THE IMPORTANCE OF VALUE EDUCATION The Contribution of Jeebon Roy and Radhon Singh Berry Kharwanlang

Education is derived from the Latin word ‘educatio’ which means ‘bringing up, rearing.’ It is a holistic experience in which a teacher is expected to nurture a child’s mental growth like a parent. True education is not merely cramming from books, going through exams and getting brilliant results. It is a complete experience in which one’s intellectual, emotional, ethical and spiritual growth and development are addressed and tackled with focus, understanding and in harmony. Jeebon Roy and Radhon Singh Berry Kharwanlang, along with the Khasi literary stalwarts of that era, realized the importance of true education and worked zealously towards its realization with their writings and publications.
The Khasis had no alphabet until Reverend Thomas Jones a Welsh Methodist missionary introduced the Roman alphabet in mid 19th century. Radhon Singh Berry Kharwanlang, Jeebon Roy Mairom and Rabon Singh Suka, in order to keep the pronunciation intact, dropped c,z,f,v,q and x and added Ï,Ñ and Ng. The letters in the Khasi alphabet are A, B, K, D, E, G, NG, H, I, Ï, J, L, M, N, Ñ, O, P, R, S, T, U, W, Y. The next collective decision they took was the establishing of a printing Press. This was done by Jeebon Roy in 1899. The Ri Khasi Press the oldest printing press in these hills was established in 1896 in the compound of his residence in Umsohsun and he employed his eldest daughter, Lakheitmon Sawian, in order to encourage other Khasi women to come out of their homes and work.
Jeebon Roy had studied only up to Class 6 because that was all that was available in these hills. His education continued at home under his father, Ram Sing Jaid Rani and tutors. As his mind imbibed and expanded and he realized the importance of literacy and good education he knew that his mission in life was the spread of higher education in the Khasi and Jaintia Hills. In 1875 he started corresponding with the Provincial Government about setting up a High School. The Government refused on the grounds that Shillong had just undergone the trauma of the plague and there were no funds available. Jeebon Roy was disappointed and started negotiations with Rev T. Jerman Jones of the Welsh Methodist Calvinistic Presbyterian Mission. Reverend Jerman Jones refused and remarked that Khasis were not ready for education beyond Class 6! The two responses alarmed Jeebon Roy and made him more determined. He approached the Assam Government with his proposition with the promise that all deficit would be borne by him. His plea fell to deaf ears. Eventually, he donated a sum of nine hundred rupees and constructed and started a school known as the Zilla High School, in the area where the Telegraph Office stood till a few years ago, near the Raj Bhavan. The school was inaugurated on September 2, 1878 and registered fifty students. Seeing the success of the school Rev Jerman Jones realized his mistake and directed that from the following session the Mission Minor School at Mawkhar should be converted to a Proceeding High School and amalgamated with the Zilla High School and liberal funds should be sanctioned. In 1880 this was completed and the Shillong Government High School, the gateway to higher education in our hills, was established. Jeebon Roy’s perseverance and determination paid off. He lived up to his motto ïaiminot – persevere.
Jeebon Roy wrote and published the first three Khasi Readers, Ka Kitab Khasi Pule Nyngkong in 1899 followed by Kitab Khasi Ba Ar and Kitab Khasi Balai.The first book is orthography and also contains many wise sayings on ethical themes, a precursor to the moral science and value education books of today. He was keenly aware that ethical and spiritual illiteracy are stumbling blocks for intellectual development. He wrote in his First Reader, “I want you to learn not only to read and write but also how to think.” And by that he meant to think correctly, make wise decisions and avoid all diversions from the path of Truth. The Readers were followed by Ka Niam Jong ki Khasi(1897), ka Kitab Shaphang U Wei U Blei(1898) and Ka History Ka Ri India(1900). Shaphang U Wei U Blei is a beautifully expressed treatise on the belief that there is only one God, Omnipotent, Omniscient, Omnipresent, imageless and formless, the Super Consciousness that pervades the entire universe. Explaining to people who asked how could they be convinced of the existence of God when they cannot see Him he wrote, “If you are flying a kite and it climbs higher and higher till you can no longer see it don’t you know it is there because of its pull?” And in another chapter he wrote, “Just as water, fire, the moon, the sun, we human beings, too, and all the creations, animate and inanimate, have come into this world with a purpose according to God’s will. Therefore, we should bow to and worship only that one Creator. We should not look right or left. We should walk on the path that is straight, the path that will lead us to this one God. The more paths you seek the more you will stray. Just as we Khasis believe, that if we have little knowledge of too many things we reap no benefit. So if we err in this way in our worship, imagine how detrimental it will be!”
Jeebon Roy, with the hope that the people of the Khasi and Jaintia Hills would connect with the rest of India and gain from the immense wisdom of the ancient sages, also did a lot of translation works with the help of scholars and published them in the Ri Khasi Press. Among them are Hit-Upodesa(1898), Ramayana and Chaitanya Charitra(1900), Buddha Charitra(1901). His eldest son, translated the Bhagvad Gita. Unfortunately, by then Christianity had taken root in these hills and the books all remained unstudied in their first edition till now.
Simultaneously, Radhon Singh Berry Kharwanlang worked on many books including a Khasi dictionary and the teachings of the elders which had been handed down orally from time immemorial. In 1902 the first edition of Ka Jingsneng Tymmen was published in the Ri Khasi Press. This is a compilation of the Khasi code of ethics and etiquette penned down by Radhon Singh Berry Kharwanlang in exquisite Khasi. It comprises of a hundred and nine verses. This literary masterpiece encapsulates the Khasi philosophy of life that we come into this world to earn righteousness, to do our duty towards our kur (maternal side) and kha (paternal side) and to live a life that which will be guided by our constant connect with the divinity within each one of us, Tip-Briew-Tip Blei(Know Man-Know God). Etiquette, for the Khasis and Pnars is not mere social grace but a form of worship. If one respects all God’s creations animate and inanimate we worship the Creator. I had the privilege of translating this great literary work with the invaluable assistance of Rangbah RT Rymbai and the first edition was published in 1997 in the Ri Khasi Press. It is now in its fourth edition and published by Vivekananda Institute of Culture, Guwahati. The teachings are perennial and secular and relevant to this day. I quote a few verses :
In the house you are born these you must learn-
How to sit and how to stand;
How to walk and cross your feet,
How to drink and how to eat;
How to talk and how to glance,
How to move, how to advance;
How to work and how to labour,
How to cope with the work you shoulder;
How to dress, how to attire;
How to be modest, how to cover;
How your turban, you will wear,
How to comb and make your hair;
How to give, how to accept,
How you’ll live and your life will direct;
All superficial pomp and ostentation
Undermines Truth and is the root of destruction
Once your character is destroyed
Whatever you achieve
No one will applaud.
In front of elders any time any place
Speak with humility and grace
When they enter the room when you are alone or with friends
Stand up your seat, never feel shame or offence.
The act of revering and worshipping God
Is a discipline we must all accord
Religion is the foundation that strengthens your aura.The clan is the foundation of your being, the Mother.
Jeebon Roy and Radhon Singh Berry wanted the people of the Khasi and Jaintia Hills to be confident and forward thinking armed with knowledge and wisdom so that they will stand shoulder to shoulder with the rest of the country and the world. There is, indeed, a difference between being merely literate and being truly educated. A literate person has learned enough to read and write and collect degrees and attain high positions because of brilliant results attained from bookish knowledge. In true education it is not only the result that is important but also the entire journey, step by step, towards your goal. Education is the foundation of character, of courage and of understanding. It does not begin and end with books, results, lucrative jobs and high positions. Education is a vast experience, a never ending journey of discovery into the world of knowledge, wisdom and Truth. A truly educated man is one who can think and act correctly no matter where he studied, what marks he scored, what career he chose and how much he earns. He stands out by his ability to differentiate between right and wrong and by his strength of character to be able to ride the storm in times of crisis; he makes the right decisions and contributes in a positive way to his family, his community and his country. That both Radhon Singh Berry and Jeebon Roy were aware of this is obvious in their commendable endeavours in the field of education. Radhon Singh Kharwanlang also did not have formal education and not much is known about his childhood and parentage. All that was recorded was that he was born in Mawmluh near Cherrapunjee in 1850 and was married twice and had five children.
Our present educational system, archaic, dismal and in desperate need for change, is based on Lord Macaulay’s Minute on Education which he formulated in 1835. Macaulay’s Minute was later perfected in Sir Charles Wood’s Dispatch in 1854. This concept of education was introduced mainly to make the Indian officials learn adequate English and be literate and efficient enough to be able to function in the administration. The minds were geared to cram and swallow information, transfer it to paper and follow orders. This inadequate and simplistic system of education was only to serve the purpose of the British rulers. Changes are slowly being introduced for a totally new concept of education. A lot of stress is being put on the concept of a happy child growing up into a successful individual. In the Jingsneng Tymmen, The Teachings of Elders, one can clearly see that the underlying ethos is that if if one lives a life free of evil and corruption one will, automatically, live a life of peace, joy and abundance.
There is so much of talent and promise among the youth in Meghalaya. What they lack is focus, the right guidance to tap their inborn talent and most of all-their lack of confidence. It is encouraging to know that a few institutes which focus on diverse potentials of the young and honing their communication skills and personality development have started in Shillong. The strong sense of knowing who you are, with full respect for all other communities, helps in building up confidence. Confidence and self esteem are the precursors to growth, progress and evolvement. The young live in a brave new world. They can even rewrite the rules and redefine themselves. They are the masters of their destiny and infinite possibilities. They should not fritter these precious years away.
Coming to careers, every single job, no matter how big or small, is important and has to be done and completed properly for the smooth running of society. We must learn to accept dignity of labour because not everyone can get government jobs and get into institutes for the different professions and not everyone can reach the top as conventionally perceived. Actually, reaching ‘the top’ simply means having done one’s best. One should also be confident of what one is doing and say, “I am a peon/a carpenter/a mason/an electrician/a domestic help/a taxi driver(whatever you are). I am the best in town. I am not a wastrel. I contribute towards my family and community. I live a life of virtue and correctness.Therefore I am a success.” This is very important. That is why value education has to be included in the syllabus of schools, and right values and ‘sanskars’ have to be taught. The concept of success has to be redefined for society to be cleansed of superficiality and regain its luster. That is the essence of life and living.
As Radhon Singh Berry Kharwanlang puts it
Whatever you know, whatever you gain
It’s useless if not by Truth sustained.
You may reach the top, sit on horse, elephant
If your reputation is sullied what use is it then ?

Khasi Philosophy Expressed Through Dance, Music, and Poetry

Philosophy is a term coined by the Greek philosopher, Pythagoras-(c 570-495 BC).It is a study of the fundamental questions connected with reality and our existence and act as a guiding principle for our thoughts and way of life.

Philosophy is expressed in varied ways in all the civilizations in the world throughout the ages. Before we learned to read and write we expressed our philosophy in our prayers, songs and dances and other art forms. This Paper explores this aspect of philosophy

Khasi philosophy is based on our firm belief that we come into this world to earn righteousness and walk on the path of Truth, (Kamai Ia Ka Hok), to be aware of the divinity within to be able to connect with the divinity beyond, (Tip riew-Tip Blei) and to know our agnates and cognates, our maternal side and paternal side and conduct our social behavior accordingly, (Tip Kur-Tip-Kha).All the three precepts are the base of the religion and philosophy of the Niam Khasi -Niam Tre of the Khasi-Pnar of Meghalaya.

I begin with the discussion of the annual thanksgiving dance, Shad Suk Mynsiem, the Dance of Peaceful Hearts of the Khasis held in April each year. Besides rituals, dance is an integral part, in all the religious festivals of Meghalaya. The Shad Suk Mynsiem is the only form of community worship among those who still believe in the indigenous religion, Niam Khasi. Otherwise prayer is a personal communication between Man and God, U Blei, in the simplest of language anywhere, any time. The Khasis believe that every house is a temple and every inch of the earth is worthy of prayer and every good word, thought and deed is an offering to U Blei and a form of worship unsurpassed by any other. U Blei is the Great Divinity, Omnipresent, Omniscient, Omnipotent, imageless and formless. There are only three main ceremonies-Naming, Marriage and Death (the last rites) which each family perform when the occasion arises.

Dance is the truest form of expression of a community. To understand a people one must be part of their festivals and watch and understand their dance. Among the important festivals in Meghalaya we have the Chipiah Dance and Behdeinkhlam of the Pnars of Jaintias Hills, the Shad Nongkrem and the Shad Suk Mynsiem of the Khasis, the Wangala festival of the Garos. This article focuses on the Shad Suk Mynsiem of the Khasis.

This spectacular dance is celebrated in Shillong and all over the state in the months of April and May every year. The first one is held in Shillong, in Lympung Weiking. The maidens gloriously attired in traditional finery, dance to the music of drums, flutes and cymbals. Their movement is slow and studied, their eyes cast down, their feet firmly gripping the ground, their faces calm and peaceful because it is a dance of worship.

The female dancers are all virgins and they symbolize Purity-one of the most important goals of our earthly life-ka jingim ka ba khuid bad ba suba (a life that is clean and unblemished). The men as grandly attired dance around the maidens, their movement confident and energetic as they wave their yak tail whisks and flashing swords. They symbolize Protection, protection of the purity of the entire race. The maidens are referred to as ‘thei sotti’- thei means girl and sotti is pure. This is meant to remind us of the Age of Innocence and Truth, Sotti Juk, a period in the history of Mankind that one must try to recapture to the best one’s ability and to nurture the divinity within each one of us which is essential for leading a life of honour and integrity. This is the essence of this annual festival of dance, Ka Shad Suk Mynsiem. In one visual sweep, as one watches the dance, the philosophy of an entire community is unraveled.

The music changes from time to time symbolizing that life is a movement of different, ever-changing hues. The dancers perform, with full respect and sincerity, to each beat with peace and understanding knowing that it has its own time and glory and will soon give way to yet another mood breaking the monotony, adding to the excitement. The dance encapsulates Life where every experience, bad and good, traverses through one’s life and one has to accept it with grace and humility for everything comes from the Almighty, U Blei who is Omnipotent, Omniscient, Omnipresent, imageless and formless. The brilliant colours that are worn represent Joy and the positive energy that one must always focus on and radiate to bring about all that is good and true. A good soul is an ever joyful soul for it has complete faith in God.

During the three days of the festival the people show their gratitude to U Blei for all the blessings that He has showered on them throughout the year, for the abundant yield of crops and rich harvest, for all the fine clothes, gold and silver that they wear during the dance. Each item, they believe, is a sign of His blessing and generosity, His reward for their hard and sincere work and efforts. That is why one sees the extravagant and lavish display of the most exquisite jewellery and clothing. Traditionally, the Khasis are not attuned to displaying their material wealth. It is not part of their culture and way of life and thought. This dance gives them an opportunity to do so as a mark of respect and gratitude to God.

The festival commences with a prayer said by an elder in the Seng Khasi Hall in Mawkhar in Shillong, the capital of Meghalaya. The dancers stand in a row with their swords and whisks by their side. The senior members of the Seng Khasi stand on either side of them. The elder who will pray, along with other elders, face the dancers while the musicians and the flag carrier stand on the left.

The prayer in brief is as follows –‘O God Lord, Master, Creator, Today the time has come as scheduled to set forth, to rejoice, to dance/Lord Creator with hearts filled with peace and contentment we bow to Thee, We bow to Thee in gratitude for Your love and mercy, blessings and care throughout the year. We set forth to dance according to our religion and culture based on Truth and Righteousness, We aim and pray that we may engage only in what is good and true so that our land may prosper, progress and shine according to tradition So that we may gain wisdom and learning, wealth and prosperity, prestige and honour, etiquette and exemplary behaviour according to thy will/Bless us all-the dancers, the musicians, our kith and kin, our friends and well wishers and all those who will come and be with us, Give your blessings O Lord so that the festival be one of peace and splendor, joy and harmony.
This is followed by the collective prayer in which each one gathered there declares himself a good Khasi “who is well versed about one’s cognates and agnates ”and who will adhere to the rules and regulations of tradition as they set forth to worship U Blei in a dance of reverence and jubilation. The prayer is said on all three days of the festival at the Iing Seng, Seng Khasi Hall in Mawkhar, Shillong.

The prayers, too, encapsulate the philosophy of the Khasis based on Man’s deep connection with God as he expresses all his thoughts, his hopes, aims and achievements to the Creator in the simplest of language. It shows his sincere belief that the Almighty and His love is all-encompassing. It exemplifies Man’s deep gratitude to the Almighty based on the belief that everything comes from Him and must be shared and blessings are, therefore, showered upon one and all with whomsoever one interacts with-including the audience, from far and near who have come to the festival. They are also blessed by their presence on this occasion of joy and prayerful gratefulness to the Creator.

After the collective prayer by all those present, the flag carriers lead the procession, the musicians play the Ksing Lynti as the dancers and the rest of those present walk behind the flag and musicians till they reach the venue, Lympung Weiking, one and a half kilometers away. Once they reach Lympung Weiking the procession takes three full rounds of the grounds after which a prayer is said and the Seng Khasi flag is hoisted. The musicians then play the beat, Ksing Lum Paid to announce that the dance is ready to begin. This is followed by the Ksing Mastieh as the male dancers dance while the maidens are engaged in the final touching up of their costume, hair and make-up and then slowly make their way to the ground. The dance then begins with the Ksing Padiah. There are six different kinds of beats, Ksing Nalai, Ksing Padiah, Ksing Dum Dum, Ksing Klang, Ksing Mastieh and Ksing Lynti.

What beat is played as the dance progresses depends on the conductor-u nonglam ksing-he keeps changing the beat which finally, ends, with the awesome shad mastieh performed by the boys and men. This dance of joy, jubilation and victory represents the success and culmination of the day’s celebrations and a show of reverence to U Blei who made it so for without His blessings nothing is possible.

The attire and the jewellery worn by the dancers are part of the history of the people. The intricate and detailed designs speak of influences that that have come from beyond these hills. Gold and silver are used along with coral. Coral is the only stone used probably for its hardiness and supposed qualities to protect one from negative influences and other medicinal benefits including curing infertility. The girls wear long- sleeved, high necked velvet blouses, silken wraps and the dhara. The main pieces of jewellery are the pansngiat, the crown traditionally embellished with the fragrant cactus flower, tiew lasubon. This flower blooms with a rarity that indicates its beauty and exclusiveness, like Purity. On their necks they wear a choker, khonopad and on the arms and wrists, the taad and mohu, the long, multi-stringed silver sash drapes the body from shoulder to the waist. On their hair styled into a chignon bun, the sai khyllong hangs right down to the lower back. She is covered from head to foot with the fine clothes and jewelry for she worships with her head, her heart and her soul.

The men wear a beautifully embroidered sleeveless jacket(jainphong), a dhoti(jainboh) and a turban(jainspong). His turban is embellished with the thuia, feathers of birds, depending on the area the dancer comes from. It is commonly believed that it stands for manliness. More importantly, however, birds signify Truth, Honour, Strength and Freedom. Birds are closest to the sky above, that is their realm, this enables Man to communicate with the Almighty and also attain celestial wisdom and power to complete his duty on earth while he dances in worship. The quiver, also a wondrous piece of jewelry has three arrows in it. ‘Nam Blei, ‘Nam Thawlang, ‘Nam Iawbei. This represents the trinity of the three most potent influences of his life-God, the First Paternal Ancestor, the First Maternal Ancestress.The three arrows are meant to protect himself and his family, his clan and community, his hima (state) and country.

The Shad Suk Mynsiem in Shillong is followed by dances in the village greens all over these hills. Though these dances are on a smaller scale the fervor and energy is made more special by the quaint and picturesque settings and the charming simplicity of the participants. There they dance “like no one’s watching/like no one’s listening/like they have never been hurt/like it’s heaven on earth.”

We are totally connected with the Divine in the dance. The religion is based on the precept Tip Briew -Tip Blei. Its literal translation is Know Man-Know God which actually means godliness is also within us and we must know it and connect with it at all times to enable us to live a life correctness and virtue.

The religion and philosophy is based on Truth as the Ultimate Reality and Respect for all God’s creations animate and inanimate. From the highest mountains to the smallest rivulets, from giant trees and plants to the littlest blade of grass, animals and birds of all sizes, flowers of all hues and scent and all the peoples of the world irrespective of caste, creed, colour class. We are not animists. We show respect to everything in Nature because we revere U Blei, the Creator.

Etiquette is also linked to respect and it is, for the Khasis, not merely social grace. It is also an integral part of our way of life and philosophy that when we respect all God’s creations we are revering U Blei, the Creator. The book of etiquette and ethics by Rangbah Radhon Sing Berry Kharwanlang is a literary masterpiece, Ka Jingsneng Tymmen, was first published in 1901 by my maternal great-grand father, U Jeebon Roy Mairom in his printing press Ri Khasi Press, established with the specific purpose of publishing works on indigenous literature. I had the privilege of translating it into English in 1997 and it was published in the same press and now the subsequent editions have been done by Vivekananda Institute of Culture, Guwahati. The Teachings of Elders was handed down from time immemorial through the oral tradition until 1843 when the Welsh missionary Reverend Thomas Jones introduced the Roman Alphabet.

The Teachings of Elders consists of a hundred and nine stanzas with perfect rhyme and meter and written in exquisite Khasi.I quote a few lines :

Whatever you now whatever you gain, 
 It’s useless if not by Truth sustained;
  Even if very rich you become 
 If no one respects you, what use is the pomp?
 All superficial pomp and ostentation;
  Undermines Truth and is the root of destruction; 
 Once your character is destroyed;
  Whatever you achieve no one will applaud.

I end with these lines from the song, To Sngew, To Sngap, from the Seng Khasi book of songs, Ki Jingrwai Seng Khasi which expresses with depth and beauty the Khasi philosophy of life and living. It was written by Rangbah Nalak Sing Iangblah in early twentieth century soon after the Seng Khasi was established in 1899.

“La duk te lei, sha! La shitom te lei ?
  Burom kaba tam hangne ha pyrthei.” 
 Even if you are poor, even if you are suffering how does it matter? 
 Honour is of paramount importance in this life of ours.” 

These beautiful lines are an integral part of Khasi philosophy.

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