TNT Desk | SHILLONG, April 9, 2018
Every year in the month of April, hundreds of indigenous Khasi men and women gather at the Weiking grounds in Shillong to celebrate ‘Ka Shad Suk Mynsiem’, which literally translates to ‘a dance of peaceful hearts’ or ‘a dance of contentment’, an annual spring dance that celebrates harvesting and sowing. Earlier known as ‘Ka Shad Phur’, the dance is performed in relation to the agricultural cycle (i.e. the harvesting period and the beginning of the sowing period) while also paying homage to their ancestors while proclaiming the unity of the Khasis. The festival technically lasts for three days and is concluded with the dance at Weiking. It was celebrated for the first time on 14th April, 1911.
While both male and female dancers take part in the dance, an important restriction is imposed on the female dancers : they are to be unmarried maidens or virgins. No such restriction is imposed on their male counterparts. While the origins of such a requirement is not clear, it has been strictly adhered to since time immemorial.
The female dancers are draped from waist to ankle in a cloth called ‘Ka Jingpim Shad’ and a full sleeve blouse with lacework at the neck called ‘Ka Sopti Mukmor’. They are then draped with two traditional pieces of gold-thread embroidered cloth, pinned crosswise at the shoulders called ‘Ka Dhara Rong Ksiar’. The young girls are adorned with necklaces made of red coral and foil-covered beads called ‘U Kpieng Paila’. To top it off, a gold or silver crown with a braid of very fine silver threads in the back that falls past the waist, is placed on their heads . On their arms are large silver armlets on both arms called ‘Ki Mahu’ and golden bracelets called ‘Kikhadu Ne Ki Syngkha’. In addition, a silver chain called ‘U Kynjiri Tabah’ adorns their neck.
Their male counterparts have beautiful golden silk turbans termed ‘Ka Jain spong Khor’ on their heads which have an 18-inch long plume called ‘U Thuia’ and sport a semi-circular collar of gold or silver plate called ‘U Shanryndang’ around their necks. They then top it off with a richly embroidered sleeveless jacket called ‘Ka Jympang’ and a maroon silk cloth worn as a dhoti. What stands out the most however, is a silver quiver with silver arrows tied to the waist and an animal tail dangling from the end called ‘Ka Ryngkap’ and a whisk called ‘U Symphiah’ together with a ceremonial sword called ‘Ka Waitlam’, that they use to engage in mock duels and sword fights throughout the dance.
The dance is symbolic of the timeless fertility cult – the women as receptacles of seeds and bearers of fruit and the men as cultivators, who provide the seeds and protect and nurse them till the crop is harvested. This is part of the reason why the dance is so technical; each dance step representing different indigenous Khasi ideals.
The jingshad(dance) starts with the dancers taking their ritualistic steps: the male and female dancers are in two separate circles – women in the inner, men on the outer. This underlines the traditional role of the Khasi man as protector of the family, always guarding his home while the women are the heart of the family. The men always assume a posture of ‘protecting’ the women within the circle. The man, with his whips and swords, circles the virgins, as protectors of the honors of womanhood having a single strength and resource while the men have in them twelve strengths and resources. As the end of the ‘Ka Shad Suk Mynsiem’ dance draws near, the faster the dance becomes. This is when female child dancers retire and the women’s circle becomes smaller. It continues until the end of the day when the sun sets.
The dance highlights, once again, the importance of dances at the end of Khasi religious and traditional rituals: how the indigenous people have always expressed their joy and happiness outwardly in the form of such dances. As the rains continue to pour in the hills of Shillong, the indigenous Khasis believe and hope that through this Thanksgiving dance, the Almighty will bless them with a bumper harvest and further unity of the Khasi people.
Image Courtesy: Meghalaya Tourism, Travel Whistle, NElive