The indigenous faith of the tribal people of North-eastern India, follow a
familiar and largely identical pattern. All of them believe in the
existence of a Supreme Being, a powerful creator, and a benign protector.
They also believe in a host of the spirits, good and bad, whom they propitiate
or appease by appropriate offerings. Their ordinary day to day life is
believed to be influenced by actions of these spirits. Sickness, misfortunes,
accidents are believed to be caused by their wrath, owing to some lapses
on the part of the sufferer. It is because of this that tribal religion
has for long been described as animistic.
The above observations are equally true of the hill people of
The creator in Garo religion is
Tatara-Rabuga. He created the world and
also the creatures that live upon the earth. He also gives protection
against some of the most dreaded diseases that afflict mankind. His worship
demands elaborate rituals and expensive sacrifices: a bull, a goat, and a cock.
Less important divinities include
Chorabudi, the protector of crops, and Saljong, the god who blesses man's labours in the fields. This
represented by the sun and the annual festival, the Wangala is held in his
honor. He is propitiated by the sacrifice of a cock and an offering of
liquor before the commencement of festivities. The God Kalkame is invoked
to protect the people of the village from the evil intentions of the spirits of
the forests. He demands the sacrifice of a goat or a cock, the blood of
which is smeared on the asong (sacrificial stone erected in his honour).
the evil spirits is greatly feared - the monster that could even
swallow the sun or the moon, causing eclipses. This spirit may also try to
waylay souls on their way to Garo purgatory.
In other tribal religions, there is little place for corporate worship.
When sacrifices are necessary, temporary altars or shrines generally of bamboo
are erected where these are performed. Religious duties are generally
individual or family obligations, though these may be limited to meeting the
prescriptions of the priest (Kamal) who intercedes for them before the divinity
or spirit concerned when called upon to do so. Harvest rites involve the
community as a whole as does the Asongtata ceremony, concerned with the
well-being of the village. This is performed at the Asong. This
place acquires lasting sanctity although it is restored to for that particular
Khasi Pnars believe in one Supreme God whom they call U Blei Nongthaw or
U Beli Nongpynlong (Creator-dispenser). The Deity is also occasionally
addressed as Ka Blei (Goddess) perhaps not surprising, in the matrilineal society
of the Khasis.
Minor deities include U Lei Long Ung who is the household deity and U
Ryngkew-U Basa and U-Phan-U Kyrpad venerate as village deities.
also venerate spirits of their ancestors. It is they who protect their
descendants as long as they lead good lives and after death it is the hope of
everyone to be able to join them in the house of God.
Among the Malignant sprits are those believed to be responsible for several
kinds of diseases like malaria and cholera.
Garos, Khasis have their institutions of priesthood. In
respect of the higher ceremonials or of state religious functions, the services
of the priests called U Lyngdoh are sought, but in cases of illness, those of
U Nongkha (Diviner) or U Nongkmia
(Sacrificer) are looked for.
For divination, the
Khasis resort to the breaking of eggs or sacrifice of a
cock. In the first, omens are sought in the position of eggshell fragments
on the egg-breaking board and in the second, they are sought in the conditions of
two appendages in the entrails, one representing God and other representing
man. Emptiness in one or the other betrays the cause of the illness.
The cock plays a very important part in the
Khasi religion. It plays
the part of a mediator between God and man. Tradition says that at the
beginning of time, sins had become rampant among man. So much so that
even the sun refused to appear. It was the cock, among all living
creatures that agreed to risk its life for the good of man. At its
crowing, the sun came out of his hiding.
With the establishment of British rule, Christian missions began their work
in the hills about 1841. In Jaintia Hills the work started about a decade
later. In both the hills, the mission work was carried out by the
Presbyterian Mission from Wales. The Roman Catholics started their work
about a half a century later. In the Garo hills the American Baptist Mission was
begun in 1870's. Many people were converted into Christianity.
The Hindus make up another important group. Most of those who fall
within this group belong to non-tribal communities.