartiang. It was Dr B. Pakem who pointed out that unlike in the other himas where one can find monoliths dotted across the skyline, in Jaintia hills, people also have megalith structures, and the four stone bridges on this path are testimony to fact. There would be no path, and there would be no stories about the Mars if there was no Jaintia king, and people continue to share these stories.
There would be no monolith in Nartiang if there is no kingdom because the monoliths at Nartiang were erected in commemoration of the installation of one of the Jaintia kings. The carving and the sculpture at Syndai, which include an image of Ganesha, would not have been there if it was not for the Jaintia kings. The ‘thaw sum syiem’ or the Rupasor Bathing ghat at Syndai, and the beautiful elephant sculptures around the pool and the limbless baby elephant image at the um Pubon would not have been sculpted if there was no kingdom. There are other sculptures and carvings on stones in and around Jaintia hills and they all have a connection with the Jayantia kingdom.
There would be no stories about u Mar Bir Nongpoh, u Mar Phalangki, u Tep Kyndait, u Ran Niangty, u Sajar Nangli, and the Thadlaskein Lake if there was no Jaintia kingdom. The stories of these important personalities continue to be narrated to this day. Not many know that there are five temples in Jaintia which have a history connected with the kingdom, one in Syndai, and another at Borkhat, the other one on the no-man’s-land near Muktapur, the Shiv temple, and the Jayanti Devi temple at Nartiang. Only the last two temples are still being used, and the rest are abandoned, yet the history of all these temples goes back to the time of the Jaintia kingdom. The story of ‘ka thmi thad khiar’ a battle between the Nongtalang and the Padu also has a connection with the kingdom.
The residents of Saitsama who are of Zo-Kuki descent also have a dance which they say is connected with the tribe paying homage to the king. The ‘chonña’ of the War Jaintia people, which is a lamentation, also has a competition which has to do with narrating the story of the Jaintia kingdom. The ‘Longhai’ which is a wedding tradition practiced by the War Jaintia people in the jhum cultivation also has mention about the king in some of the chants.
The king still lives
The king is not dead; he still lives in the traditions and the religious rituals that people have been practicing since time immemorial. I did not have the opportunity to study the people and the traditional religion of the Pnar who live in Jayantiapur, but the religion and the tradition of the people who live in Nartiang are the living examples of the religion as practiced in the past. Nartiang is the remnant of the tradition and the ancient religion practiced by the people during the reign of the king. Religion as practiced by the Nartiang is the synthesis of tribal religion and Hinduism, and the main festival at the Shakti peeth is the Durga puja.
Till today, during every Durga Puja, the Daloi of Nartiang has to offer two goats at the altar, one goat in his name ‘ka blang Daloi’ and another on behalf of the king known as ‘ka blang syiem’. So, effectively, though the king has ceased to exist for a long time, yet he still lives in the traditions as a goat is still being offered in his name every year.
Jaintia is not a myth or a story, but a powerful and flourishing country that could issue coins. Perhaps the Jaintia kings are the only tribal kings in the area which could do so. Suffice to say that its history needs to be put on record and shared far and wide.

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