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The People

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Religion

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 Meghalaya.

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 God is 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).  

Nawang among 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 purpose only.

The 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. 

The Khasis 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. 

Like the 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.

 

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