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Sacred Forests of Khasi Hills



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The most commendable thing is that the forest stands undisturbed in its natural form today, not because of any legal sanction, but because of belief that the sylvan deities would be offended if anything form the Grove is removed. There is also the oral tradition that has been handed down the generations. This has been further strengthened by invoking the concept of U Ryngkew U Basa who is believed to be a guardian spirit residing in the forest.

Like in any other Khlaw Lyngdoh there is a belief in 'U Suid Tynjang', a mischievious spirit who likes to confuse people by shouting 'Kaw Hoit'.

People have narrated stories of such a spirit who used to haunt the Club House at Mawphlang. It is told that whenever people forget to light a fire, the spirit comes to harass the people, after asking them to scratch his back.

I was born at Mawngap of Hima Mawphlang, and ever since I was a small boy, I have heard about the Basa in Law Lyngdoh Mawphlang. The Basa, it is said, comes in two forms - a serpent and a tiger. It is said that if any person goes to the Grove and do anything destructive in the Grove, the Basa appears in the form of a snake. For instance, if a person cuts grass from the Grove for feeding his pigs,  people would see strange happenings and after ascertaining  the cause they say to the snake. "Go, they have done wrong and abused the Grove". The snake would then disappear and the wrongdoer would go to throw back the grass in the place from where it was cut.

It is told that people who do not repent after they commit the offence they fall sick and may even die. The story goes that once, not so long ago, one lady by the name of Thimur, visited her relative who was very ill at Lyngkein village.  It seems no one could diagnose his disease and his condition was deteriorating. On the way, Thimur saw a snake lying flat on the path. Then she told the snake, 'I'm going to visit my relative who is very ill. Please don't be in my way'. The snake did not move. Then a thought struck her and she addressed the snake thus, 'If the person I am visiting is ill because  of his abuse of the Law Kyntang (Sacred Forest) please let me go so I can talk to him'. Immediately, the snake disappeared. On reaching Lyngkein, she asked the sick man if he had disturbed the Law Kyntang Sacred forest in any way. The man then admitted that he had cut some trees from there. Then they prayed and offered sacrifices of rice and water to appease the spirit. The man recovered.

Prayer to appease the Basa are very simple and goes like this 'O Great Uncle, O Father, we, the young children who know nothing. O Ryngkew, O Basa, O Great Uncle, O Great Progenitor, do not punish us so. Forgive us, release them so that the will always remember you. Release them."

Another incident which was narrated by the local people concerns some Air Force personnel. Once they had gone for a picnic in Madan Lyngktop which is near the Khlaw Kyntang they spotted that there was a lot of dry, fallen twings in the Grove and started loading them in their truck. The local people who saw that warned them that was prohibited. The Air Force people ignored their advice and carried the fallen twings and branches away. The next day, they came back and kept back all the wood they had taken, admitting to the bemused local people that strange things had been happening in the night. This happened about 30 years ago.

Ten years later, another group of army personnel came and loaded their trucks with twigs and branches unmindful of the warnings given by the local people. When they were set to return, the truck would not move, despite the truck being a four-wheel drive. The confused army-men then started unloading half of the wood. The truck still would not budge. They now realised what the situation was, and they un-loaded all the branches they had loaded and the truck immediately moved as if some hornes had been released.

Then there is the story about some Public Works Department workers who had camped in the nearby area. They had pitched a tent and unloaded their tools without the Dorbar's permission. As thy were sleeping at night, they heard the distinct sound of someone beating the tent with a stick. They rushed outside only to find no one there. This happened every night. They could no longer bear the disturbance. So one day they met 'Myntri Kharshiing and told them of the strange happenings. The Myntri Kharshiing berated them  for breaking the tradition as they had camped without permission and ordered them to leave. The Public Works Department workers however considered all that nothing but supersitition and continued to stay only to be disturbed every night. Finally, unable to bear it any longer, they left of their own accord. This happened about 10-11 years ago.

       On the 4th January, 1992, Fasterwell Blah narrated another incident which happened about 15 (fifteen) years ago. A certain man had gone to cut trees from the Sacred Grove and exchanged the pile for liquor thinking that nothing can honestly happen to him as he was not actually using the wood. But Basa came in the form of a small snake to demand his goods. The liquor seller, on seeing the snake, realising that it was the Basa, she said, 'I'll make enquiries to find out who have disturbed the Grove, and I'll talk to the erring person. As for me, I respect the Grove.' The snake then disappeared. When the culprit returned to the shop, the seller who suspected him of being the culprit, accused him straight away. He too admitted of his wrong doing and repented. The snake never came back.

      Myntri Holding Kharshiing told me of strange incident that befell U Myntri Bonik Blah, who died about 20 years ago. Ka Jingshad Lat - a dance was organised at Mawphlang and wood taken from Khlaw Lyngdoh was placed all around the ground. When the dance was over, the woods were collected in the Kharai (normally a village Trench) in the village. Myntri Bonik, thinking that since everything was over, he could use the woods for fencing his garden, so he asked his people to bring all the wood home. That evening, the Myntri's family noticed a snake in the house. People gathered to kill the snake but Myntri Bonik realising his mistake stopped them, calling out to the snake:'Go, I have erred'. The snake then disappeared. But since the Myntri was unable to return the wood, the snake returned at night and laid down on the Myntri's bed. The Myntri was overcome with fear and asked the snake's forgiveness. That very night, all the wood was returned to the forest and the Myntri was left at peace.

     Yet another strange happenings as related by N. Dobul Kurbah, that  occured on the 16th November, 1991. Dobul and some of his friends, Hamran Sungoh, Bel Passah and Mekil Sumer, had gone for a picnic to Lyngktop, next to the Khlaw Lyngdoh. As usual, there were a number of  dogs from the neighbouring localities loitering in the area. Usually these dogs used to loiter around till the picnikers returned home. But on this occasion, the dogs just disappeared as soon as dusk set in. Dobul Kurbah related that he heard strange noises coming from inside the Grove. By this time, the picnickers had finished eating and were already building up a camp fire. As soon as he heard the strange noises, fear started to creep in. He peered in the general direction from where the noise came but could not see anything because it was already dark. So he suggested to his friends that perhaps they had better go back and started packing the things into the jeep. Just as they boarded the Jeep, Dobul chanced to look back at the fire and to his utter surprise saw a tiger, bigger than a wolf, walking in the background of the fire, sniffing the ground and shaking his tail. He pointed the apparition out to his friends. Hamran Sungoh took out hit catepult and was ready to shoot at the tiger but was stopped by Dobul who realised that it was the Basa.

     A recent incident, the Lyngdoh of Mawphlang Mr. Kingkerious Lyngdoh told me on 19-1-2001 that one Koben Kharsohnoh in 1983 started to plough the land and planted potatoes without permission and even took some small trees from the forest to fence the land. He was struck with sickness and became dumb. He stopped the cultivation and propitiated to the Basa. Although the sickness did stop, but he is still tongue-tied and stutters till now. Koben is working at the Greater Shillong Water Supply Scheme, Mawphlang.

The Basa therefore is in fact the guardian of the Grove. He is like a reminder of the traditional belief that anyone who tries to behave callously in the grove will be punished in the strange ways either psychologically or physically. It is said that Basa's punishments are frightening and at times there are violators who when punished experiencs their heads being turned at the other side of the body.

The local people also consider the Basa as the guardian of innocent people, in which case he is believed to appear in the form of a tiger, whose guttural throaty sounds, 'Khor Khor' can be heard. People who are suddenly overcome with fear near the Grove often pray thus, 'O Ni, O Kong, O Ryngkew, O Basa, please protect us from danger. We are late as we were attending to our work.' It is said immediately, the guttural sounds can be heard and the presence of the spirit of a tiger can be felt on all sides. Once reaching place of safty, they send the Basa back saying, 'Go now, we are free from danger.'

These two forms of the Basa remind me of the popular comic series, 'Phantom'. His skull being an Omen while the good sign being the four 'Pa' placed opposite each other. Similarly, the good Basa appears as a tiger and the revengeful Basa as a snake.

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