The Khasis, Jaintias and Garos of Meghalaya celebrate several festivals which are directly and indirectly connected with religion. They are full of joy and happiness which is expressed outwardly in the form of dance, feast and worship.
Shad Suk Mynsiem Dance
In every religious ritual of Khasi tribe, the grand finale is the performance of a dance, a Thanks Giving Dance called 'Shad Phur', which is now called "Shad Suk Mynsiem." The religious rituals or ceremonies might concern certain families, clans, villages, raijs, or the state (Hima).
The Shad Suk Mynsiem reflects the matrilineal and patrilineal aspect of the Khasi society. The man with 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 strength and resource. Shad Suk Mynsiem is celebrated in the month of April at the Weiking grounds near Shillong and at other places in Meghalaya.
To the first time visitor the experience of driving through undulating hills and narrow roads to Smit, where the famous Nongkrem Dance is held at the courtyard of the Syiem of Hima Khyriem (chief of Khyriem), is thrilling and full of fun. For the "serious traveler" and students of culture and history there is a lot to learn and store from this dance of the Khasi tribe which is held every year at Smit which is 15 Kilometers from Shillong.
It is one of the most important festivals of the Khasi tribe and is celebrated with pomp and gaiety. Hundreds of travelers from different parts of this country and from abroad come to witness the festival as is performed in the traditional style by the Syiem, the head of the Khasi state, and Ka Syiem Sad, the Syiem priestess, who is considered the caretaker of all religious ceremonies, the ministers and the common people. The fourth day of the festival is when most visitors throng to the courtyard to witness the dance performed by ladies and men decked in some of the most exquisite traditional attires. Young virgin girls wear expensive silk and gold ornaments dance the Ka Shad Kynthei in the inner circle of the arena, while men dressed in dhoti, full-sleeved shirt, sleeveless coat and a turban with sword in their right hand perform the Ka Shad Mastieh in the outer circle.
One of Meghalaya's most colourful religious festivals, Behdeinkhlam, is celebrated for three days during July at Jowai. The word literally means 'driving away of evil (plague) by wooden sticks'.
This Festival is connected with a series of religious rites. People dance on the street to the accompaniment of drum beating and pipe playing. The women do not participate in the dancing but have an important role to play at home by offering sacrificial food to the spirits of the ancestors.
Each locality prepares a decorative tower-like structure called a rath. These are carried by 30 to 40 strong people to a small lake at Aitnar for immersion. The festival climaxes when the khnong (the most sacred tree) is brought to the centre of each locality.
In the afternoon datlawakor is played between two teams from the upper and lower valleys of the Myntdu River. It is a kind of soccer with a wooden ball. Those who win are believed to be blessed with a good harvest.
The Jaintia People have another dance festival for entertainment. It is called the Laho dance. Members of both the sexes participate in this dance festival, attired in their best finery, usually two young men on either side of a girl, linking arms together, dance in step. In place of the usual drums and pipe, there is a cheer leader, usually a man gifted with the talent of spontaneous recitation. He recites ribald couplets to the merriment of the audience.
The annual Chad Sukra (sowing festival) is celebrated during the middle of April or early May every year by the Pnar people.
Pnar people believe that a farmer could start sowing the seeds on his land only after the festival is over. The festival is observe to invoke God, the Creator, to protect their crops from all forms of natural calamities besides ushering in peace and harmony among the people.
The Wangala is a Garo post-harvest festival that marks the end of the agricultural year. It is an act of thanksgiving to the sun god of fertility, known as Misi-A-Gilpa-Saljong-Galapa. A nagara (a special drum used for calling the people on solemn occasions) is beaten. The social aspect of the Wangala Festival goes on in the villages for a number of days, with eating, drinking and merrymaking. This is the most popular festival of the Garo Hills, and is held in November, the precise date being fixed by the headman. The men and women dance in mirthful gaiety with the beating of drums, blowing of the buffalo horn trumpets and bamboo flutes. The men wear dhotis, half-jackets and turbans with feathers. The women wear colourful dresses made of silk, blouses and a head-wrap with feathers. The highlight of the festival is when 300 dancers and 100 drums descend on the field in all their splendour in celebration.
There are various festivals throughout the year, but Shillong comes alive in the month of October-November during the annual autumn festival. Meghalaya Tourism with various other organisations co-host several functions and events to thrill and entertain both tourists and locals. Interspersed with fashion shows where local designers showcase their products using indigenous fabrics woven in the state and beauty pageants, are food and wine festivals, flower shows, kite flying competitions, music and rock festivals, golf tournaments, fishing competitions and a host of other activities.
Meghalaya’s Strawberry Fest is emerging as a big tourist attraction and a business promotion event for growers and investors from across the country. Meghalaya hosted the country’s first Strawberry Festival on Valentine’s Day. Celebrated worldwide as an expression of love, one would have observed a range of products and gift items carrying a heart-shaped symbol or a figure of winged Cupid in stores.
Each year the festival draws a huge crowd, including tourists at the venue. People of all ages throng the place to try out fresh and juicy strawberries, as well as buy packets of the fruit, and other strawberry-based products as gifts. The event has grown bigger with each passing year with more growers opting for strawberry cultivation and diversification of its products such as strawberry wine, ice cream, cakes and jam, besides the fruit.
The Mawkyrwat Sub Divisional Officers Welfare Association, (MSDOWA) Mawkyrwat organized the first Beach Festival at Ranikor on the 23 and 24 February 2007. The various activities organized on the two days of the festival were: