Thursday, April 18, 2024
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Genesis of the Jaintia Kingdoms

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By HH Mohrmen

Interest in the Jaintia Kingdom has attracted so much debate that articles on the subject appear almost every week in this newspaper. In fact, no other subject in the recent past has received the same importance; even the recent report on the statue of U Tirot Singh barely lasted a few days in the media space. The reason this debate has lasted for months is that, unlike other tribal chieftains, the Jaintia Kingdom is different, and there are sources to support the study, including coins and historical monuments that have not been exploited to date.
Is the ancient female kingdom the same as the Jaintia Kingdom?
The matrilineal aspect of the dynasty is also an interesting subject to deal with. The Buranji states that it was a female kingdom, which finds mention even in the Hindu Scriptures. Does this mean that the kingdom was ruled only by female rulers, or does it have to do with the dynasty following a matrilineal culture? The unique aspect of the Jaintia Kingdom is that, though it is situated in a culture which is patrilineal and patriarchal or predominantly male-oriented, it has profound and strong matrilineal characteristics. There is evidence that even at the height of the kingdom’s glory, inheritance to the throne was through the female line; only the son of the king’s sister could inherit the throne. Ascendance to the throne by the nephew is in line with the matrilineal system followed in the society now.
Different versions of the genesis
People who live in the hills are only familiar with the story of U Lo Ryndi and Ka Li Dakha, but many are not aware that there are similar stories about the genesis of the Jaintia Kingdom too. The Jaintia Buranji recorded three versions of the story of the genesis of the Jaintia Kingdom, and all three versions have similar storylines. In fact, the story about the beginning of the Jaintia Kingdom, popular among the Pnar, also shares the same motif with the narratives in the Buranji, or at least the last part of the story. In a nutshell, the story is about a loner or lonesome man who caught a fish from the river and kept it to rot so he could eat the maggot, and the fish turned out to be a nymph who bore the man children who later became the originators of the dynasty.
The first version as recorded in the Buranji
It was recorded that Jayanti Rai was the last king of Jayantipur and he did not have a son. The goddess he worshipped blessed his house with a female child named Jayanti. Jayanti then married Landhabar, a son of Chandabar, the royal priest, who was a scholar of religion and a well-mannered person. Later, Jayanti was enthroned as the queen and took the title Rani Singha. The family lived happily until Landhabar was cursed because while propitiating the Goddess, he was overcome by sexual passion towards the Goddess. The angry Goddess cursed him to live in the condition of a Mlecha (The Jaintia Buranji defines Mlecha as someone who belongs to a non-Aryan tribe of ancient India; a non-Hindu given to unscriptural practices). It is therefore not wrong to say that Mlecha here would fit the description of a tribal with Mongoloid traits. Landhabar was therefore condemned to live in the condition of the tribal who did not follow the Hindu scripture.
Landhabar lived at the house of a Garo
Jayanti chased Landhabar away from home and he wandered aimlessly until he arrived at the house of a Garo man named Suttanga. The terms Garo and Suttanga are interesting because there are no records of the Garo community living near Jayantiapur. However, in the Buranji itself, it was clarified in the endnote that the name Garo was used by the inhabitants of Kamrup in speaking of their Khasi neighbours to the south (S.K. Dutta, Introduction, Jaintia Buranji, July 10, 1937). Garo could therefore be the Pnar or the War community that lived in the hills then; in fact, the only tribal communities to the north of Jayantiapur were either the Pnar or the War. On the other hand, S.Q. Sumer in his book, citing oral narratives, mentioned that the children of ka Li Dakha were orphaned and were taken care of by a man from the Beate community, and Beate are non-Hynñew Trep Community.
Another important term here is the man named ‘Suttanga,’ and the story has it that he lived with the Suttanga couple who had no children of their own. The couple took him as their own son, and he also treated them as his foster parents; later, he was also known as Landhabar, the son of Suttanga.
Two important points which emerge very prominently and that need to be discussed are that Landhabar, during his wandering, met a tribal couple and went on to live with a family, and the name of the man who adopted him was Suttanga. It is also recorded that since then, the village folks called Landhabar ‘the Suttanga Garo.’ The first version in the Buranji also recorded that the stream that flowed nearby where Suttanga lived was also known as Suttanga. The striking resemblance of the name of the man who took him as his son, the name of the stream, and the name of the kingdom, the story of which the people continue to tell till today, is exceptional. It is therefore no surprise that the term Suttanga is also similar to the name of the Pnar kingship and the place where it started.
The narrative also recognizes that the Mlecha has existed in the region since long and has even had a role in the origin of the Jaintia dynasty, which is also an important point to be noted here. When Landhabar went renegade, he was also referred to as Mlecha by his neighbours and others around him. As stated earlier Mlecha is used to refer to people who are non-Aryans of ancient India or non-Hindu persons (Genesis of the Jaintia, Chapter 1, the Jaintia Buranji). Could it be that the Mlecha that he had mixed with, as mentioned in the Buranji, are the Pnar and the War of the Khasi Pnar community who have non-Aryan attributes, who eat anything, and are uncultured by Hindu standards?
Meanwhile, in the story, Jayanti lamented at the mistake that she had committed and invoked the goddess and her wish to remain devoted to her husband was fulfilled. The goddess produced a mirror image of Jayanti herself, and the girl was devoured by a Barali fish. The fish, which would later be caught by Landhabar in his ‘khoka, or khoh’ an elongated conical fish trap made of bamboo. Later he hung the fish. When his friend Bhobola asked him what he would do with such a big fish, he said he would let the fish rot and fry the maggots. On the first day, he forgot to cook the fish and went to work in the field, and upon his return, he found that someone had cleaned his house and cooked for him; the next day, the same thing happened. He decided to cut the fish into pieces, but as he raised his machete to cut it, the machete broke into two.
The next day, he pretended as if he were going to the field but kept watch, and soon he saw Matchyodari come out of the fish and doing all the household chores. He grabbed her and asked, ‘who are you?’ She told him that she was sent to be with him and she would give him everything, and he no longer needed to work. She told him not to ask questions, and they lived happily ever after. She revealed that she is Matchyodary and she became his wife.
He became rich, and they were soon blessed with a son, and they named him Bargohain, and he organized a feast in honour of his son. Landhabar was accepted as a chief of a few villages and later expanded his influence to other villages too. He marched to Sultanpur and killed Muhammad Sultan and assumed the title of Landha Sultan. In the first version, it was not recorded that Landhabar invaded Jayantiapur, but it was recorded that he instead invaded Sultanpur, which could be another small kingdom at the foothills.
The versions established that Jayanti Rai was the last king, and after him, his only daughter ascended the throne, and she too had no issue because she banished her husband without him giving her a child. Jayanta Devi later handed over the reign of the kingdom to Bargohain, whom she considered her nephew.

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