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Sacred Forests of Khasi Hills

The Sacred Forest


other prohibited

Forests of

Hima Mawphlang


Swer Prohibited Forest


(The Traditional and ecological concepts of the Khasis with relevant Folk stories connecting these Forests)

Mawphlang Law kyntang or Law Lyngdoh

Law Kyntang has its own boundaries that have been mutually agreed by the clans of the Hima like Iang Blah Clan who are entrusted with the care of Law Laittyrkhang. In fact there is no real or discernible division of the sacred grove but only the responsibility given to a certain clan for looking after a certain portion of the Grove. This includes decisions on removing fallen trees for use nearby or inside the Grove for picnic-goers etc.

The responsibility of sacrificial rites are in the Blah Clan's hands, who is responsible for the entire process. This however does not mean that the Blah Clan can claim Law Laittyrkhang where the ceremonies take place as personal property.

Mawphlang with its sacred grove lies about 25km. Southeast of Shillong and is easily approached by a black-topped road which winds its way through picturesque landscape of scattered little hamlets and paddyfields between narrow valleys. The houses in the hamlets have hedges of bamboo clumps, cestrum shrubs with flowers fragrant  at dusk, and rose bushes. The panorama keeps changing with the season, and has its alluring features during each season. In spring time, in the months of March, April and early May, the entire area is gay with springkled forests of white (Rhododendron formosum) all densly covered with large white blooms, and the more flamboyant trees species pink red rhododendron (Rhododendrom arborem) many individual bushes dwarfish and gnarled, and all with globose trusses of fiery red flowers standing out amidst the dark green foliage. Another outstanding tree is wild pear (diengsohshur) pyrus pashia fully enveloped in white blossoms, the young leaves slowly sprouting after the shedding of the flowers. In the fields, amidst grass are scattered little tufts of the tiny coloured herb (Gentiana Quadrifara) which with their starlike azureblue flowers attract the eye. More prominent due to their long stalks and golden yellow flower heads are the deeprooted plants.

The Scared Grove occupies the basin of a saucer-shaped depression with the hills sloping all around. The ancient nature of the forest is emphasized by the outlying numerous, tall, rough-hewn monoliths, erected in memory of the departed elders. A bird's eye view of the entire forest, can be obtained from the approach point along the footpath leading from the village down to the meandering stream that winds its way into the forest. If one marks an entry of eastern side one sees the sloping ground is rocky and sandy with short much gazed grass, and patches of darker green foliage leaves a growth of grass with starlike flowers. There are also wild herbs (Anemone) with white flowers and smaller herbs of interest. The sundew (Drosera Peltata) with interespered clumps of sedges and short grass (Osbeckia Crinira). There is also a low undershrub which has foliage marked with 3 equally emphatic, munmigld with many other plams. Here and there can be seen patches of the prostrate wild rose family plant (rosaceae) with yellow flowers.

The Sacred forest of Mawphlang has a variety of flora that are strikingly different from the neighbouring areas which display only a few pines here and there. The Grove is surrounded by trees that appear to form a protective wall against the invasion of the vegetation on the slopes bordering the Grove.

As soon as one enters the Gorve, one can feel a cool refreshing air that difies explanation. As one proceeds fruther, one can experience the humbling presence of Nature. Even more amazing is the ground which is as soft as a carpet, the result of leaves and other vegetation piling up, layer upon layer, untouched for ages. The ancient trees that exists entwine other trees and flowers, forming a tapestry of a variety of flora. Some very old branches are bent down to merge with the other trees and stones. The whole pictures is so beautiful and one gets the impression that someone had arranged all these artistically. In fact that foilage is so thick that the sun's rays hardly penetrate. This, in turn, keeps the air cool as if the entire Grove is air-conditioned. Approaching the forest, one comes across stone, monoliths of huge shape. Near the spot where 'Knia Kynthong' (Rituals) sites used to be held, stones of small sizes were planted as if leading the way out of the ritual sites. These stones were planted by clan people in olden times to commemorate the singnificance of the rituals. The stones were so old that they are covered by epiphytic growth. But the place that captivates as onlooker is the grassy plot right in the middle of the grove in a section of the forest - Ka Kyrpong Lyngdoh (near compound of Lyngdoh) where clear and cold stream 'Synram Thlen' runs at the tip end of this grassy idyllic spot.

There are some very ancient, large Rhododendron, arborea ablaze with their scarlet bouquets of large flowers, and more modest are the white-flowered shrubs of Rhododendron. There are gregarious shrubs or bushes with sweet smelling white to pinkish flowers. Again, white flowered shrubs of trees are easily recognized by their toothed, rough leaves and the much twisted and groved branches and trunks and other wild fruit trees. All the trees are heavily loaded with epiphytic growth of aroids, piper, ferns, fern-allies and orchids. Some of the branches are heavily bent under the pressure of this accummulated epiphytic growth, and form a small colony of their own. The most conspicuous of these are the varied fancy leaved ferns, and these are easily recognized as quite ornamental orchids. During October, the pink coloured large flowers from the different kinds of trees, whether solitary or in clumps attract attention as do the large dangling clumps of semi-open white, to crease coloured, flowers of a type of rochid from clumps of dense strap shaped leaves, excitingly perched on top branches of trees. There are also numerous other 'botanical' orchids with small flowers of different species. One may chance upon the long pendant spikes of medium sized white flowers on the ground itself in some shady moist places. On close view one may find the rare jewel orchids (Anoechtochilus) with intricate variegated patterns on the leaf (the leaves being ornamental and no the flower) and the close relations of other jewel orchids. Occassionally, a kind of wild rose can also be seen, in the groups of 4 to 8 their white sticky looking stems, producing white to pink flowers on a long stalk. These plants are short lived and sprout up on decaying humus. It is also possible to occasionaly discover here another rare flowering plant growing in dark moist habitats, very much like an orchid (Epipogium). Depending on season when looking around on the forest floor, one may stumble upon different kinds of fleshy fungi of differnt varieties. The names are endless; the edible morel rely on pieces of decaying wood or the bird's nest fungus. The most common of the fleshy fungi are a type of the bracket fungi responsible for the death of old trees and the mushroom forming fairy rings on the forest floor.

One should not miss seeing a touch of beauty in the over hanging or sometimes clasping, grey-green to ash-brawn, layers of lichens, often a very neglected element in any flora but certainly deserving attention not only as a hardy element in the flora but also for their majestic presentation. It can be appreciated after a second look by the density and pattern of their covering on untouched rocks or tree-stems or even old stems and branches; they add an atmosphere to the antiquity of these woods. A layman with a little effort could recognised these long creeping string like thallus freely branching out and often ending in flat dislike fertile tips-foliose licken in leaf like form with variously sized patches each dotted with large pinhead like points.

Come to another attractive group of plants that would strike the eye, not withstanding their perpetual greenness, are in the ferns. The ferns compensate for their lack of different colours by the graceful  beauty of their young palms or ferns, in various stages of uncoiling, and by the infinite variety of lobes of the mature fern leaves and often with the veriously coloured other parts. The pattern of the fertile spot on the back surface is also greatly varied as also is their protective flaps which distinguish the different kinds. The most common one is the scented fern used by the Khasi villagers for keeping their wardrobe fresh (Lindseae cultrata). Another conspicious fern is the silver fern with its back covered with silvery scales. The ferns displanning a fine pattern of itself, along with other conspicuous ferns of various categories.

pictures/stories from the khasi hills