Culture of Meghalaya – Into the House of Clouds


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The Abode of Clouds, Meghalaya is a Sanskrit word derived from megha meaning (clouds) and alaya meaning (abode). It is located in Northeastern India with Shillong as its state capital. To the south of the state are the Bangladeshi divisions of Mymensingh and Sylhet, to the west is the Bangladeshi division of Rangpur, and to the north and east is the India’s state of Assam. Meghalaya falls in one of the richest biodiversities in the world. Meghalaya has a rich variety of flora and fauna. It has around 3000 varieties of orchids out of the 17,000 orchids found in the world. Meghalaya is one of the most beautiful places in India as you can find abundant greenery, crystal clear rivers, waterfalls, hills and plains and a lot more. Meghalaya is one of the wettest places in India and is known for its monsoon. The place offers adventures for those who want an adrenaline rush and peaceful, tranquil spots for those who just want to enjoy themselves and relax. 

History & Background

Culture of Meghalaya, History & Background
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Meghalaya has had an eventful past. It was formed on 21 January, 1972, when two districts were forged from the state of Assam: 1) the United Khasi Hills and Jaintia Hills and 2) the Garo Hills. During the British rule of India, the British authorities nicknamed it as the ‘Scotland of the East’. It also has Asia’s cleanest village – Mawlynnong in the East Khasi Hills district of the Meghalaya state. Meghalaya has seen a lot of migration from many distinct tribes, the most prominent of them being the Khasis, the Garos and the Pnars and some other tribes being the Hajongs, the Koch and the Karbis. The tribe of the Khasis is believed to be the earliest immigrants who made their way to Khasi in Assam. Meghalaya is spread over an area of approximately 22,430 square kilometers in which around 70% of the state is covered in forest area. 

Languages of Meghalaya

Culture of Meghalaya, Language
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The three main tribes of Meghalaya – Garo, Khasi and Jaintia, are also the principal languages of Meghalaya. Although English is the official language of the state, Khasi is considered to be one of the chief languages there as it is spoken by around 900,000 people residing there. Just like Khasi, Garo is another chief language of Meghalaya spoken by people particularly in the Garo Hills of Meghalaya. Aside from these principal and main languages of Meghalaya, there are some other languages which are spoken by the different tribes and people of Meghalaya like Pnar-Synteng, Nepali, Hindi, Haijong, Bengali and Assamese. There is also a language called Biate language which is spoken mostly by the people in the south-eastern part of Meghalaya. All these various languages show the cultural diversity of Meghalaya and tell us how culturally rich Meghalaya is.  

Traditional Dresses of Meghalaya

Culture of Meghalaya, Traditional Dresses
Image – Wikimedia

Talking about their attire and traditional dresses of Meghalaya, the women there, especially of the Khasi tribe can still be seen wearing a piece of clothing called ‘Jainsen’ which covers their entire body from the waist down to their ankles. These are worn with a cotton shawl wrapped around their neck and pinned at the shoulders, known as the tap-moh khlieh. These are designed with beautiful and attractive motifs and floral patterns. The elder women of the community wear a garment made of woolen cloth, known as ‘Jainkup’. They accessorize these with beaded jewellery of various colors and designs as well as ornaments made of pure gold and silver. During harvesting, the women cover their heads with a piece of cloth, known as ‘Kyrshah’. The men usually wear a kind of dhoti which is mostly unstitched and they wear it with a jacket and a turban. However, the men have restricted their traditional attire to the festivals and have now evolved according to the western culture.

Traditional food of Mehghalya

Culture of Meghalaya, traditional food
Image – Wikimedia

If someone is ever visiting Meghalaya, it is highly recommended that one should try out the local delicacies. Some of the most famous food items of Meghalaya include:

  • Jadoh, which is a popular Khasi street food item made of red rice and pork.  
  • Doh-Khlieh, a salad prepared with minced up pork, green chilies and onions. 
  • Nakham Bitchi, a type of dried fish that can either be fried or boiled to make a soup.
  • Pumaloi consists of powdered rice steamed in a special pot known as Khiew Ranei.  
  • Some other famous delicacies include Minil Songa, Sakin Gata, Kyat, Dohneiiong and Tungrymbai.

Traditional Music & Dance Forms of Meghalaya

Culture of Meghalaya, Folk-Dances
Image – Wikimedia

Talking about the traditional dance and music, Meghalaya has a rich folk culture which includes various different dance forms. Some of the traditional dance forms of Meghalaya include Nongkrem dance in which the heavenly deities are thanked good harvest, it is celebrated in the winters every year. The next dance form is Shad Suk Mynsiem, which is held during the spring season; Bahdienkhlam is celebrated during the advent of monsoons: Lahoo dance is another entertainment dance and last but not the least is Dorsegata dance which is very interesting as the women try to knock off the male’s turbans.  The traditional, folk songs and music of Meghalaya are mostly based on festivals, Mother Nature, love, marriages, etc. These are accompanies with drums, bamboo flute, hand-held cymbals.

Suggested Read – Folk Dances of Meghalaya, Expressions of Free-spirited Souls

Traditional Art & Craft of Meghalaya

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Moving on to the art and crafts of the people of Meghalaya, they are known for their weaving skills through which they create cane mats, stools and baskets. The Garo people weave a special type of fabric known as ‘Dakmanda’, which is a material used for their dresses, bed covers, bed sheets and tablecloths. They use bamboo to make fish traps and weave baskets and chairs out of cane. They are also popular for silk weaving and carpet weaving.

Cultural Festivals of Meghalaya

Image – Euwan Marbaniang

The people of Meghalaya celebrate life through festivals. Some of the major and famous festivals of Meghalaya include Shad Suk Mynsiem, Bahdienkhlam, Shad Sukra, Wangala and Christmas. Among them is also a five day long religious festival of the Khasis, Ka Pemblang Nongkrem dance, which is popularly known as Nongkrem dance.

Occupation of Meghalaya

Image – Nadir Hashmi/Flickr

As far as occupation is concerned, the dominant and main source of income in Meghalaya is Agriculture. About 80% of its population’s livelihood depends entirely on agriculture. The main and common crops grown here includes rice, maize, cotton, potatoes, turmeric, jute, pepper, ginger, betel nuts, millet, corn, etc. and some horticultural crops like oranges, pineapple, banana, jack fruit, lemon, guava, plum, pear, etc. Among all of these, rice is most dominant food grain crop in Meghalaya. Around 10% of the geographical area of the state is under cultivation, in which a portion is under Jhum cultivation, which is a traditional form of shifting agriculture.  

Best Places to Visit in Meghalaya

Culture of Meghalaya, Best places to visit
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The Abode of clouds, Meghalaya is famous for its dense forests, heavy rainfall and its biodiversity. It was compared to and nicknamed Scotland because of its beautiful scenery and highlands. The state contains a vast variety of flora and fauna. It consists of 2 National parks and 3 wildlife sanctuaries. For all of those who love adventure and adrenaline rush, the place also offers several adventure activities like mountaineering, rock climbing, and trekking, hiking and water sports. For those who love water sports, they can visit Umiam Lake which offers rowboats, paddle boats, cruise boats, sailing boats, speedboats and water scooters. Waterfalls are a common sight in Meghalaya and the most popular ones include the Elephant falls, Nohkalikai falls, Weinia falls, Bishop Falls, etc. The major attractions in Cherrapunji include Living-Root bridges, Mawsmai cave and seven sisters falls. The Balpakram National Park, Shillong, Don Bosco Museum, Kyllang Rock, Mawlynnong Village, Baghmara and Laitlum Canyon are some other popular tourist attractions for all kinds of people and experiences.

Phe Phe Falls, Meghalaya

Meghalaya, one of the seven sister states of the North-East has many ethnic communities and tribes. The people there are known to be of very cheerful, adaptable, hospitable and friendly nature. As Meghalaya has a very rich and varied cultural diversity with each community and tribe having its own customs and traditions, the common trait among all the three communities is the matrilineal system, in which the youngest daughter of the family inherits all the wealth. The entire inheritance and lineage, origin and history of the family are traced through women. One should definitely visit Meghalaya once in their life to experience its rich biodiversity, its natural beauty, the peaceful and serene landscape, their rich culture, traditions, cuisine and their customs.

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