I heard of him several times from my father before, but that was the first time when I got to see and hear from him directly. He was there for a talk on Khasi Literature for a documentary film that was made for Doordarshan. His words were so warm that I slowly started to take a keen interest in knowing about him. I studied the books, he wrote and translated, and his journey to the West. What captivated me more was his will-power. Belonging to a small village in Ri-Bhoi district, he travelled across the world, learning new languages and treading unknown paths.
When Autumn came to an end and the January cold was to settle, Rev. Sylvanus Sngi Lyndoh, a man of excellence, was born to light the night’s sky. He was the eldest son of the fifteen children of Ka Mon Lyndoh Thaïang and U Michael Ram Sten, from the Thaïang village of Meghalaya.
The year 1907 came as a thorn in a bed of roses. People suffered from malaria and leprosy. Being anxious of the heart-wrenching situation, the great-grandmother of Rev. Sylvanus Sngi Lyndoh, Tyngab Lyngdohsad, suggested one of her sons, Ajir Lyngdoh Thaïang, along with nine other men from the village to seek help from the town. The journey to Shillong was not an easy task. Vehicles were not readily available and, as a result, they had to walk down nearly a hundred kilometres to reach Shillong. They met Monseigneur Christopher Becker from whom they borrowed some money and who they promised to repay. The kind-hearted priest agreed to their request and, that is how, they helped the village folks recover with that money. On certain occasions, Monseigneur Christopher Becker also visited the village.In 1911, during Easter, Monseigneur baptized some of the village folks, including the grand-uncle/father of Rev. S. S. Lyngdoh. He was rechristened as Ajir Thomas Lyngdoh. Seeing the priest’s passionate love for the poor village men, the great-grandmother of Rev. S. S. Lyngdoh, Tyngab, who was a high priestess of the Thaïang traditional province, donated a vast land at Pamkdait for charity and missionary work.
A significant event took place during World War I. The Salvatorian deported in 1921, and Jesuit Congregation had taken over the missionary work. The congregation of Salesian of Don Bosco arrived in the Khasi Hills on 13th January, 1922.
The family of Rev. S.S. Lyngdoh soon shifted from Thaïang to Umtyrkhang. The village was situated near a sacred Grove, and many ceremonies were performed there. On one such occasion, he came in contact with an old priest, and the priest swayed the lad’s heart. Rev. S.S Lyngdoh and some other village men were baptized by the old priest, Rev. Constantine Vendrame. Rev. S.S. Lyngdoh was a very passionate and intelligent boy. He travelled on foot to Shillong to enrol himself at the Don Bosco Institute as an artisan of the printing press. Simultaneously, he started to study at St. Anthony’s School in Shillong. To pursue a higher education in Philosophy and Theology, he was required to learn Latin, and he soon mastered the language.
In 1942, he studied at the Salesian High School, Sonada, Darjeeling, and subsequently at the Sacred Heart College, Mawlai, Shillong, in 1947, for his novitiate. In 1954, deacon Sylvanus Sngi Lyngdoh was sent to Europe for further studies. He started his voyage to the West to explore, learn, and carry back with him a part of it.
His voyage to Europe was a little difficult as he fell sick on the way. He took no notice of these petty situations and dedicated his life to studying Theology. His hard work paid him good results as he topped not only his class but the whole of Europe. He officially took priesthood on 1st July, 1958, at the Church of Mary Help of Christian, Turin in Italy, built by Don Bosco himself. Soon after the ordination ceremony, he and seven other deserving students were selected to study further in Rome. Thus, a new vista of opportunity was waiting at his doorstep. He initially had been entrusted with studying Canon Law, but his interest lay somewhere else. He opted to study Biblical Studies at Biblicum, the Biblical Institute.
He took great interest in learning languages as well. He could speak nearly thirty languages. Like his mother tongue, he paid equal attention to each language which he spoke with perfection. As a part of his missionary work, he visited Venice, Yugoslavia, Greece, Istanbul, Turkey, Lebanon, Damascus, Syria, Palestine, and Jerusalem in 1961. He was chosen to study Hebrew and completed the course within five months, along with five other scholars. He extended his journey to many different places and, finally, he returned to Bombay after a long time.
He was a devoted son and, on reaching India, he traced his route back to his village Mawbri, where his mother was. Both were delighted to see each other after 20 years. He wanted to give back to the soil he was born on. He plunged into social activities in Smit, Nonglyput, Khliehriat, Ladrymbai, Laitkynsew, Mawlong, Ichamati, Tyllap, Diengrai, Saikarap, Nongriat, Umwai, Thieddieng, Nongsteng, Shella, Nongtrai, Kynshluit, Lyngkhom, Mynteng, and several other villages across the Khasi and Jaintia Hills, including Ri-Bhoi. Apart from social activities, there were instances when others experienced strange and unbelievable incidents in his presence. He was believed to be blessed and had a very positive vibe. He even performed exorcism and spiritual healing on local people. He conducted a cross-cultural matrimony commonly known as ‘Tangjait’ in Khasi. He introduced a collective term, ‘Hynñiewtrep Hynñiewskum’, to represent Meghalaya’s indigenous communities, in which the Garos were not included. During 1978, however, when there was a political crisis, he led from the forefront to unify three parties to form a coalition government.
He worked for the betterment of the people. His knowledge in Hebrew and Greek enabled him to write a dictionary that was translated to Khasi. Another remarkable incident of his life took place, in 1975, when he was strolling near a temple in Jerusalem. A group of tourists had come to visit the area and, on their way, they came across Rev. S.S Lyngdoh. While talking to them, he told them about his motive and his native place. He confided in them his grievances and told them about his financial constraints that stopped him from publishing his translated dictionaries. They heard him all and bade him farewell without any commitment. Within two weeks, he received a letter from one of the women tourists, Sue Ann Bentz Altman, and, to his utter amazement, he found a cheque of six thousand dollars, which was precisely his estimated amount. Rev. Sylvanus Sngi Lyngdoh published the Hebrew-Khasi, Aramaic-Khasi, and Greek-Khasi dictionaries within a short period of time and dedicated this success to the generous lady who donated the money. His research and accomplishments saw a new dawn. Three thousand copies of his books were shipped to Shillong.
He authored 28 books in his life, mostly on Biblical commentaries, Khasi philosophy, and Khasi folk tales. He was one of the pillars of the Khasi Department’s foundation in the North-Eastern Hill University in Shillong in 1978. He was a member in selecting the faculty members of the Department.
He never let time go. Whenever he would sit for talks, he would continue for hours. Every listener would be engrossed by his words. His love for the Khasi culture knew no bounds. He published a Khasi newspaper, called ‘Ka Sur Shipara’, from 1976 to 1990, which contained both secular and religious information. When Pope John Paul II visited Shillong, Rev. S. S Lyngdoh was a part of the delegation. He adorned himself with the Khasi traditional turban and committed to keeping its respect and heritage until his last breath.
He lived his life as an exponent on cultural, political, and social growth, environment conservation, educational progress, the well-being of humanity, economic prosperity, and commanded the trust and confidence of the authority with sheer humility and clarity of thought. Rev. Sylvanus Sngi Lyngdoh never remained inactive for a moment of his mortal being until five-past-ten, in the morning of 28th May, 2016, when he took his last breath. He was a legendary icon who will live in our hearts and dwell in people’s minds across the globe as an inspiration.
Lyngdoh, Sylvanus Sngi, Kharkrang, Roland, Ka Jingim bad Jinghikai jong U
Artist, Writer and film-maker. Founder of Riti Academy of Visual Arts and television news channel Media Plus. Life Member of Indian National Trust for Arts and Cultural Heritage (INTACH), Advisory Member, Indian Council for Cultural Relations (ICCR).