Shad Suk Mynsiem
Blog Stories - People Called Shillong
“The Khasi hills from time immemorial have been a land of dance and songs with a variety of instruments and types of music. Though many have religious significance, but largely it is about getting together and celebrating with one’s kith and kin,” says B.S. Nongkynri. One of the most celebrated being festivals is the Shad Suk Mynsiem. Though organised annually in almost all the villages of the Khasi Hills, a very elaborate celebration is held in Shillong. “Shad Suk Mynsiem is a thanks-giving dance where people meet once a year to offer prayers at the conclusion of the harvesting season and sowing seeds for the next season. That is why it is celebrated around April.”
As one the members of the team who organises the celebrations every year, Nongkynri indulges my questions with a lot of joy and enthusiasm. “Often the dancing ground looks like a garden of bright yellow flowers.”. A three day celebration, it begins with the 'Shad Nahkjat', a sort of opening dance with only a few dancers, on the first day. It begins with a prayer meeting in the Seng Khasi Hall Wankhar, and from there, the drummers, the pipers and some male dancers go to the dance site, followed by a cheering crowd. The dances which start mid-day finish in the evening,” he explains in detail. “ There is also the `Shad Wait’ where the male dancers dance with swords on their right hands and the white fly flap on their left, while the females dance in one big circle. Also after this happens the `Shad Mastich’ or warrior dance where men and women dance in pairs. The musicians and dancers bid goodbye to the great day by circling the ground thrice and then going back by dancing gaily.
In this dance alone the music changes from time to time and the dancers dance to the rhythm according to the changing tunes.. Explaining the dance, he further adds “The girls dance by shuffling, bare-footed gracefully forward or backward with their cast down. This reflects their feminine nature. They dance in the centre of the ground with the men dancers around to show that they are being protected by them. The men dance by moving fast with lively steps around the dancing ground. It is a symbol of protection to their home and country.” This dance is organised annually by the Seng Khasi leaders.
The dance site is a beautiful spot called 'weiking' It is full of life and splendour on these three days. The brilliance of the dresses of various colours worn by people who have come to see the dance, gives the whole panorama a beautiful sight. “The Hills echo with the sound of drums and pipes and in that moment, it seems as if everybody has let go of their past worries and cares and is only living in the moment,” he romantically puts it.“This festival is enjoyed and respected by all, irrespective of caste, creed and religion. The dance costumes and ornaments are very beautiful. The female wears a crown of solid silver with a flower called ‘Tiewlasuban’ attached to the back of the crown. This flower is a symbol of purity and beauty. Her shoulders and arms are fully clothed with velvet are decorated with gold and silver ornaments. The male wears less gold than the female and his dress resembles the one worn by the Khasi Kings. On his back he carries a silver quiver with silver arrows. This is a reminder of the fore- fathers whose sacred duty was to lay down their lives in guarding the honour, purity and chastity of their women folk.”
Like some other cultures in India, for the Khasis the dance festival is a part and parcel of their religious and social functions. It also means much more than mere joy and color. “The life of a Khasi fully lived cannot be viewed if torn away from this festival. The Khasis believe that they come into this world with God’s will and love and that is their greatest glory. They, therefore, express their gratitude to Him with music and dance,” Nongkynri lovingly explains.
“It is on these ideas that the life as a Khasi is based An thus dance is an important part in the religion. It is a pathway towards the infinite, a communication between God and man.
So is the festival signifying any religious ceremony? “No,” he says. “This festival, is not connected with any specific religious ceremony as is the case with the Nangkrem Dance which is helped annually by the Syiem of Khyrim in connection with the celebration of a religious ceremony called `Pomblang’. The word `Shad Suk Mynsiem’ literally means dance for peace and mind. It may therefore be said that the festival’s main purpose in view is to bring together the Khasi folks from the four corners of the Khasi and Jaintia Hills, in one gathering once a year to enjoy togetherness!. We are all but children before god so we will come together dance and express our joy as babies do before their parents.”