Thursday, April 25, 2024

Significance of the Monolith Festival


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By Benjamin Lyngdoh

Meghalaya is rich in culture. Perhaps this is one aspect that has not been talked much in terms of the need to conserve and promote such cultures. The state government has come up with cultural performance centers. These are locations where the youth can showcase their culture-based talents and abilities. But, what actually is missing is the revival of awareness of one’s own culture and its significance. It is about finding a relationship with one’s own past even though the majority in Khasi community today are converted Christians going back three/four generations. There is a saying that a person without culture has no identity and hence is considered dead. It can be said that in terms of cultural awareness the Khasi community is in decline and fast approaching demise. It is in such a context that the Monolith Festival holds much significance. It is not only a place for the coming together of people, rather, a chance to see, feel and experience what one’s culture is all about.
Invoking culture
There are various forms of festivals. Some are purely commercial with the goal to entertain while also providing a platform for select artists; some are specific and niche in nature like the wine festival, jackfruit festival, etc. Now, if there is one festival which perfectly fits the inherent meaning and conceptualizing of a festival it is the Monolith Festival. A festival in its true form imbibes culture, traditions and indigenous practices so that visitors can learn and relate it towards their social status and well-being. Similarly, there is Behdeinkhlam in Jaintia Hills, Wangala in Garo Hills, etc. Coming back to the Monolith Festival, it was not surprising that the vast majority of the audience (which includes this writer) at Ka Lympung (amphitheatre) were mere spectators who mostly went ‘oh just to see that such types of songs and dances also exist.’ Many in the audience fared poorly in terms of awareness about the cultural richness of the Khasi community. If there were an on-the-spot Google Form to test awareness, maybe 90% of the audience would have failed. What the Monolith Festival has done is that it has invoked the sense of awareness and love towards one’s own culture amongst the many visitors with the desire to learn more and do more. This is the signature success of the Monolith Festival which encompasses its significance.
Immersing in culture
The best part about the performances at the amphitheatre were the explanations and the narrations provided on the songs/dance, etc. It was a class on understanding culture and it was priceless. Moving ahead, it would be good if booklets providing information on the performances of the day could be provide to the visitors. It is all a part of involving the audience in cultural immersion. Now, if there is one musical instrument that gets the feet, hands, heart and soul going it is Ka Bom (drum). It is like the drum is connected to the DNA of a Khasi. This holds true for other tribes as well since the drum forms an integral part of cultural proceedings. Further, the museum formed as one of the main attractions in the series of events which highlighted history, tradition and skills of the people. The most interesting one was the River Kynshi Expedition makeshift bamboo raft (Ka Bur) that was on display. The expedition on Meghalaya’s longest river started on December 26, 1986 at a place near Manai village and concluded on January 15, 1987 at Mawpyllun village near the Indo-Bangladesh border. The raft was used to cross rivers and navigate short-distance riverine trips. In future, perhaps a small theatre can be set-up so that the rich cultural history of Meghalaya as a whole could be showcased.
Main highlights
Food is always one of the central attractions of any cultural festival. The array of food and drink that the visitors could sample was phenomenal. The performance stage at the food court also provided an opportunity for the young artists to display their skills and talents. But, the real highlights were three. Firstly, the workshop for students that was set-up at the Khasi Heritage Village premises. It was heartwarming to witness the young trying their skills in various types of activities like sketching, drawing, clay modelling, poetry reading, drama/music workshop, etc. Perhaps the most interesting one was the ‘pynud latom’ (trying to spin the spinning top). Many struggled with it and it was fun watching the boys and girls giving it a shot. Secondly, the variety of indigenous games offered around the food court. The Khasi community is rich in its own forms of indigenous games ranging from maw point, maw kynting, stick walking, localized zip-lining, etc. These are the types of games the current generation know little about. Lastly, the presence of the Syiem and the Myntris in the respective huts which were constructed inside the Khasi Heritage Village was commendable. These huts showcased the nature of construction in their respective chieftainships while also selling their localized products, was indeed very informative. The opportunity to directly interact with them on the scale of their chieftainships, the livelihoods of the villagers, food, attire, etc., was enriching.
Looking ahead
In the 2016 edition of Monolith Festival there was talk of making it an annual event. That did not materialize. Now, the same talk is taking shape. Hopefully this time it will come to fruition. If funding is a constraint then the organizers can think of corporate sponsorship. These days many national and international tourism and travel firms would jump at any opportunity to figure themselves in any event of mass gathering. Further, the degree of involvement by the school children was limited. Most of the schools who attended were from the vicinity of Mawphlang. Saturday will not be conducive for school children as it would invariably be the last day. That way, Thursday and Friday can be used to invite a host of schools from Shillong and other towns to witness what culture is all about. Another point is the preservation of the Khasi Heritage Village. The KHADC in collaboration with the local administration of Mawphlang can look for ways to maintain the heritage village. As of today, when tourists come to Mawphlang their main goal is to visit the Law Kyntang (sacred grove). If the Khasi Heritage Village is also operational then this becomes an added attraction on offer to the tourists. The guides can then have more opportunities for livelihood. This can also provide an opportunity for local entrepreneurs to set-up their enterprises in the vicinity and sell higher returns food and beverages products as against only tea and chips as is happening currently.
In the final analysis the Monolith Festival has more substance when compared to other festivals. If others can be promoted then there can be no reason why Monolith should not. In fact, such cultural festivals should be encouraged by the GHADC and JHADC as well. To top it all, maybe once in every four years Meghalaya can have one grand cultural festival encompassing all the tribes of the state. Food for thought!
(The writer teaches at NEHU; email: [email protected])


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