Monday, May 27, 2024

U Ran Niangti and how Khanapara got its name


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By HH Mohrmen

Recently, there arose a controversy over the name of a place located on the Meghalaya-Assam border. It was reported in the media that a certain organization submitted a memorandum to the Chief Executive Member of the Khasi Hills Autonomous District Council demanding the changing of the name of the town Khanapara. It was argued that since Khanapara is not a local name, the KHADC should change it to a local one. Fortunately, the Jaintias have a rich tradition of oral narratives, one of which connects with the name of this particular town.
The Jañtias have many stories about their royalty who once lived in the plains in a place called Jañtiapur and the wars they fought, and there’s one about a man named u Ran Niangti. Interestingly, u Ran’s story is a tragic one that later turned him into a hero of the time. U Ran Niangti was an ordinary man who worked as a porter, carrying commodities from the market in the plains to the villages located in the hills. He earned his livelihood delivering goods to and from Jowai to Jañtiapur, which was a very prominent market then, and the profession was known as “kit bhari.” Jañtiapur was the most popular market at that time, connected to the hills by an old stone path known as the royal path. U Ran, along with other porters and traders, traversed from Jañtiapur to Jowai, deciding to take rest at a certain collection of monoliths called “Mawshong shongthait.” After they had rested and relieved themselves, before they resumed their journey, it was found that a certain trader had lost his bag full of potatoes.
Ran, who carried other commodities, was part of the entourage and was accused of stealing the missing potatoes. He pleaded with all those present that he did not steal the consignment, but the owner of the potatoes was not convinced. He was taken to Jañtiapur and handed over to the officers in the royal court. He was arrested, and a trial was conducted and arrested for a crime he did not commit.
In prison, while serving his sentence, a war broke out, and the enemy attacked the Jaintia kingdom, putting the country in grave danger. The king was in trouble because he had lost almost all his capable military officers, and he was about to be defeated. In such a situation, U Ran Niangti, from his prison cell, requested the king to allow him to fight against the enemy. But U Ran was just a common man, with no exposure to any kind of training.
How could the king trust a prisoner with no military experience to take on the enemy? At the same time, the king did not have many options as he continued to lose his military officers in the fight. The kingdom had reached such a point that whatever help came from whichever corner was welcomed with open arms. But U Ran had to prove himself, at least to the king, that he was capable of leading a military expedition. He could not just get out of prison, seize a sword, and take on the enemy; it just did not work like that.
The king decided to conduct a trial to see if Ran really had the capability, as he claimed, to defeat the enemy. The king had to satisfy himself if this common man was really up to the mark and could take on the enemy and win the war for the country. The king decided to offer three trials to see if U Ran was really fit and ready to go to war. The palace was situated near the market and was surrounded by a collection of huge monoliths. In front of the palace, there was an empty space used by the king and his subjects to offer sacrifices during Durga puja. A big crowd had gathered around the ground to witness the trial of strength that the king had put to test U Ran.
In the first trial, he was given a sword and asked to cut a huge banana tree, and Ran did it with ease. The second trial of strength was when a large tree trunk was brought to the court, and he was able to cut it without much effort. Finally, the king asked his men to bring a banana tree to the court for Ran to cut. In the meantime, the king had asked his men to secretly insert a huge iron rod inside the banana tree before it was brought to the court for Ran to cut. Ran raised his sword high and hit the banana tree, but the sword broke into two pieces. He then asked for another sword, and the same thing happened. Finally, he asked for the divine sword of the royal family called “ka wait Kopati” or the Kopati sword. When the sword was brought to the court, holding it in his hands, he couldn’t help but admire the sword that he had only heard people talk about, and he couldn’t believe that he was holding it in his hands. Holding it with both his hands, he raised it in the air as high as he could and with all his might brought it down against the banana tree, breaking the banana tree. He struck the middle of the banana tree and broke it and the iron rod into two pieces. The crowd cheered, and the king asked that he be armoured and allowed to lead the army against the enemy.
The story has it that U Ran’s military expedition not only defeated the enemy but also forced them to retreat while he invaded their kingdom. While he won over territories, he also attached much of their territories to the Jaintia kingdom. By the time he reached a place near Guwahati, he was tired, and it is said that because of the sheer numbers of enemies he killed in the battlefield, his blood-stained sword stuck to his hand. He tried to remove it from his hand, but he was not successful. Finally, he saw a huge banyan tree and struck the sword as hard as he could on the tree trunk, and finally, he was able to free his hand from the sword. The sword was stuck so deep that it was fixed to the tree trunk. While releasing his hand from the sword, which was stuck to the tree, Ran uttered the famous words: “ïow ïoh u khanapara wa u pud u sam ka ri Jañtia poi u hadooh heini,” which translates to: “May it be known to all, or may we tell others, that the territory of the Jaintia kingdom extended to this point.” Till today, the Pnar believe that Khanapara near Guwahati derived its name from this incident during the reign of the Jañtia king.
U Ran Niangti is the story of a common man whom circumstances compelled to request the king to allow him to serve his country, and in doing so, he not only helped win the battle for his country but also made a name for himself. But this is not the only important outcome of the unfortunate incident in the life of u Ran Niangti. Since he was arrested for stealing potatoes, a crime he did not commit, Ran swore that he and his descendants shall never eat potatoes again. Since then, it has been a taboo for anyone from the Niangti clan to eat potatoes, and the taboo continues among the members of the clan to this day.
Since Jañtiapur was the most popular market in the kingdom, there are many stories about people from the hills visiting Jañtiapur to trade as well as for buying essential commodities from the market. Jaintiapur was not only the most important trade center for the highlanders and people of the plain areas, but what is more important is that it was the seat of the kingdom then.
The Jañtia kingdom, with its capital in Jañtiapur, was once a very strong and flourishing kingdom which not only issued numerous coins but also had cannons as part of their armoury. Traditions are not clear if the battle that the Jañtias fought was against the Ahom, but the Jaintia Buranji recorded that the two had a very good relationship with each other. In most of the letters exchanged between the Jañtia and the Ahoms, the expressions which states, “Gurgoan and Jayantia have existed not as two families but one. Even if the Sun rises in the west instead of the east, even if the Lohit flows towards the east, or even if the egret and the crow change their hues, our bond of friendship with your Swargadeo will never cease.” Could the conflict have been between the Ahoms and the Jaintias? That is the question.
(This story was taken from the columnist’s thesis titled: “Cultural History of Jaintia Hills in Stories, Stones, and Traditions.”)


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