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Sun, 19 Nov 2017

Northeast Today

Forest Where God Still Resides

Forest Where God Still Resides
July 24
17:20 2017

June Edition, Travel, Satarupa Mishra

When life turned too mechanical and materialistic, a city girl decided to leave behind her home and work in Guwahati for a day, and escape to the neighbouring state, Meghalaya.

Although strolling down the pine-festooned streets dotted with occasional cafeterias in the capital town Shillong is a thing of joy and leisure, my jaded soul was looking for something more. Probably, it wanted a direct encounter with Nature in its raw form. And where else could I’ve witnessed such a spiritual encounter than at the Mawphlang Sacred Grove!

Located 25 kilometres from Shillong, the Mawphlang Sacred Grove is one-hour drive from Shillong. The hotel I’d put up in at Police Bazar (Khyndailad) had arranged a cab for my trip for Rs. 1200. As decided, the cab driver arrived at the hotel at 9.30am sharp. I had the entire day in hand to soak in the place in its every essence.

The road to Mawphlang isn’t as exotic as the one to Cherrapunjee. However, the anticipation of enchantment in a forest that is believed to be protected by a powerful local deity, Labasa, was enough to inspire me to keep calm.

The first sight of the Scared Grove from my cab was overwhelming. It was like a huge meadow splashed with parrot’s colour, and adorned with a gigantic mellow green patch of forest on its heart.

No sooner I reached, I was welcomed by the warm smile of my guide Damut. After collecting an entry fee of Rs. 20, Damut asked if I wished to do a half trek or full. It had to be a full trek for me any day that had cost a mere Rs. 400.

While proceeding towards the forest, I was told that it would be a one-hour forest trek introducing me to some wonder floras. Most strikingly, I was warned not to take back anything out of the forest, for it would enrage the forest deity into cursing me. Damut narrated legends about how people trying to take back fruits, flowers, and leaves from the forest fell sick after that. I wondered if the legends were a means to preserve the forest from the onslaught of human greed and ambitions! As I pondered, Damut drew my attention to a family monolith at the entrance of the forest, explaining the significance of the stone structures, and the crucial role maternal uncles play in the matrilineal Khasi society.

Entry into the Mawphlang Sacred Forest felt like pushing myself into a green world where birds sing, and the natural roof above changes its colour from blue to green. The deep shadows of the trees ran a chill down the spine for a brief while. Call it the figment of a conditioned imagination I could feel the forest coming alive.The wheezing breeze, the rustling leaves, the chirping birds, the persistent company of flies, the faint gurgling of the brook, the crushing sound of dry leaves at every step we took – everything clubbed together to breathe in an uncanny life into the forest.

“Of course, the deity Labasa exists. Of course, He wreaks havoc upon those who misbalance the ecosystem of the forest even by a fraction.” I thought.

Prior to the arrival of the Welsh Missionaries, the Khasis were pagan worshippers. But despite the dissemination of Christianity in the state, traces of Khasi paganism are found even today adding majorly to the mysticism of Meghalaya. The 78-hectare land and heritage of the Mawphlang Sacred Forest is one stark instance of the ancient Khasi paganism.

My guide directed me to a place where animals were sacrificed as part of the pagan rituals. Two separate rituals used to be performed – one for good vegetation, and the other to beseech the mercy of the deity for forest protection. From the sacrificial table, to an altar where the blood of the sacrificed animals were sprinkled, to the tall resting shade for the King, to the place of his ritualistic coronation – every stone structure made for a chilling fascination for me.

Such strong is the Khasi belief in the power of Nature that the King’s anointment remained dependent on the quality of weather. A clear sunny day meant the decided man was fit for kingship; whereas a cloudy weather meant otherwise, in which case, the anointment would be cancelled. In fact, I was told that no rituals are performed in the forest any more ever since an animal escaped from the sacrifice table during a ritual. Such an escape is considered a bad omen.

Keeping aside my amazement of the rich pagan history of the Khasis, I managed to divert my attention to the exotic bounties of the forest. As we walked on the uneven terrains carpeted by rich humus, I was overjoyed to spot a rudraksh seed on the ground. My guide catalyzed my elation by pointing at the rudraksh tree nearby. He also took me to an interesting-looking poisonous plant called Lily Cobra that had a bunch of leaves and a twig that looked like the head of a cobra. There were also pine trees, a variety of mushrooms, orchids, parasitic plants, as well as precious medicinal plants and trees which are believed to heal wounds, blood pressure, and even breast cancer. Asked about the fauna, Damut informed that the forest is inhabited by squirrels, toads, reptiles, foxes, wild cats, leopard cats, and variety of avian.

My sojourn to the Mawphlang Sacred Grove was nothing less than a foray into a magic land where God shows up in the shadows and the whispers because here He is still loved and respected rather than being selfishly cajoled and feared. World is in perfect balance the way it should be. So if you are feeling lost, tired, unreasonably depressed and directionless, it’s time to head for Mawphlang for a generous dose of Nature’s sacredness.

(The author is an avid traveler and a writer-cumjournalist based in Guwahati)

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