Starting July 14, the three-day festival of Behdeinkhlam in the Jowai district of Jaintia Hills in Meghalaya, is an extraordinary affair. It’s the most important festival of the Pnar tribe of Meghalaya, and is celebrated after the agricultural sowing is over. The name Behdeinkhlam when broken down into ‘Khlam’ means plague or something evil and ‘behdien’ means to drive away with sticks.
Therefore, the festival is held to drive away the negative energies that may affect the crops. The highlight of the festivities include the procession of chariots (raths) and ceremonial tree trunks (khnongs) to a sacred pool of water. Another one is the football match between locals, where the winner is anticipated to have a bumper harvest.
A chief reason why Behdeinkhlam is celebrated with such pomp and splendour is because it is believed to ward off evil disease such as Plague and Cholera that infect the rodents, mice and rats and in turn, the tribal people.
They also troop along in a group to dance and sing to the tunes of the flute and drums. However, that’s mostly done by the male members. The women essentially partake in the practice of offering sacrificial food to the spirits of the forefathers and ancestors.
Also, the most important custom and ritual observed during this time is when the tribal inhabitants hit their upper roofs with a long, slender, rounded piece of bamboo stick to ward off evil to make the whole atmosphere clean and healthy.
If the weather is favourable and there’s plenty rainfall, then the tribe members play an interesting game where two groups fight with each other in a muddy ditch. It’s called the Waheitnar and is definitely worth-watching. Also, in the afternoon, Datlawakor, a kind of soccer with a wooden ball, is played between two teams from the upper and lower valleys of the Myntdu river.