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One of the most ancient and grandiose festivals of the Khasis, the annual ‘Nongkrem Dance’ was held amid pomp and joy at the scenic hamlet of Smit, the headquarters and capital of the Khasi state of Hima Khyrim, 20 km from Shillong, on December 8. The Nongkrem Dance is observed during autumn at Smit, the cultural centre of the Khasi Hills. The five- day religious festival of the Khasis ‘Ka Pomblang Syiem’ is popularly known as ‘Shad Nongkrem’.
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Similar to all other festivals of Meghalaya, the Nongkrem Dance is performed to appease the all-powerful Goddess, ‘Ka Blei Synshar’, in the hope of receiving a rich bumper harvest and prosperity of the people. The Syiem (King) of Hima Khyrim, along with the high priest, performed the Pomblang ceremony. He offers oblation to Lei Shyllong, the God of Shillong Peak, by sacrificing a cock or a goat. An important part of this festival is ‘Pomblang’ (sacrifice of goats) and offerings made to the ancestor and ancestress of the ruling clan.
An intriguing part of this festival is a dance called ‘Shad Nongkrem’, where 30-40 young unmarried women decked up in their exotic and traditional attires move to the centre of dancing arena in front of ‘Iing Sad’ (thatched palace) and take tiny steps, while men in their majestic and traditional regalia and holding a white Yak hair whisks in one hand and a sword in another move outside the circle, keeping with the changing beats of drums and haunting tunes of the ‘Tangmuri’ or pipes. The silver or gold crowns that they wear signify the glory and dignity of the Khasi matrilineal society.
As people come from all over the State of Khyrim, little markets spring up in the field outside the Iing Sad compound, adding to the revelry. Dressed in their best, people throng the dancing arena and the adjoining hills, where a colourful fair, featuring local handicrafts and delicacies, held on the occasion every year. Over the years, the Nongkrem Dance has been attracting large number of tourists, both domestic and foreign.
Attired in his majestic regalia, the Syiem (King) of Khyrim, Dr. Balajied Syiem, presided over the festival. “With the changing times, we need to uphold and strengthen our rich ancient culture and tradition,” the Syiem emphasised. “The festivals, the dances and the rituals carry with it a name, a specific identity for us, which we should be cherished, but it is sad to see that the other Himas have not been able to keep up with this tradition,” Syiem of Hima Khyrim Dr. Balajied Sing Syiem said. Calling upon the youth to stick to their roots, Syiem said, “No matter how advanced or how modern we are, we must never forget our origin and our roots.”