Meghalaya in Sanskrit means “the abode of clouds “, is a state in the northeast of India. One of the most important religious festivals of Meghalaya is the Nongkrem dance. The Khasi tribes annually celebrate the Nongkrem dance festival with fervour and enthusiasm. The Khasi tribes are immigrants from Myanmar and believe in a matrilineal society. The word Nongkrem means “goat killing ceremony”. The religious festival is held at Smit, that is approximately 11 km south west of Shillong. The Khasis consider Smit as their cultural hub for all the celebrations.
Dance is an integral part of almost all the festivals of the Khasi tribe. While the original name of this festival was Ka Pemblang Nongkrem, but as years progressed it became famous by the name Nongkrem. Celebrations are held in the month of November for a period of five days. Furthermore, this festival is a celebration of the bumper harvest and the prosperity of the inhabitants of the Khasi hills.The alluring dance is done to please the powerful Goddess, Kai Blei Synchar. The Syiem(chief) sacrifices a cock to appease U–Lei Shillong, who is considered as the deity of the Shillong peak. Goat sacrifice is an important aspect of this festival. This customary offering is made to appease the ancestors of the clan.
Young men and women deck up in traditional finery and perform the famous dance. Unmarried young
women dress up in a colourful and exotic attire. They dress up in yellow silk robes(Jainsem) and wear gold and silver ornaments. Women adorn their silver crowns with orchids and other flowers. A 24-carat gold necklace of coral beads of varying sizes is also worn by the women. The crown is a symbol of glory and dignity of the matrilineal society. On the other hand, menfolk dress up in silk dhotis with waistcoat and embellished turbans. The waistcoat has intricate embroidery in gold and silver threads of the flora and fauna. Feathers from a fowl are used to decorate the turbans. The women dance in the centre of the arena in front of ling shad(thatched hut). The dance is done barefoot using tiny steps and minimum body movements. The women form the inner circle, and the men form the outer circle holding a sword in one hand and white yak hair whisk in the other. The men carry the ornamental hand plumage to ward off evils. The complete dance performance is done to the beats of drum and pipes (tangmuri). The dance performance of the young men is known as Ka Shad Mastieh. The movements of the men are energetic and swift and match to the beats of the drum(nakras). Colourful markets spring up around the dancing arena. Local handicrafts and delicacies attract the people from all over. Villagers sell their local produce and fruits in this fair. Also, young girls barely six or seven years old take part in this dance. Their participation is more to get them accustomed to their culture and traditions.
The vibrant Nongkrem dance attracts locals, national and international tourists. People of the Khasi tribe offer mass prayers for the peace and prosperity of their community. The celebration of this festival is a testimony to the rich ancient traditions still prevalent in Meghalaya in spite of an advanced modern society.
Featured Photo by Takuya Photography