Behdienkhlam in Meghalaya is a regional Indian holiday observed annually from July 11 to 14. It’s one of the most important religious festivals held in Jowai, Jaintia Hills. Rituals are conducted to banish evil spirits and revelry continues for three days. Tribal communities from the district of Meghalaya of the ‘Niamtre’ faith or Hinduism all come together to pray for a successful harvest.
History of Behdienkhlam in Meghalaya
Behdienkhlam is made up of the following three words: ‘Beh’ meaning ‘to get rid of,’ ‘Dien’ meaning ‘wood or log,’ and ‘Khlam’ meaning ‘plague.’ Taken together, the word means ‘to get rid of the plague.’ It’s primarily held before the rainy season, at the end of the sowing season.
It begins with the sacrifice of a pig to ‘Knia Pyrthat,’ the god of thunder. A priest or ‘wasan’ then rings a bell and walks to the sacred forest. Villagers then collect fallen tree trunks, leave them in the woods, then bring them back home with much fanfare. The trunks or ‘Khong’ are erected in each locality and among homes. A vibrant part of this festival is the ‘raths’ or ‘rots,’ tall structures made of bamboo decorated with colored paper, tinsel, symbols, and messages that each village creates. A group of young men carry the rots to the ‘Aitnar’ or sacred pool and throw them into the waters as an offering to the gods. A game similar to football using a wooden ball called ‘Dad-Lawakor’ is also played.
The winners are said to gain special blessings from the gods for the coming months. Everyone also participates enthusiastically in singing and folk dancing. There’s even a symbolic killing of demons in a ritual called ‘Cher iung blai.’ A thatched hut made of grass is built and male tribe members come into it holding spears, “killing the demons” inside it. On the last day, a priest visits each home in town with a group of youths who climb the roofs and beat them with a bamboo stick. This is believed to chase away evil spirits.
The whole festival is a testament to the valuable connection between man and nature, which the people of Jaintia continue to celebrate year after year.
Behdienkhlam in Meghalaya timeline
The British sign a treaty with the ‘syiem’ or ruler of the Khasi principality of Nonkhlaw to build a road to link Bengal and Assam.
Those who oppose the treaty convince the ‘syiem’ to refuse it as well, causing British military operations against the Khasis.
Most of the local rulers submit to the British, and for the next century, they hold political control over the Cossiya (Khasi) and the Garrows States.
The region is given special protection in the Indian constitution and retains a great deal of autonomy despite being within the state of Assam.
After Meghalaya becomes fully autonomous in 1970, full statehood is achieved two years after.
Behdienkhlam in Meghalaya FAQs
Why is Meghalaya famous?
Situated in North East India, it has one of the richest biodiversity areas in the world. Its dramatic terrain, colorful traditional festivals, and the famed monsoon rains are among the many things this state is known for.
Where did Meghalaya get its name?
The name means “abode of clouds” in Sanskrit. It was given to the state by geographer S.P. Chatterjee in 1936.
When is the best time to visit Meghalaya?
The best time is between October and June. Most tourist destinations experience temperatures that rarely go beyond 30°C or 86°F.
How to Observe Behdienkhlam in Meghalaya
Deck yourself out in gold jewelry
Take out those golden trinkets (real or fake, we won’t tell!) and pile them on this special day. The more bling, the better!
A ball game similar to football is played at the actual festival. If you can’t get to the real thing, organize friends into two teams and start your own game!
Wear color and lots of it
The actual celebration is similar to the festival of Holi because of its explosion of color. Channel the same vibrant feel by wearing your most colorful clothes.
5 Must-Know Facts About Meghalaya
Women carry the family lineage
In the only state in India to practice matrilineal tradition whereby it’s the men who move to the woman's house after marriage, the youngest woman of the household inherits the family property, and the children take their mother’s family name.
Scotland of the East
Shillong, its capital, has narrow lanes and rolling hills, much like Scotland.
English is the state language
English is the official language but Khasi and Garo are also spoken.
Tribal communities own the land
Local tribes were able to preserve forests as old as 800 years or more, fostering the eco equilibrium of the state.
It shares a border with Bangladesh
Other Indian states that also share Bangladesh’s borders are Assam, West Bengal, Mizoram, and Tripura.
Why Behdienkhlam in Meghalaya is Important
It honors the relationship between man and nature
All these years, the tribal people have continued to respect the link between themselves and nature. That’s something worth celebrating.
It a showcase of color
A riot of color goes into making the 30 to 40 feet tall ‘rots.’ The event itself is an explosion of color, as seen in the dancers’ costumes, headgear, and accessories.
It brings in tourists
It’s one of the most important festivals in the region. Both local and international tourists arrive to witness the colorful spectacle each year.
Behdienkhlam in Meghalaya dates