Reverence abounds in this lawkyntang

Sacred grove in Mawphlang, Meghalaya
Sacred grove in Mawphlang, Meghalaya

Meghalaya, one of the seven sisters of the beautiful northeast Indian states, means 'abode of the clouds' (megh - clouds, alaya - abode). Lush green paddy fields, swirling mists and the whisper of rain in every breath add to this serene landscape. It is home to three indigenous communities, the Khasis, the Jaintias and the Garos, who follow a matrilineal system, where the lineage and inheritance is through the mother; the youngest daughter inherits ancestral property.

Driving along a winding road 25 km from Shillong, Meghalaya's capital, I cross the rolling green grasslands of the East Khasi hills to reach a thicket of trees and ferns. This huge wooded area called Mawphlang (mossy stone) preserved by the Khasi tribe, is a forest that is both ancient and sacred. It has been revered by the people since time immemorial.


The sacred grove stands tall and thick amidst open, flat grasslands. My ears are filled with strange sounds and whispers - a cacophony of insects, high pitched urgent notes of birds warning the grove of an unwanted visitor! Somewhere in the background, is the gurgle of a stream furiously jumping over stones and roots, rushing to another darker, deeper place.


The trees are heavily loaded with aroids, pipers, ferns, fern-allies and orchids. A thick canopy of leaves play hide and seek with the blue sky and the sunlight seemingly twists and turns, valiantly trying to penetrate this living, breathing foliage. The sacred grove is a treasure trove of plants where it is taboo to pluck even a blade of grass!


In this forest, you cannot cut any trees or branches—if you do, illness and misfortune will befall you. People believe that Gods and spirits who inhabit the groves protect them from natural calamities, sickness and even enemies. This belief, which has been reinforced by generations of oral tradition, has kept this sacred grove safe for centuries.


The forest floor is thick & cushioned with humus and foliage - a rich, wet, blanket untouched for years. My feet squelch into this thick cushion as I try not to trip over old, gnarled roots, twisted around each other. All around are beautiful trees of varied shades and hues - some tall & dark, a few short and moss-covered, but each untouched and alive.


Megaliths - a repository of remains of ancestors, are ancient sites for religious rituals. With changing times , these ceremonies are no longer practiced in today's times, but the sites are still revered and respected. These giant stones, thought to be 500 years old, mark the boundary of this 75 hectare sacred grove, testament to the reverence of the local Khasi tribe.


It is a place under the shade to breathe pure fresh air. As the famous Khasi post U Soso Tham writes ' The sun beats down on me, The wind lashes at me; To the sky the branches spread, Through the earth the roots thread ;  Alone I am the forest, Though all alone, I rise"

As I leave, I marvel at how the ancient people lived in complete tandem with the world around them. Did the early forefathers attach religious beliefs to these places in an attempt to conserve them or are they truly the abode of benign spirits that keep an eye on the communities that live there? Whether it was a childlike simplicity or a far-reaching wisdom, the sacred grove stands tall and beautiful in the racked Khasi hills of Meghalaya.

A heritage that will fortunately pass on to our children, unsoiled and intact.

You can view the entire photo set here.