Meghalaya: Paradise for Nature Lovers

Umngot River, Dawki

Meghalaya, meaning the “abode of clouds” is a paradise for nature lovers. A hill station that is home to a beautiful, mesmerizing sky in a true sense has captivated the minds of tourists from all across the globe. It is perfectly nestled in the north-east of India in the Himalayas, bordering Assam to the north and east and meets Bangladesh to its south and east side. Filled with huge hills, valleys, numerous lakes, captivating waterfalls, pitch dark caves, and sacred forests, Meghalaya has no dearth of tourist spots.

History

Apart from accounts of the more important Khasi kingdoms in the chronicles of the neighbouring Ahoms and Kacharis, little is known of Meghalaya prior to the British period. In the early 19th century, however, the British desired to build a road through the region to link Bengal and Assam led to a treaty (1827) with the ruler (syiem) of the Khasi principality of Nonkhlaw.

Opponents of the treaty persuaded the syiem to repudiate it in 1829, and a subsequent attack on the British led to British military operations against the Khasis. By the mid-1830s, most of the local rulers had submitted to the British. The British, then, exercised political control over the area, known as the Garrows and Cossiya (Khasi) States, but the tribes, left to themselves, were able to preserve their traditional way of life.

In 1947, the rulers of the region acceded to the newly-independent country of India. Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru evolved a policy to preserve and protect the way of life of the tribal peoples. Along with other tribal areas, the region was given special protection in the Indian Constitution, and though included within the state of Assam, it retained a great deal of autonomy.

When Assamese became the state’s official language in 1960, agitation for autonomy gathered strength. Unlike in many other hill regions in Northeast, this movement was largely peaceful and constitutional. Meghalaya was created as an autonomous State within Assam in 1970 and achieved full statehood on 21 January 1972.

People, language and religion

Most of the inhabitants of Meghalaya are Tibeto-Burman (Garos) or Mon-Khmer (Khasis) in origin, and their languages and dialects belong to these groups. The Khasis are the only people in India who speak a Mon-Khmer language. Khasi and Garo along with Jaintia and English are the state’s official languages; other languages spoken include Pnar-Synteng, Nepali, and Haijong, as well as the plains languages of Bengali, Assamese, and Hindi.

Christianity, Hinduism, and Animism are the major religions of the States. There is also a small minority of Muslims and even smaller groups of Buddhists and Sikhs. The population is predominantly rural, with a few towns only. Shillong is the largest town; other urban centers, listed in descending order of population, include Tura, Mawlai, Nongthymmai, and Jowai. Meghalaya tribes mainly follow Christianity. Their main occupation is cultivation as the State receives a large amount of rainfall.

The Hundred Drums or Wangala Festival of the Garo tribe

Tribes of Meghalaya

Tribes of Meghalaya can mainly be classified into three groups: Garos, Khasis and Pnars or Jaintias. Garos are believed to be the descendants of Tibeto-Burmar race who came down all the way from Tibet to the north eastern states while the Khasis and Pnars or Jaintias are the descendants of Proto Austroloid Monkhmer race.

While Garos live in the Garo Hills of Meghalaya, the Khasis are scattered all across the State and are known by different names. Mainly the pure Khasis can be sited at the Khasi Hills, the Pnars or Jaintias can be located on Jaintia Hills. There are also a few other smaller tribes like Bhois in the North, Khynriams in the central and Wars in the southern region, Lalung, Vaiphe, Viate and Hmass in the Jaintia Hills. They are Khasi sub-tribes and live a lifestyle similar to the Khasis.

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C. Joseph

C. Joseph

C. Joseph is as a counsellor in St Joseph’s College, Jakhama in Nagaland. He has written a number of articles and has produced several music albums in English and Tamil.