Every festival and ceremony from birth to death is enriched with music and dance in Khasi life. The 'phawar' is one of the basic forms of Khasi music. It is more of a "chant" than a song, and is often composed on the spot, impromptu, to suit the occasion. Other forms of song include ballads & verses on the past, the exploits of legendary heroes, laments for martyrs. Khasi musical instruments like the Ksing Shynrang and the Ksing Kynthei are also interesting because they support the song and the dance. Flutes and Drums of various types are used. The ubiquitous Drum not only provides the beat for the festival but is also used to 'invite' people to the event. Other musical instruments used by the Khasi are the "Tangmuri"(a kind of flageolet); "Shaw Shaw " (Cymbals); Percussion instruments of various types, including the "Nakra" (Big Drum) and "Ksing Padiah"(small drum); the "Besli" (flute for "solo" recitals) and a variety of other wind instruments like "Sharati", "Shyngwiang" (used for different occasions, sad or joyous); the "Duitara" (a stringed instrument played by striking the strings with a wooden pick).
The different types of Khasi Festivals are: -
Ka Shad Suk Mynsiem is the annual spring dance, performed to celebrate harvesting and sowing. The participants are both male and female dancers, where the female dancers have to be unmarried. The female dancers wear a cloth draped from waist to ankle (Ka Jingpim Shad), full sleeve blouse with lacework at the neck (Ka Sopti Mukmor), two rectangular pieces of gold-thread embroidered cloth, pinned crosswise at the shoulders, overlapping each other (Ka Dhara Rong Ksiar), necklace made of red coral and foil-covered beads in parallel strings (U Kpieng Paila), golden ear-rings (Ki Sohshkor Ksier). A gold or silver crown with a braid of very fine silver threads in the back that falls past the waist, often adorned with fresh flowers (Kapangsngiet Ksiar Ne Rupa). Large silver armlets on arms (Ki Mahu), golden wristlets or bracelets (Kikhadu Ne Ki Syngkha). Semi-circular collar of gold/silver plate tied with a thread around the neck. A silver chain worn round the neck (U Kynjiri Tabah). Handkerchiefs tied to both hands to wipe perspiration off face and forehead (Ki Rumal Rit).
The male dancers wear Beautiful golden silk turban (Ka Jain spong Khor). Semi-circular collar of gold/silver plate tied round the neck (U Shanryndang). An 18-inch long 'plume 'stuck in the turban (U Thuia). A richly embroidered sleeveless jacket (Ka Jympang). A silver chain worn across the shoulders (U Taban). Silver 'quiver' with silver 'arrows' tied to the waist and an animal tail dangling from the end (Ka Ryngkap). A silver-mesh belt at the waist to cover the cord of the quiver (U Parnpoh Syngkai). Maroon silk cloth worn like a 'dhoti' (Ka Jainboh). A whisk (U Symphiah). A ceremonial sword (Ka Waitlam) and a Handkerchief (Ka Rumar).
Ka Pom-Blang Nongkrem is a five-day festival, which gives thanks to the Lord Almighty for a good harvest and the participants pray for peace and prosperity of the community. It is celebrated during October or November every year. "Smit", the capital of the Khyrim Syiemship near Shillong, is today the official venue for this very ancient festival. Once the religious rituals by the administrative heads are over, the dancers begin their rituals. Unmarried girls in very fine costumes, bedecked with gold and silver crowns on which they place lovely yellow flowers, dance, once again within a circle, shifting forward and backward, moving barefoot in the dust. Men dance, with open swords in one hand and a white yak-hair whisk in the other, in a wide circle. They advance and parry and feint and retreat to the rhythmic beats of the drums and the brassy sounds of cymbals with flutes. Ka-Shad Shyngwiang-Thangiap is a ceremonial dance to express sorrow, performed on the occasion of a death in the family. Male musicians play music on the flute, drum and bamboo pole. The dance begins on the day of death, at a place next to the kitchen of the house and continues till the last rites are performed on the cremation grounds. Ka-Shad-Kynjoh Khaskain is the dance performed to commemorate "house-warming" or when a family moves into a new-built home. Once the ritual ceremonies are over, the dance is performed in three stages - Ka Shad Kyuntui, Ka Shad Khalai Miaw and Ka Shad Brap - and lasts through the night till dawn of the next day.
Ka Bam Khana Shnong is an event to thank the Lord for the old year past and seek his blessings for the New Year, which is to come. Everyone - men, women and children - look forward to this festival. The entire village participates with each home contributing either in cash or in kind. And then is the time for the Big Feast! Khasi feasts are rich with succulent "pork" preparations. And the lovely colorful ceremony of bringing wholesome pigs by pony cart decorated with colorful paper streamers and escorted by a group of musicians playing drums and pipes and brought up in the rear by a group of dancers who perform the "Ka-Shad-Lymmuh". When the feast begins, women, children and the elderly are served first. Meanwhile, the men enjoy a draught of rice-beer.
Umsan Nongkharai is held during the month of April or May, that is the springtime. It commences on Sugi Lyngka with a ceremonial sacrifice of a goat and two cocks before the supreme deity of the Khasis - Lei Shyllong. It ends on Sugi-Shillong, with prayers offered at midnight to establish person-to-person contact between the finite and the infinite.
Shad Beh Sier is a deer-hunting dance dedicated to occupational merry-making. A kill or two, usually made with bow and arrow, becomes a local celebration.
Magicoreligious means are used to prevent and treat sickness in traditional Khasi medical practice. The only indigenous drugs used are chiretta and wormwood. It is believed that one or more spirits as a result of a human act of omission causes illness. Health, within this system, can be restored only by the propitiation of the spirits or, if the spirits cannot be appeased, by calling on other spirits for assistance. Divination is done by breaking an egg and "reading" the resulting signs.
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