Meghalaya is one of the most beautiful places in India and is known for its rich biodiversity, culture, heritage, customs and traditions. The place is filled with natural beauty, hills and mountains, gorgeous landscapes and has peacefulness and tranquility. Meghalaya is home to various tribes and communities some of which are the Garo, Khasi and Jaintia tribes. All these tribes and communities have their own culture, traditions, and distinct features like their outfits, food or even their folk dance forms. All these tribes have their own dance forms and way of celebrating. Dance is a very important part of the culture of Meghalaya as no celebration, festival or event is complete without it.
The people of Meghalaya express their feelings whether it is of joy, excitement, thanksgiving or sorrow through dance. There are ceremonial dances, agricultural dances, religious dances which they dedicate to the heavenly deities and even dances performed for the sole purpose of having fun and being free-spirited. The people of Meghalaya associate and perform their dances on all the events and occasions whether it is birth, marriage, festivals or even death. Some of the famous folk dances of Meghalaya have been listed below. To learn more about them, let’s take a look:
This is one of the most popular and main tribal dance festivals of the Jaintia tribe in Meghalaya. Bahdienkhlam is celebrated annually in the month of July at the onset of the monsoon season after the sowing period. The people of the Jaintia tribe pray to God and invoke blessings for a healthy harvest and they do this by celebrating this dance festival. As agriculture is their main occupation and primary source of income, it is important for them to pray for a healthy harvest and to avert and keep off any disease and plague or infection. This is why this folk dance has an important place in the hearts of the people of Jaintia tribe.
2. Nongkrem Dance
Ka Pom-Blang Nongkrem or Shad Nongkrem, also otherwise known commonly as Nongkrem dance, is one of the main tribal folk dances of the Khasi tribe in Meghalaya. The Nongkrem dance is basically a religious dance and is one of the most important to the Khasis as through this dance festival, the people of the tribe thank their god and deities for a good and healthy harvest and prosperity. They dedicate this dance to Goddess Ka Blei Synshar to appease and propitiate her for their harvest. They celebrate it in the autumn season during October-November every year at Smit, the capital of the Khyrim Syiemship near Shillong. The ceremony is performed by the Syiem of Khyrim and the high priest. During the ceremony, goats and cocks are sacrificed as offerings. After the ceremony is over, the Nongkrem dance begins which is performed by the unmarried girls who don beautiful and gorgeous attire, gold and silver ornaments and jewellery and yellow flowers. They dance forward and backward within a circle with their male partners also dancing in a wide circle, holding an open sword in one hand and a white yak-hair whisk in the other.
3. Shad Suk Mynsiem
Shad Suk Mynsiem, also known as Shad Weiking, is also a thanksgiving dance of the Khasi tribe. It is an annual spring dance organized during the month of April and celebrated for a period of three days. The literal translation of Shad Suk Mynsiem is ‘Dance of the Blissful Heart’. The dance takes place in the Khasi hills and the people of the Khasi tribe dance to celebrate the harvest and planting season. The dance is performed by unmarried women and men. The dancers wear colorful and vibrant outfits and jewellery. The men wear colorful silk dhotis, plumed turbans and coats while the women dancers wear gorgeous silk robes and act or look like angels. The men dance with sword or spear in one hand and plume in the other hand. In the dance, the women form groups of two or three and form the inner circle and dance with very little steps at a time. The men, who are carrying swords and spears in their hands, form the outer circle which is like a protective layer. Shad Suk Mynsiem is basically done to express blissfulness and thanksgiving. The dancers are accompanied by Tangmuri, the queen of musical instruments, which are basically drums and flutes.
4. Wangala Dance
The Wangala is a dance festival celebrated mainly by the people of the Garo tribe. It is one of their major dance festivals. It is celebrated in the autumn after the harvest season. The Wangala festival is celebrated to propitiate and appease the deity “Patigipa Rarongipa” for which the festival includes several ceremonies. These are held in all villages. The festival is four days and nights long, at the end of which the Wangala dance is performed. The festival is completed with all the people of the tribe dancing with joy and excitement. On the last day, “Dance of a Hundred Drums”, which is the dance of the warriors, is performed, which is the highlight of the entire festival. The “Dance of a Hundred Drums” is a majestic and an impressive sight.
5. Doregata Dance
The Doregata dance is another very interesting and popular dance ceremony in Meghalaya. It is performed mainly by the people of the Khasi tribe. This is a very fun and laughter filled celebration. There is a competition between the men and the women where the women, during the dance try to knock off the turbans of their male partners and they can do so by only using their head and no other body part. If the women succeed in this task, they win and everyone enjoys this festival. This dance is done to commemorate the war of Meghalaya wherein many Khasis have sacrificed their lives. Here, women are given priority over men and they try to take the turban off their male partners head while the men escape at any cost. After a tough and long fight, women succeed in doing the task and at last, the men surrender and everyone laughs and enjoys.
6. Laho Dance
Laho dance, also known as Chipiah dance, is a part of the Behdienkhlam festival and is performed in it. This dance form is very popular among the people of the Pnar tribe. Both men and women are allowed to take part and perform the Laho dance. The dance is performed only for the purpose of entertainment and enjoyment of the people and it celebrates the free spirits of the people. This festival helps people in forgetting their problems and hardships in daily life and gives them a chance to just enjoy and have fun and laugh with each other. In this dance, the female dancers dance with two young men on each side. The girl performs by linking arms with both the boys on both her sides. They then sway their bodies back and forth. Both men and women are dressed in beautiful, vibrant and colorful attires. Another highlight of this dance form is that it is not supported by any musical instruments. Instead, a man with a sweet and strong voice and talent recites ribald couplets while performing the dance. The man, also known as ‘cheerleader’ does impromptu humorous recitations which supports the dance performance.
7. Ka Shad Shyngwiang-Thangiap
This dance is performed mainly by the people of the Khasi tribe. Instead of spending days in sorrow after someone dies, the Khasi people like to commemorate death by celebrating till the last rites of the deceased person are over. This is a ceremonial dance to express sorrow. It starts on the day of the death, outside the kitchen floor and ends when the last rites of the person are done. The dancers are supported by men who play music on flute, drums and bamboo poles.
Now that we have learned about some of the famous folk dance forms of Meghalaya, we have an idea as to how rich their culture and traditions are. The people like to include dance and music in everything they do, whether it is their harvest season or post-harvest season, giving thanks, enjoying and having fun, celebrating festivals and even expressing sorrow when a person dies and celebrating their journey and the life that they lived. This shows how actively the people of Meghalaya participate in things to keep their culture and heritage alive and rich.