How the Dog Came to Live with Man

Illustration by Dr Bhogtoram Mawroh

Text by Mrs. K U Rafy

In the happy olden days, when the animals lived together at peace in the forest, they used to hold fairs and markets after the manner of mankind. The most important fair of all was called “Ka Iew Luri Lura”(the Fair of Luri Lura), which was held at stated intervals in the Bhoi (forest) country. Thither gathered all the animals, each one bringing some article of merchandise, according to the decree which demanded that every animal that came to the fair should bring something to sell. No matter whether he was young or old, rich or poor, no one was to come empty-handed, for they wanted to enhance the popularity of the market. U Khla, the tiger, was appointed governor of the fair.
Man was excluded from these fairs as he was looked upon as an enemy. He used to hunt the animals with his bow and arrows, so they had ceased to fraternise with him and kept out of his way. But one day the dog left his own kindred in the jungle, and became the attendant of Man. The following story tells how that came to pass.
One day U Ksew, the dog, walked abroad in search of goods to sell at the fair. The other animals were thrifty and industrious, they worked to produce their merchandise, but the dog, being of an indolent nature, did not like to work, though he was very desirous to go to the fair. So, to avoid the censure of his neighbours and the punishment of the governor of the fair, he set out in search of something he could get without much labour to himself. He trudged about the country all day, inquiring at many villages, but when evening-time came he had not succeeded in purchasing any suitable goods, and he began to fear that he would have to forgo the pleasure of attending the fair after all.
Just as the sun was setting he found himself on the outskirts of Saddew village, on the slopes of the Shillong Mountain, and as he sniffed the air he became aware of a strong and peculiar odour, which he guessed came from some cooked food. Being hungry after his long tramp, he pushed his way forward, following the scent till he came to a house right in the middle of the village, where he saw the family at dinner, which he noticed they were eating with evident relish. The dinner consisted of fermented Khasi beans, known as ktung rymbai, from which the strong smell emanated.

The Khasis are naturally a very cordial and hospitable people, and when the good wife of the house saw the dog standing outside looking wistfully at them she invited him to partake of what food there was left in the pot. U Ksew thankfully accepted, and by reason of his great hunger he ate heartily, regardless of the strange flavour and smell of the food, and he considered the ktung rymbai very palatable.
It dawned on him that here, quite by accident, he had found a novel and marketable produce to take to the fair; and it happened that the kindly family who had entertained him had a quantity of the stuff for sale which they kept in earthen jars, sealed with clay to retain its flavour. After a little palaver according to custom, a bargain was struck, and U Ksew became the owner of one good-sized jar of ktung rymbai, which he cheerfully took on his back. He made his way across the hills to Luri Lura fair, chuckling to himself as he anticipated the sensation he would create and the profits he would gain, and the praise he would win for being so enterprising.
On the way he encountered many of the animals who like himself were all going to Luri Lura, and
carrying merchandise on their backs to sell at the fair: to them U Ksew boasted of the wonderful food he had discovered and was bringing with him to the market in the earthen jar under the clay seal. He talked so much about it that the contents of the earthen jar became the general topic of conversation between the animals, for never had such an article been known at Luri Lura.

When he arrived at the fair the dog walked in with great consequence, and installed himself and his earthen jar in the most central place with much clatter and ostentation. Then he began to shout at the top of his voice, “Come and buy my good food, ”and what with his boastings on the road and the noise he made at the fair, a very large company gathered round him, stretching their necks to have
a glimpse at the strange-looking jar, and burning with curiosity to see the much-advertised contents.
U Ksew, with great importance, proceeded to uncover the jar; but as soon as he broke the clay seal a puff of the most unsavoury and fœtid odour issued forth and drove all the animals scrambling to a safe distance, much to the dog’s discomfiture and the merriment of the crowd. They hooted and jeered, and made all sorts of disparaging remarks till U Ksew felt himself covered with shame.
The stag pushed forward, and to show his disdain he contemptuously kicked the earthen jar till it broke. This increased the laughter and the jeering, and more of the animals came forward, and they began to trample the ktung rymbai in the mud, taking no notice of the protestations of U Ksew, who felt himself very unjustly treated.
He went to U Khla, the governor of the fair, to ask for redress, but here again he was met with ridicule and scorn, and told that he deserved all the treatment he had received for filling the market.

At last U Ksew’s patience wore out, he grew snappish and angry, and with loud barks and snarls he began to curse the animals with many curses, threatening to be avenged upon them all some day. At the time no one heeded his curses and threats, for the dog was but a contemptible animal in their estimation, and it was not thought possible for him to work much harm. Yet even on that day a part of his curse came true, for the animals found to their dismay that the smell of the ktung rymbai clung to their paws and their hoofs, and could not be obliterated; so the laughter was not all on their side.

Humiliated and angry, the dog determined to leave the fair and the forest and his own tribe, and to seek more congenial surroundings; so he went away from Luri Lura, never to return, and came once more to Saddew village, to the house of the family from whom he had bought the offending food. When the master of the house heard the story of the ill-treatment he had suffered from the animals, he pitied U Ksew, and he also considered that the insults touched himself as well as the dog, inasmuch as it was he who had prepared and sold the ktung rymbai. So he spoke consolingly to U Ksew and patted his head and told him to remain in the village with him, and that he would protect him and help him to avenge his wrongs upon the animals.
After the coming of the dog, Man became a very successful hunter, for the dog, who always accompanied him when he went out to hunt, was able to follow the trail of the animals by the smell of the ktung rymbai, which adhered to their feet. Thus the animals lived to rue the day when they played their foolish pranks on U Ksew and his earthen jar at the fair of Luri Lura.

Man, having other occupations, could not always go abroad to the jungle to hunt; so in order to secure a supply of meat for himself during the non-hunting seasons he tamed pigs and kept them at hand in the village. When the dog came he shared the dwelling and the meals of the pig, U Sniang; they spent their days in idleness, living on the bounty of Man.
One evening, as Man was returning from his field, tired with the day’s toil, he noticed the two idle animals and he said to himself—“It is very foolish of me to do all the hard work myself while these two well-fed creatures are lying idle. They ought to take a turn at doing some work for their food.”
The following morning Man commanded the two animals to go to the field to plough in his stead. When they arrived there U Sniang, in obedience to his master’s orders, began to dig with his snout, and by nightfall had managed to furrow quite a large patch of the field; but U Ksew, according to his indolent habits, did no work at all. He lay in the shade all day, or amused himself by snapping at the
flies. In the evening, when it was time to go home, he would start running backwards and forwards over the furrows, much to the annoyance of the pig.
The same thing happened for many days in succession, till the patience of the pig was exhausted, and on their return from the field one evening he went and informed their master of the conduct of the dog, how he was idling the whole day and leaving all the work for him to do.
The master was loth to believe these charges against U Ksew, whom he had found such an active and willing helper in the chase: he therefore determined to go and examine the field. When he came there he found only a few of the footprints of the pig, while those of the dog were all over the furrows. He at once concluded that U Sniang had falsely charged his friend, and he was exceedingly wroth with him.

When he came home, Man called the two animals to him, and he spoke very angrily to U Sniang, and told him that henceforth he would have to live in a little sty by himself, and to eat only the refuse from Man’s table and other common food, as a punishment for making false charges against his friend; but the dog would be privileged to live in the house with his master, and to share the food of his master’s family.
Thus it was that the dog came to live with Man.

Does Humanity Have a Future? :The Need for a Philosophy of Universal Acceptance

-Jeffery D. Long

With each passing day, it seems that our world becomes a more dangerous and frightening place. There is of course the coronavirus, as well as the wider environmental crisis that has given rise to it. And then there are conflicts between human beings of different religions, nationalities, and ethnic groups. One may be tempted to ask if humanity has a future, given all of these many, very serious problems that we all face. One might even go further and ask if humanity deserves to have a future, given that we have ourselves created the problems that we are experiencing. For young people, especially, who did not create these problems, but are inheriting problems that are the result of poor decision making by older generations, the issue of survival is particularly urgent.

Yet, in the midst of all of these problems, we see cause for hope. The coronavirus is a very serious issue, but, like all the diseases that have ravaged humanity in the past, it will one day be cured or managed. While our environmental issues are also quite grave, there are also innovative technologies being developed and new ways of organizing ourselves economically that are being imagined which have the potential to show the way out of this dire situation. And in the midst of even the worst conflicts across communities, one finds pockets of sanity, in which members of one community will rescue members of the other community from the violence that threatens them. In my own country, the United States, where there are, as I am writing this, massive protests against racism and violence carried out by the police, there are also police who support these protests, so long as they are peaceful, and who themselves wish to see a society free from racial prejudice.

There is reason for hope because, if human beings have created the problems that we now face, it is also human beings who will develop the means for solving them. We are a species with great potential both for creation and for destruction. We have been tremendously destructive, but have also been tremendously creative as well. It is our positive creativity, which, in the Vedanta tradition is seen to be a manifestation of our inner divinity, that has the ability to save the day.

Focusing specifically on conflict across belief systems and ethnic and national groups, two of the greatest visionaries of history, who had the capacity to perceive how we might all learn to co-exist, were Swami Vivekananda, and his teacher, Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa.

Swami Vivekananda, or Swamiji, who was the first Indian spiritual teacher to travel to the Western world in the modern era to share the wisdom of Vedanta with Americans and Europeans, taught a vision of what he called “universal acceptance.” In his famous welcome address, given at the World Parliament of Religions, which was held in Chicago in 1893, he proclaimed his pride in belonging “to a religion which has taught the world both tolerance and universal acceptance.”

“ We believe not only in universal toleration, but we accept all religions as true.”

Swami Vivekananda,
The Complete Works (Mayavati: Advaita Ashrama, 1979)

Two important things need to be noted about Swami Vivekananda’s teaching of universal acceptance. First, there is the distinction between acceptance and tolerance. Secondly, there is the question of what it means to accept all religions as true.

I have asked my students on many occasions, “If your friend, or a beloved family member, said to you today, ‘I tolerate you, ’ how would you feel? “Tolerance is, of course, much better than intolerance. If someone is intolerant, it means that they cannot even stand our existence. They are so hostile to us–perhaps because of our beliefs, or our appearance, or our language, or our ethnic origin–that they truly wish that we did not exist. They cannot tolerate the fact that there are people who are different from themselves.

But tolerance is not the highest ideal to which we can aspire. If we are tolerated, it is as if we are merely being allowed to exist. It does not mean that our existence is a cause for rejoicing. It is more like the person who tolerates us would rather we were not there, but they are not going to act on that feeling. Swamiji understood this very well. He said, in another one of his lectures, “Why should I tolerate? Toleration means that I think that you are wrong and I am just allowing you to live. Is it not a blasphemy to think that you and I are allowing others to live?”2 Who am I, and who are you, to say that one person or another deserves to live, or does not deserve to live?
Tolerance, again, is better than intolerance. It is certainly much better to ‘allow’ people to live than not to allow them to live: to murder them. But even this sense of ‘allowing’ another to live falls far short of the highest ideal which we are capable of achieving. Can we not do something more than not murdering others? What is this ideal? This is the ideal which Swami Vivekananda calls acceptance, saying, “I believe in acceptance.”

What does acceptance mean? Swamiji elaborates upon it as follows:
“I accept all religions that were in the past, and worship with them all; I worship God with every one of them, in whatever form they worship Him. I shall go to the mosque…I shall enter the Christian’s church and kneel before the crucifix; I shall enter the Buddhistic temple, where I shall take refuge in Buddha and in his Law. I shall go into the forest and sit down in meditation with the Hindu, who is trying to see the Light which enlightens the heart of every one. Not only shall I do all these, but I shall keep my heart open for all that may come in the future.”

Swami Vivekananda,
The Complete Works (Mayavati: Advaita Ashrama, 1979)

Acceptance, particularly in regard to different religions, involves seeing different paths not as rival ways of being with which one is in competition, but as many paths to the same ultimate goal. This is rooted in the teaching of Swami Vivekananda’s guru, Sri Ramakrishna, who himself practiced a wide array of spiritual disciplines, drawing from many diverse traditions, and found that each of the paths that he followed led to the experience of samadhi, or absorption in the divine:

I have practiced…all religions–Hinduism, Islam, Christianity–and I have also followed the paths of the different Hindu sects. I have found that it is the same God toward whom all are directing their steps, though along different paths…Wherever I look, I see men quarrelling in the name of religion…But they never reflect that He who is called Krishna is also called Siva, and bears the name of the Primal Energy, Jesus, and Allah as well–the same Rama with a thousand names.

Rolland, Romain (1929). “The Return to Man”. The Life of Ramakrishna. pp. 49–62.

The Music of the Brahmaputra Valley.

An appreciation of culture helps immensely if we wish to understand a people, a society. For the person who comes newly to a region, or a State, several aspects of the ways of life of a place are often so novel that she finds herself exposed to a different world view altogether. This is the reason that well travelled people find such delight in the cultural richness and diversity of the state of Assam.

Geographical location is undoubtedly the single most important factor in shaping culture. It is geography that determines how accessible a place is, and this in turn, determines whether it is accessible to migrants from different lands, people who bring with them the influences of their own cultures, and their own ways of life. Geography also determines to a great extent how attractive a place is for potential migrants. Is the place well watered, is the climate suitable for agriculture and for living?

The location of Assam is unique in the sense that it is situated at the cusp of two great civilizations, the Indian and the East and SouthEast Asian. It is therefore inevitable that it should reflect the influences of both of them in various spheres. Till the other day, Assam, bound by heavily forested hills, and one of the biggest river systems of the world, was largely inaccessible to the rest of India, as well as to the lands to its east. But these fertile valleys that bask in the mellow sunshine of a moderate climate could not fail to attract migrants from great distances. The difficulty of the terrain leading into this golden land however ensured that historically, these migrations have taken place slowly. These migrants brought with them the culture of the lands of their origin. Because of the slow pace of migration, the assimilation process of each of these influences threw up newer creations, while retaining the flavour of the original. Over time, these mixed and melded with the local culture, to produce something that remains unique to this day. So whether it is cuisine, dress, textiles or literature, music or indeed the many other facets of traditions that manifest themselves in our everyday life, there is always something distinctive about the cultural markers of this land.

The musical ancestry of migrants is often a kind of race memory of the land from which they have come, even centuries after the actual migration has taken place. Music is the nostalgia, the recollection that migrants carry with them as remembrances of the land they have left behind for ever. In Assam, the various strands of its rich repertoire of music, both the vocal and the instrumental heritage, glisten with those memories. The melodies of this land are a seamless intermingling of the airs of the rest of India, particularly Northern and Eastern India, and also, on the other hand, of the many tribal cultures that surround the valley, in the hills of the region. There is also the Oriental aspect. These two latter influences are seen in the more staccato nature of the melodies of this part of the world, compared to the music of the rest of India, which is based on “meends”, or glides. Also, the melodies of the ethnic music of Assam are usually based on a descending scale, unlike the folk and Raag based melodies of much of the rest of the country. The mingling of the influences over the centuries has ensured a composite melodic end product that is as attractive as it is unique.

The music of Assam is rich in both the traditional as well as the folk kinds. Both these categories are often an accompaniment to dance, though they are also performed without this pairing. Among the most luminous of traditional music forms are those that spring from the Sattriya culture. These Sattras, or monasteries, were established by the great Vaishnavite saint, Srimanta Sankardeva (1449-1568) and his primary disciple, Madhabdev (1489-1596) Sankardeva himself wrote many works of devotion, among them the Kirtan Ghosa, Bhaonas and Naats (dramatic works) and so on. The Borgeets, or Great Songs that he wrote are performed with great piety even today. These are effulgent with devotion, and are based on Raags whose nomenclature is different from both the Carnatic and Hindusthani systems, and also a complex system of Taals or rhythmic patterns. The lyrics are in the sweet language known as Brajawali, a mixture of the Assamese of the time, and the language of Braj. The accompanying instruments of the time were the khol and the taal, or cymbals, but today, recitals of Sattra music are accompanied by the taanpura, violin and flute as well.

It is not the Vaishnavite faith alone that has beautiful devotional songs. Several other deities are worshipped through music. The Mother Goddess, in various forms, has always been very important here. Ai Naams extol her virtues and glories, and are usually sung by women.

Another category of traditional songs are the OjaPalis, where a group of men, and, these days, women too, divided into the main singer/narrator and the accompanying chorus, play out a dramatic musical narration, complete with basic dance steps and hand gestures. Small cymbals accompany the songs.

Muslims have their own songs of piety and devotion in Assam, known as Jikirs. These often sing of moral values and are accompanied by hand claps.

Assam is very rich in folk music, of which there is a large variety to be found here. In the Westernmost districts of the State, in Goalpara and Dhubri, for instance, one finds the luminous Goalpariya folk songs. These are related to the river songs of nearby Bangladesh and North Bengal, though their melodic development and vocabulary is different. These are the regions of the great wandering elephant herds. It is no wonder that “elephant songs ”have such a distinctive position in the folk music of this area. Boatmen’s songs from these musically rich districts are also very evocative in both their melodic and rhythmic schemes.

The adjacent districts also have a rich repertoire of folk music, Kamrupiya Loka Geet being highly melodious. There are also some intriguing categories, such as the “Moh Kheda Geet”of Barpeta which is sung by groups that fan out with burning torches, to chase away mosquitoes. The boat songs of Barpeta “Nao Khelor Geet”sung during boat races, are vigorous and energetic. There are several other categories of folk music, heard up and down the valley. These include the Tokari Geet, the Bongeet, the soothing lullabies or Nisukonigeet. Besides, there are the group songs such as Biya Naams (wedding songs) which are often extempore. These can be sad, as well as merry.

The best known folk form of Assam is the Bihu, an expression of joy and merriment, which is today a dance that is synonymous with the people of Assam. It is a dance celebrating fecundity and fertility, and is part of the Bihu festivals of April and January. The Bihu of Spring, especially, is a joyous one, with dancing and singing galore. The songs that accompany these dances are an integral part of the whole performance. The rhythm encompasses a vibrant double beat that is guaranteed to set feet tapping, and bodies swaying. The lyrics are often quite risqué, and depict the boy wooing the girl, and the girl’s teasing reply. Indeed, the whole tone of the songs is lighthearted, with lots of teasing and double entendres, guaranteed to bring a smile to the faces of the audiences. These songs are full of stunning descriptions of nature, evoking the lush beauty of the fields, the rivers, the trees and foliage all around. An intriguing aspect of these lyrics is the fact that they lend themselves to extempore creations quite readily. Many events of a contemporaneous nature are often incorporated into these short stanzas, as are teasing references to the audiences, especially if they are too inhibited to join in the dancing and singing!

Indeed, every tribe of Assam’s multi-ethnic community has its own distinctive music The Bodos celebrate “Baishagu”with song and dance. The Bagurumba dance, accompanied by song, describes the beauties of Nature. Every tribe celebrates Spring in its own way, with its own songs and dances, which enrich the composite culture of Assam. The Adivasi people of the tea gardens have their lively and graceful Jhumur dances and songs.

Among the traditional instruments of Assam are the flute made of bamboo, which is ubiquitous in the rural areas. There are, besides, the stringed folk instruments such as the Ektara and Dotara, which yield tunes that are resonant with feeling. There are also instruments such as the pepa or pipe, sometimes made from the horn of a buffalo, and the gogona or Jew’s harp. Among the percussion instruments are the khol, mainly used for music of a religious nature, and the more secular dhol, the nagara, and the bamboo clappers. It is to be noted that these are all made of material found in abundance in nature. The Ciphung Bahi of the Bodos is a long bamboo flute, played during festivals.

Contemporary music in Assam draws on this solid musical foundation. The amalgamation of various categories, and also more contemporary influences from outside the region, has resulted in some beautiful outpourings of music. Renowned artistes such as Bhupen Hazarika, Zubeen Garg, Papon and Kalpana Patowary, who have been nourished by the musical streams of this land, owe much to this rich heritage, which has nurtured their genius to produce their remarkable musical outpourings.

Marriage Rituals of the Tribes of Meghalaya

Meghalaya literally meaning the ‘abode of clouds’ is a small hilly state in the North eastern part of the country. Its landscape is not only dotted with green hills, deep valleys, crystal clear rivers and rivulets and gushing waterfalls but also has several natural wonders such as the longest sandstone cave (krempuri), the wettest place on earth called Sohra or Cherrapunji, multitudes of root bridges, the cleanest village in Asia called Mawlynong, a variety of flora and fauna, which have all made this state one of the most sought after tourist destination of the world. This tiny state has a matrilineal society endowed with a vibrant culture that pulsates at the core of it.

The Khasis or the Khriems, and the Jaintias or the Pnars belong to the Mongolian race while the Garos belong to the Tibeto Burman race and call themselves as A’chiks. The people of Meghalaya are rich in cultural heritage and one of unique tradition is the matrilineal system where the lineage and inheritance are traced through women. For example, a boy or as girl born of a Khasi mother belong to the family of the mother. The property is inherited by the youngest daughter or the Ka Khadduh who is the custodian of ancestral property. She cannot dispose or sell the property without the consent and approval of the maternal uncle and the brothers. The matrilineal system of society involves a very close relationship between religion, social life, economy and political life of the people. Dance and other festivals are celebrated by all the three tribes throughout the year and are mostly related to the sowing or the harvesting season and also as a thanksgiving gesture to the God almighty. These traditional festivals are a way to maintain the balance between man, his culture, his natural environment and the ecosystem.

The foundation of the Khasi society is based on the concept of Kur and Kha. Ka Tip kur ka Tip kha is a respectful recognition of the basic social structure, which consists of either maternal or paternal relationships. All those who are descendants of the same ancestral mother belong to the same Kur or clan and members of the father’s clan are not Kur but Kha. It enjoins all to know and respect each other, to recognize one’s relation on both sides and to give due regard to them. It involves an intricate network of kinship relationship and sentiments, obligations, convictions and beliefs that weave the Khasi society together. Each clan or Kur has its triad- ka Tawbli, the ancestral mother, U Thawlang, the ancestral father and U Suidria, the eldest brother or the eldest son of Ka Tawbli who is the ancestral maternal uncle of the clan.

Traditionally the origin of the Khasis is stated to be from the seven huts or seven families (HynniepTrep HynniesSkun) who were the progenitor of the whole Khasi race and from them the organization of the Khasi and the inter-clan relationship is based. Each hut or trep signifies a Kur. Kur or clan multiplied and increased in numbers out of inter-marriage among the different Kurs. Each Kur traced its descent to Ka Tawbli Tynrai or root ancestors. The kur is subdivided into jaids, which claim Ka Tawbli tymmen or old ancestress or their ancestress. The jaids are further subdivided into a number of kpohs, which claim Ka Tawbli Khyraw or young ancestress or their ancestress. Each Kapoh is further subdivided into a number of families or ing and belong to the same jaid. Religion too starts within the Kur and religion plays a predominant role not only in the social life but also in the political life of the people. Though over 70% of the population in the state follow the Christian faith, but Christians or non-Christians alike observe the Khasi customary law and adhere to the Khasi idea of life. Through migration some Jaids might have changed their names but as long as they belong to the common ancestors, they cannot have an inter-marriage.

The family or the Ka Ing forms part of the sub clan called the Ka kpoh (sibling) and a number of sub-clans form Ka kur ka jait or those originating from the same ancestress. Those having a direct lineage to the father’s side are called Ki Kha ki Man or cousins. Family in the past was a joint family that consisted a father, mother, brothers and sisters not yet married, sons and daughters who were not married and also the grandchildren. At present there is a kind of change taking place in the family, which now consists of only the father, the mother and the children, which is more or less like a nuclear family that does not include other members having close relations. The mother is still considered the custodian of the family rites and a family priestess although in the task of sacrifice and other religious celebrations of the house it is the male members that play the most important role. The mother, the maternal uncle and the father are revered as the makers of the clan. Children receive a lot of guidance from the father and the maternal uncle or the brother of the mother.


Marriage is considered as one of the oldest social institution. Throughout human history it has been endorsed by religion, laws, social norms etc. Though marriage ceremonies, rules, and roles may differ from one society to another, marriage is considered a cultural universal, which means that it is present as a social institution in all cultures. It is a bond between a man and a woman. A bond for cooperation and understanding to build a new home. Among the Khasis too, a marriage is a bond which connects two Kurs, the Kur of the woman and the Kur of the man.

The traditional Khasi system of marriage is quite simple. Both love and arranged marriages are permissible. Marriage is prohibited between people who are related by blood which means that clans who descend from common ancestors cannot marry as it is believed that it is an incest or a great sin. As it is a taboo, this system is quite rare. Marriage also cannot take place between a man and a woman whose father and mother have blood relations. It is a great sin to marry within the related clans. Those who go against this basic principle are ex-communicated from their kinsfolk. In a Khasi marriage, the husband is the son from one clan or Kur who marries a daughter from another clan where there is no blood relations.

Therefore marriage among the Khasis takes place between two different clans. Marriage among the Khasis is very sacred; the most remarkable feature of the Khasi marriage is that it is a usual practice for the husband to live with his wife in his mother-in-law’s house, and it is not for him to take his bride home, as it is the case in other patriarchal communities. In the past there was only arranged marriage and love marriage was nearly unknown, these days however love marriages or free choice marriages are more prevalent after due approval by the family.

Before the man decides to marry he must first of all examine the pros and cons because after the marriage the man goes to the woman’s house and becomes U Khun ki briew or son of other people. He also has to have some earnings for himself so that he is not looked down upon. He is expected to earn for his Kur termed as Kamai ing Kur and the remaining period of his life he devotes to earn for his wife and children or Kamai ing khun. Proposal for marriage comes from the boy’s side with the approval of his maternal uncles as well as the relatives of his father. They also check if the girl has a respectable family background. After elaborate examination, the elderly men will go to the girl’s house to ask for her hand in marriage with the boy. The engagement ceremony or Pynhiar Synjat thereafter takes place. Parental and maternal uncles of the boy goes to the girl’s house. Female members are however not permitted to be a part of this process. The engagement ceremony that is conducted by the elderly males can be with either a gold or lead ring depending on the capability of the party concerned. The period between the engagement and the marriage is not more than three months. If the engagement is broken by either party it is considered as Klim ka Synjat or adultery over the engagement which is almost like the breaking of the covenant of God.

There are two types of marriages among the Khasis – the first one is ‘Ka pynhior synjat’ that is exchanging of rings between a man and a woman who would be husband and wife and in the second type of marriage
called ‘Ka lamdoh’ there is no exchanging of rings. After the wedding day is fixed, the boy leaves his home to his new home or his would be wife’s home, after receiving the blessings of all his maternal and paternal aunts and other relatives and friends. Female relatives from the boy’s side are again not allowed to go along with him and only his uncles, male relatives and friends go along with him.

As a part of the tradition, a portion of the bride’s wedding attire as well as jewellery is given by the groom. The bride dresses herself in traditional Khasi outfit for her wedding day. She wears a Dhara or Jainsem as it is known in local language. The groom too dons a traditional outfit for his special day which is known as Jymphong. Jymphong is basically a long coat without any sleeves or collar, and is fastened with the aid of two straps attached in the front. Now-adays most grooms also team up their Jymphong with Sarongs, and some of them also wear turban on their heads. Both the bride and the groom team up their wedding outfits with apt accessories for their special day. The bride accessorizes her outfit with various ornaments such as necklaces and earrings made from silver or gold. She also wears a gold pendant known as Kynjri Ksiar.

In a marriage ceremony there must be a maternal uncle (U Kni) from the bride’s side and a maternal uncle on the groom’s side as well. They are called ‘Ki Ksiangs’ or the negotiator who will cite the marriage ceremony. On the marriage day as the groom and his entourage are on the way to the bride’s house, at the half way point the party is received by representatives from the girl’s side to welcome them. An exchange of betel nuts or Kwai with vines and lime takes place. On reaching the girl’s house the ceremony begins. The couple take their seat side by side and the whole audience witnesses the solemnisation. The spokesman recites from each side and declares the marriage of the bride and the groom. The Ksiang from the male side introduces the groom, upon which the opposite spokesman welcomes and explains that he has come to stay with his wife, and to live with her through bright and dark days, as well as through sickness and health. The Ksiang from the girl’s side rises up and agrees that the marital union has now come to be solemnly pledged in the presence of the congregation gathered. As a token of the marriage link, the priest pours libation or fermented brew from the two respective vessels. After this, he takes three pieces of dried fish and addresses the Goddess Synchar to bless and guide the couple. The ritual ends with the placing of the dried fish upside down on the roof of the house to be removed only after the birth of the baby of the couple. All relatives’ hands over their gifts in cash or kind and after the cutting of the wedding cake made of grounded rice, scrumptious meals are feasted upon by all present. The next day morning the boy leaves for his home for some time and returns back. After around three days the boy takes his wife along with her relatives, both males and females to his mother’s house and where she blesses her new daughter-in-law to increase her own Kur and applies a little oil on her head as a symbolic gesture. Mutual visits between the two Kurs starts from here on.

For a Khasi, procreation after marriage is very important. A Khasi does not believe to live without children or without a Jaid. To live without a Jaid is a curse. Therefore to expand one’s family after marriage to a Khasi is thought to fulfil one of the purposes of life on earth – to multiply and expand the clan. A childless couple are free to separate which is always performed in the presence of senior members of the community. When a husband and wife feel that they cannot live happily together any longer, they can divorce through mutual consent in the presence of the Headman. The procedure is simple, both the husband and the wife hold in their hands five cowries or five pieces of betel nut each. The husband hands over the contents of his hand to that of his wife. The later returns them with those of her own and the husband takes them and casts them away from his hand. Both husband and wife cannot remarry until they are separated.

Thus marriage for the Khasi is sacrosanct and is therefore solemnised with all the revered rituals and ceremonies. But with the passage of time such traditional marriages have become rare and no longer a common practice as most Christian couples are adopting the elaborate church weddings. But though a traditional wedding may have become exceptional especially among the urban city dwellers but it not totally unheard of even in the present times of today specially in the rural areas.

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.

Ramakrishna Reborn?

-William Page

William Page, nicknamed Bill, was born in 1938 in Haverhill, Massachusetts. Raised as a Congregationalist, in his early teens he became interested in Buddhism and Hinduism. In 1958 he met Swami Akhilananda, the founder of the Vedanta societies in Boston and in Providence, Rhode Island. This experience solidified his commitment to Sri Ramakrishna Bill became one of the members of Ramakrishna Vedanta Association of Thailand (RVAT) in 2004. He was posted to Taipei, Taiwan, where he served as a Chinese Mandarin translator. Subsequently he got into teaching in overseas American and international schools in Taipei, Singapore, Iran, and Luxembourg. He is the author of a collection of short stories on religious themes, like ‘The Nirvana Experiments’ and ‘Other Tales of Asia’, and has contributed articles to Prabuddha Bharata, The Vedanta Kesari, American Vedantist, and Global Vedanta. Recently he has done editing work for Advaita Ashrama and The Vedanta Kesari. E-mail:

Kolkata, 15 July 2096

It was when a little Finnish girl began speaking her first words that the world first got a hint that Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa, the great nineteenthcentury Indian saint, had been reborn.
The little girl’s name was Anni Makinen. She lived in the town of Kittila, in northwestern Finland, not far from the Swedish border, with her parents, Jussi and Leena. Jussi was a computer engineer working for Nokia; Leena was a housewife. In 2090, Anni was two years old, an adorable, blonde-haired, blue-eyed little girl with nothing unusual about her. Except for one thing. When she spoke her first words, they were in Bengali.

Her parents were mystified. They didn’t know that the words were Bengali. To them they sounded like gibberish. The neighbors thought they sounded vaguely Indian. After some searching, Jussi managed to contact Asit Banerjee, a Bengali businessman who lived in a nearby town. When he met the Makinens, Mr. Banerjee was amazed. Anni was a little chatterbox, and once she started talking, she went on and on in a stream of fluent Bengali.
“Well, ”Mr. Banerjee reported, “she’s speaking Bengali. But it’s not Kolkata Bengali. It’s a rural sort of Bengali, the kind a country bumpkin would speak, and somewhat old-fashioned.”
“What is she saying?”her parents inquired.

“Oh! Don’t ask me, ”Mr. Banerjee replied, throwing up his hands. “It’s all about religion, and I’m an atheist. You need to telephone the Vedanta society in Helsinki. The swami there is a Bengali, and he can tell you everything you need to know.”
The Makinens did that, but they couldn’t reach the swami. His name was Swami Bhavishyananda, and he was visiting India. So they left a message on his answering machine. By the time he got back to Finland, a month had passed.
But when he learned that they had tried to contact him, and why, Swami Bhavishyananda’s curiosity
was piqued. He knew about the prophecy that Sri Ramakrishna had made, that he would have to be reborn in two hundred years, somewhere northwest of Kolkata. (See Sri Ramakrishna and His Divine Play, p. 360.) Sri Ramakrishna had made the prophecy in 1885, so two hundred years meant sometime around 2085. Anni had been born in 2088. Sri Ramakrishna’s contemporaries had assumed that he might be reborn in the Bengali city of Burdwan. But northwest of Kolkata covers a very large territory indeed, and if you go far enough you might end up in Finland.
So Swami Bhavishyananda went to Kittila to investigate.

The Makinens welcomed him warmly. By then Anni had stopped speaking Bengali and was starting to speak Finnish. But when she saw the swami, her face lit up. “Sadhu, ”she said. “Nomoskar.”And she got down on her little knees and prostrated.
The subsequent conversation, as later recounted by Swami Bhavishyananda, went like this. It was conducted in Bengali:

Swami: Hello, Anni, do you know who I am?
Anni: You are sadhu.
Swami: Do you know who Sri Ramakrishna is?
Anni (squirming uncomfortably): I know. But that was then. Now is now.
Swami (gently): Can you tell me who Sri Ramakrishna is?
Anni (after a long pause): That was my old name.
Swami (still gently): Are you Sri Ramakrishna, Anni?
Anni: I was once. Now I am Anni.
Swami (suddenly prostrating himself before her, bursting into tears): O Lord! We have been waiting for two hundred years! What is your mission this time?
Anni (changing her tone; severely): Don’t do that. I’m just a little girl. Give me time to grow up. You’ll know everything when the time comes.
After that, she refused to speak further. But Swami Bhavishyananda couldn’t let it end there. He prostrated himself before her and begged her to bless him. Anni looked exasperated, but when he wouldn’t get up off the floor, she relented. “All right, ”she said in Bengali, and now her tone was tender. “I bless you, Dhruba Maharaj. You will attain the goal.”She raised her little hand in blessing.
Swami Bhavishyananda’s face lit up with joy, and when he left the house he was fairly floating on air. When he arrived back in Helsinki, they say his face was shining like the sun. His premonastic name had been Dhruba.

And that was the last time Anni spoke Bengali. From then on she settled into life as a normal little Finnish girl.
Her parents were relieved. “It was crazy, that Bengali stuff, ”her mother said later. “But she finally stopped, and from then on, all she’s spoken is Finnish. It’s a big relief. We were afraid those Indians might want to take her to New Delhi or somewhere, and we want to keep her here with us.”
Swami Bhavishyananda reported his interview to the trustees at Belur Math, the headquarters of the Ramakrishna Math and Mission north of Kolkata. Those wise old men deliberated, but in the end they decided to leave things alone. “Let her grow up, ”declared the President of the Order. “Thakur has his own plan and purpose. We mustn’t meddle, lest we upset the applecart. If she really is Thakur, he will reveal himself at the proper time and place.”
Now it is 2096, and Anni is eight years old. So far as anybody can see, she’s just a normal Finnish girl. She goes to the local Evangelical Lutheran Sunday school and is devoted to Jesus. But her parents have noticed that on their rare visits to Helsinki, Anni likes to go to Little India, the neighborhood where most of the Indians live. At one Indian shop she purchased a small image of Kali, and when she saw a sweets shop she went straight for the jalebis.