Meghalaya, “The Scotland of the East”, is an epitome of beauty and magnificence. The flora and fauna of the state proliferates an aura of purity and serenity. Among its spectacular bundle of natural wonders, the Mawphlang Sacred Forest stands apart with its unique religious beliefs and traditions.
Mawphlang Sacred Forest is located almost 25 kilometers from Shillong, the prominent and wonderful hill station of Meghalaya. It is convenient to reach the forest from Shillong by hiring a cab. The time taken to traverse the distance is approximately one hour. The forest is kept open for the visitors from 9 AM in the morning till 4:30 PM in the afternoon.
The state of Meghalaya is mostly surrounded by the picturesque Jaintia Hills and the East Khasi Hills. The sacred forest is located atop the East Khasi Hills, presenting a carpet of green lands. The trees in the forest are said to be existing from ancient times, symbolizing wisdom and enlightenment. There are several trees used for medicinal purposes and for religious occasions. The famous among them are the Rudraksha trees.
The Myth behind the Sacred Nature of the Forest
The tribes of the Khasi community reside inside the forest. The tribal people believe that the forest is inhabited by a forest God, whom they worship in the name of “Labasa”. The deity looks after the well being of the Khasi tribe, protecting them from evil. It is believed that Labasa transforms into a leopard or a tiger while securing the Khasi community from all dangers. The tribes still sacrifice animals as their mark of respect towards the deity. Removing any object or animal from the forest is strictly banned by the tribes. In the year 1970, it seems the Indian army attempted to clean the forest of dead trees. But they did not succeed in their job which led to the postponement of the activity.
The Bewitching Charm of the Mawphlang Forest
The sacred forest with its 1000-year-old trees and lush greenery attracts many tourists every year. Gigantic trees intertwined with each other spread out like a huge green umbrella. There is a mystic feel of wilderness underneath the majestic shade of the dense trees.
The forest is enlivened especially during the Monolith Festival. The festival is significant as it symbolizes the cultural traditions of the Khasi tribe. It is celebrated for 3 days wherein the members of the tribe perform songs and dances, showcasing their religious beliefs and rich heritage. The spirit of the forest is uplifted during the festival days. The air is filled with musical rhythm and sequential drum beats.
The entrance of the forest is significant, like a tunnel of green lands and marshy lands. As you enter the forest, you will be mesmerized by its sprawling beauty. The tall green pine trees with their entangled branches and roots offer an enchanting experience for the nature admirers.
The forest covers an area of almost 80 hectares and is dominated by 450 species of myriad plants and trees. It also hosts some very rare plants used as medicines like the Tree-of-heaven, Taxus Baccata popularly known as the English Yew. There are 25 different types of orchids and many varieties of ferns in the forest. The sacred forest is also a home for numerous species of animals and birds. It is a paradise for Wildlife photographers and nature lovers.
At the forest entrance, you will see several monoliths or stones. Before performing the sacrifices, the Khasi tribal people seek the blessings of the deity at the monoliths. The seated stone is that of a female and the standing ones denote male. If the deity appears in the form of a leopard or tiger then it is considered to be holy. But if the deity transforms into a snake, then all the rituals are immediately cancelled.
In the middle of the forest is a huge monolith. It is flat shaped and is surrounded by several small monoliths. It is said that many years back, the king of the clan used to stand on the large monolith and the sacrifices took place at the site of the small stones.
The Sacred Grove
There are three parts to the sacred grove. The first one is named in the local language as Laitdyrkhang. The middle part of the grove is popularly known as Phiephandi. The last one is known as Law Nongkynrih. As you roam around the groves, you will be entertained by the chirping sounds of the birds and the buzzing sounds of bees and insects. The sparkling rays of the sun, peeking in between the branches of the trees, entertain every moment of your journey.
The forest also hosts the brightly coloured Rhododendron trees which form a prismatic shade of cover. Away from the city life, Mawphlang Sacred forest provides a soothing and relaxing atmosphere, refreshing our mind and reviving our spirits.