Revel in the vitality of this age-old festival, celebrated in Jaintia Hills, Meghalaya, to chase away illnesses and bad luck
There is a belief among the Pnars of Meghalaya that the Gods of the Seven Huts descended from heaven upon earth in that region to establish a kingdom. There was then a fatal prophecy that the place, and the tribes inhabiting it, would be annihilated in a plague. The Jowai people trekked to the shrine of their protector deities - Mulong, Mooralong U Mukhai and Musniang - and sought their advice to ward off the impending plague. Thus Behdienkhlam came to be celebrated as a worship to please the gods to drive away all illness and bad luck. Known as the festival for chasing away the Demon of Cholera, the festival is also a prayer for a rich harvest.
Celebrated in Jowai in Meghalaya, this festival sees participation in huge numbers. The significant starting ritual is a ceremonial invocation to the gods by the daloi or the chief of the tribe. Another important ritual is when young men, armed with bamboo poles, beat on the gates of houses as a symbolic gesture to drive away all disease. The high-point of the festival is when two groups of men on opposite sides try to get a beam across a muddy ditch called Wah-eit-nar. This three-day festival ends with a wooden football game called the dad-lawakor and women offering sacrificial food meant for the gods.
Photographs: Omnath Khushwaha