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Meghalaya - Religion

Meghalaya is one of three states in India to have a Christian majority. Around 75% of the population beliieves in Christianity, with, Baptist and Catholics the more basic sections. The religion of the general population in Meghalaya is firmly identified with their ethnicity. In Meghalaya, religion census 2011 provides good insight of current demography. As per census 2011, Christian are majority in Meghalaya state. Christian constitutes 74.59% of Meghalaya population, while Hindu are 11.53%. In all Christian form majority religion in out of districts of Meghalaya state. There was a slight increase in the Muslim population in the State even as the Christian population rose from 70.25 per cent in 2001, to 74.59 percent in 2011. As per the primary Census data, the Muslim population in the State has gone up by 0.12 per cent.

While the 2001 primary Census put the Muslim population in the State at 4.28 per cent with the percentage being 4.67 in rural areas and 2.68 in urban areas of the State, the latest Census shows that the population has gone up to 4.40 per cent with 4.85 per cent residing in rural areas and 2.58 per cent residing in urban areas. As per the data, the population was highest in West Garo Hills District where 16.60 per cent was Muslim. The Muslim population rose from 99,169 in 2001 to 1,30,399 during 2011, registering the marginal rise.

The Welsh Methodist mission was based in the Khasi Hills, while the American Baptist Mission worked in the Garo, Naga, and Mizo Hills. For the inhabitants of these hills the shift to literacy was mediated by these missions and their message of Christian improvement. The history of formal education in Meghalaya has been a recent one commencing with the formulation of a Khasi Alphabet in 1842 by Thomas Jones, a Welsh missionary. Similarly for the Garo Hills areas, a Garo Alphabet was evolved in 1902 by American missionaries using the Roman script. With requirements for a literate society not being high in colonial times, only a few elementary schools were functioning in what is now known as Meghalaya.

The first missionary, Thomas Jones, from Aberriw, Montgomeryshire, arrived in the Khasi Hills in Assam in 1841. Only around five hundred Khasis were converted in the thirty years that followed, but the extension of imperial control coupled with the growth of a medical mission, under the direction of Dr. Griffiths, led to greater success. The Khasi Christian community grew from 1,796 in 1881 to 6,766 a decade later. By 1901 the figure had reached 15,937 and by 1905, the year of the Welsh Revival, the missionaries had established a following of some 23,000.

The first college in fact was established in Shillong only in 1924 by the Christian Brothers of Ireland. Being a hill station blessed with bracing weather and having a strong colonial influence, several quality colleges and Public schools had been established over the years. The alumni of these schools are spread all over the country and their footprints are also found all over the world. Some of them hold very distinguished positions and occupy high offices in foreign countries, as well.

The first major challenge to Khasi matriliny came with the arrival of Christianity. Christianity came on the scene with its patrilineal values and cultural concepts. Christianity spread among the Khasis mainly during the British rule and presently covers more than 80 per cent of the total population in the State of Meghalaya. Christianity spread through the work of Christian missionaries both in rural as well as urban areas. The Christian Khasis were encouraged by the missionaries to restrain from participation in arrow shooting, traditional dancing, gambling and other cultural programs which were accompanied by animal sacrifices. Each denomination of the Christians imposed its own codes of conduct and religious observances; thereby creating more segmentations/ fragmentation of socio-religious lines.

Curiously, the Khasi word for "stone" is "men", as in the ancient European words dolmen and menhir. In the 19th Century, the customs of the people of the Khasi Hill tracts were peculiar, as they were among the very few who erected at that time monolithic monuments. Certainly the most striking objects of interest in the Khasi Hills are the upright stone monuments that are to be seen all over the country; these, set up by the wayside, or in the villages, more frequently cutting the sky on prominent hills, with the large slabs horizontally set before them, at once recall the Druidical remains of Britain, northern France, etc., and lead one to marvel at the similarity of the custom, and to inquire its origin and design.

Many Europeans who visited those hills took it at once for granted that they were the graves of illustrious men, or, after a vain endeavor to get some information from the coolies about them, let the matter rest, or finally believed that the ashes of the dead, to whose memory the monoliths are erected, are buried under the flat kind of altar or dolmen seen in front.

But the Khasi menhirs are no more gravestones, in the sense of marking the place where the remains of the dead lie, than some of the memorials of Westminster Abbey and other fanes; the Khasi stones are cenotaphs, the remains of the dead being carefully preserved in stone sepulchres, which are often some distance apart from the memorial stones.

These stones are rightly styled memorial stones; kynmaw, literally "to mark with a stone," is the word in the Khasi language for " to remember." The memorial stone, in the ordinary sense of the word, is a memorial to the dead; but we have such names of places in these hills as Maomluh, the salt stone (the eating of salt off the blade of a sword being one of the Khasi forms of oath), Maosmai, the oath stone, Maophlang, the grassy stone, and others. To commemorate with a stone an important event has been a constant custom amongst many people in many places.

The tall upright stones are called "Mao bynna", from "mao", a stone; "bynna", to make known, to be informed, literally a monument (Cenotaph). They are also known by the term, "Mao shinran", the male stone, while the flat seat-like slab in front is called "Mao Kynthai", the female stone, representative of all life, being in pairs. The monument would be imperfect without the flat stone or its female adjunct. During the illness of a person, every kind of propitiation and exorcism either by the breaking of eggs, sacrifice of fowls, pigs, etc., and by the examination of the liver and viscera, having been made, and then failing to restore him; the sick man may vow that should he recover, he will erect a set of stones to one of his ancestors, who, it is presumed, on knowing of the intention, will do his best to save him.

In setting up these slabs all members of the community are under an obligation to assist on such an occasion, and are not paid for their labour, beyond receiving in the evening a little food or liquor at the dwelling of the family who have sought the aid. The skilled workmen employed on the stone-cutting are, however, regularly paid, as is done when cutting the stones for the funeral platform; while this work is in progress musicians are also entertained, and a continual beating of tom-toms (handdrums) is kept up while the work is in progress.

The ashes of the dead are never deposited under the horizontal slabs always to be seen in front of the upright sets, the monument having no connection with funeral obsequies whatever. The monument is purely one to perpetuate the memory of a person long deceased, who, as a spirit, has watched over or brought good fortune to a descendant, his family, or clan. Wealth or renown of the deceased has no connection with the size of the monument, which may be of any dimensions, from stones a foot or two and upward, but depends on the wealth of those who erect such mementos, and on the benefits the deceased has conferred aftar passing into the world of spirits and demons, for, according to Khasi belief, the spirits of the dead and demons are the cause of all joy or woe they give riches or strike with disease and death.

Dance is at the very heart of modern Khasi life, rich in repertoire, performed often as a part of the "rites de passage"- the life-cycle of an individual in society or the annual passage of the seasons. Dances are performed at the level of individual villages (Shnong), a group of villages (Raid) and a conglomeration of Raids (Hima). Local or regional flavours and colours bring variations to the basic dance form, which is universal in Khasi folk culture.

Festivals of the Jaintia Hills, like others, contribute significantly to maintaining a balance between people, culture and the natural environment or eco-system. At the same time it seeks to revive the spirit of cohesiveness and solidarity among the people. The main festivals of Garos are Den Bilsia, Wangala, Rongchu gala, Mi Amua, Mangona, Grengdik BaA, Jamang Sia, Ja Megapa, Sa Sat Ra Chaka, Ajeaor Ahaoea, Dore Rata Dance, Chambil Mesara, Do'KruSua, Saram Cha'A, A Se Mania or Tata.

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Page last modified: 20-02-2018 18:42:48 ZULU