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Shillong Culture

Shillong, the native soil of three aboriginal hill communities Khasi, Garo and Jaintia presents a mosaic spectrum of various dissimilar cultures harmoniously co-existing since ages. The maximum of the Shillong population belongs to the Khasi Tribe who are principally Christian by faith. Apart from the Khasis, Shillong is inhabited by considerable Bengali and Nepali communities as well.
The Khasi society is matrilineal by nature and the mother is the head of the family. Mother’s surname is passed on to the children. After wedding the groom has to shift to the bride’s house and has to assume the bride’s family surname. After three days of the nuptial the newly wedded couple visits the groom’s house. The youngest daughter of the family inherits all the property and stays in her mother’s house. All other daughters get shares from ancestral property but they have to move out with their husbands and build their separate homes after marriage.
The people of Shillong are exceptionally hospitable and friendly. They welcome their guests with tremendous curtsey and talk to them in a very sweet and companionable tone. These people are always smiling and demonstrate an exceedingly enthusiastic and zealous disposition. A Khasi would offer you a betel nut preparation, locally known as ‘Kwai’ as a gesture of alliance & friendship and traditionally when somebody visits any family, the homemade rice beer is invariably served. The traditional attire of a Khasi woman is ‘Jainsem’ i.e. two pieces of cloth pinned at the shoulder and covered with a shawl known as ‘Tapmohkhlieh’. In ancient times the indigenous Khasi men used to wear dhoti, half coat and turban; however, due to the increasing western influence people dress themselves in shirts and trousers these days. .
The traditional gastronomy of Khasi, Garo and Jaintia tribes is marked with various delectable culinary items such as Momos, Tung-Rymbai, Jadoh, Ki Kpu, Minil Songa, Sakkin Gata, Nakham Bitchi, Mylliem Chicken, Dohkhlieh, Dohneiiong, Tungrymbai, Pumaloi, Pudoh, Putharao, Kyat, Tit Tung, Jastem, Khiew Ranei, Pukhlein, Pickled Bamboo Shoots, Rice Beer, Etc. A trip to Shillong can never be considered complete without savoring the mouth watering taste of these exclusive cuisines.

Every year a ritual named ‘Khlieh Iew’ is performed in the markets of Shillong for the economical prosperity and good trade and commerce. Huge monoliths are erected and the blessings of Lord ‘U Blei Shyllong’ – the God of Shillong and Lord ‘Ka Iew- Lei Hat-Lei Khyrdop’ – the market deity are invoked for the welfare of ‘Ri Hynniewtrep’ – the land of ‘Hima Mylliem’. According to the custom when somebody dies, the dead body is kept at the house for the viewing of family and friends for three days. The visitors who come to share the grief are offered food and drink. If the person who is dead is quite old, the family throws a feast to commemorate his / her life which he / she lived to the fullest.
As the present day Shillong was established by the British Officials, the Shillong City still retains the English character and legacy in its demeanor. The architecture, food habits and the clothing style of the contemporary populace of Shillong is completely affected by the modern torrents of westernization. Moreover, currently the presence of numerous well reputed educational institutions has made Shillong an eminent educational hub of the entire north-eastern India. The traditional houses of Shillong festooned with scores of windows and wooden floors are built in Assamese style wherein the roofs are slanting. These sloping roofs let the rain water flow away and prove to be very useful as Shillong often receives heavy downpours. .
Shillong is particularly loved by the shopoholics for its special shopping delights such as Fresh Local Fruits like Sayang and Saflang, Cashew Nuts, Vegetables, Black Mushrooms, Forest Honey, Fish, Bamboo Shoot Pickles, Traditional Bamboo Handicrafts, Bamboo Hats, Bamboo Furniture, Cane Artifacts, Woodcarving, Pineapple Fiber Articles, Khok or Thugis Baskets, Khasi Umbrellas, Ats, Moorahs, Woolen Handmade Shawls, Carpets, Tibetan Shawls, Textile Weaving Items, Endi Silk, Khasi Silk Skirts, Fashion Apparels, Handmade Khasi and Naga Souvenirs.

Shillong Festivals and Dances

Khasi Festivals

Shad Suk Mynsiem
The Shad Suk Mynsiem also known as ‘Shad Phur’ is the annual thanks giving dance festival of the Khasi Community which is celebrated in the month of April at the Weiking Grounds of Shillong. This three days long festival, a counterpart of the Garo Harvest Festival incorporates a traditional Khasi Dance, also known as the ‘Dance of Contentment’. The Khasi men and women fully clad in traditional fineries dance to the tunes of drums and tangmuri pipes and worship the harvest deity for a good crop.
Nongkrem Dance Festival
Nongkrem Dance Festival celebrated in the month of November is one of the most important festivals of the Khasi Tribe that honors the protector God of Shillong; ‘Lei Shyllong’ and the Khasi Goddess ‘Ka Blei Synshar’ and seeks their blessings for good harvest and universal prosperity. At the time of the Nongkrem Dance Festival, the ‘Pemblang Ceremony’ (animal sacrifice, generally a cock or goat) is performed by the Syiem of Khyrim; the head of the Khasi State and Ka Syiem Sad; the high priest. On the forth day of the festival the Ka Pemblang Nongkrem Dance is performed when young unmarried girls dance in the inner circle of the arena wearing expensive silk clothes and dazzling gold ornaments while men dressed in dhoti, full-sleeved shirt, coat and turban dance around them in the outer circle. They hold a white Yak hair whisk in their left hand and a sword in their right hand. The Nongkrem Dance Festival is celebrated at Smit which is located just 14 kilometers to the south of Shillong.
Garo Festival

Wangala Festival
Wangala, also known as ‘Wanna Rongchuwa’ is the harvest festival of the Garo Community celebrated in the months between September and December wherein Lord Misi Saljong; the Sun God of Fertility is worshipped and thanked for affluent harvest. This two to three days long festival frequently extends over a week. The beginning of the Wangala Festival is marked with Rugala and Sasat Sowa ceremonies while the festival concludes with the Dama Gogata ritual. During the days of festivity, the Garo people dress up in their traditional colorful outfits Dokmanda, Gando or Doksari and the feathered cap known as Do’mi and dance to the beats of the ‘Dama’; the long oval-shaped drums. The chief dances performed during the Wangala Festival include Katta Dokka, Dani Dokka, Chambil Mesa (Pomelo Dance) and Ajea.
Jaintia Festival

Behdeinkhlam Festival
Behdeinkhlam Festival celebrated at Jowai for three days in the month of July is a traditional Jaintia festival which literally means eradicating evil and epidemics by wooden sticks. During this festival men dance in the streets to the tunes of drums and pipes while women cook sacrificial food at home and offer it to the spirits of their ancestors. A tall decorative structure known as the Ratha is erected in each locality which is carried by 30 to 40 muscular men to the lake of Aitnar for immersion. During the afternoons a type of soccer, locally called ‘Datlawakor’, is played between two teams; Upper Myntdu Valley and Lower Myntdu Valley with a wooden ball. It is believed that the winners are blessed with a bountiful harvest in the coming year. The Behdeinkhlam Festival ends with the fetching of the Khnong Tree; a sacred tree in each locality.
Laho Dance Festival
The Laho Dance Festival celebrated annually subsequent to harvest is a thanks giving festival of the Jaintia community that depicts the intimate relationship between man and God. Women wear the traditional one-piece Muga Jainsem dress tied at the waist with Khyrwang Belt and a long sleeved blouse and embellish themselves with coral beads & gold necklace, chains, gold earrings and bangles. Both men and women together perform the Laho Dance to the tunes of the Kabom and Kadhulok / Sing Kynthei drums and other musical instruments; flute (Kashawiang), cymbals (Kashalamen) and a wind instrument made of bamboo (Ka Chakudiah). The dancers are accompanied with a cheer leader who spontaneously creates the ribald couplets and recites them for the encouragement of the dancers and the entertainment of the audience.
Pnar Festival

Chad Sukra
Chad Sukra is the annual sowing festival celebrated by the Pnar people during mid April or early May. They invoke their harvest God and appeal Him to protect their crops from all calamities and also establish peace and harmony amongst the mankind. Farmers start sowing the seeds in their farms only after the celebration of the Chad Sukra Festival.
Autumn Festival

The Autumn Festival is organized by the State Tourism Department in Shillong between October and November every year. The chief attractions of the Autumn Festival of Shillong are; fashion shows, food & wine festivals, fishing competitions, kite flying competitions, flower shows, golf tournaments, music and rock festivals, and many others. Both locals and tourists enjoy during the Autumn Festival to their hearts content. Other festivals also celebrated in Shillong include Strawberry Festival and Ranikor Festival.