Paragraph on paragraph on Nongkrem festival:
Of all the Khasi festivals, the dance occupies an important place in it and precisely an adjunct of some of their religious ceremonies.
The dance ‘Nongkrem’ is associated with the pom-blang or goat killing ceremony, performed by the Syiem of Khyrim (or Nongkrem) with the aid of his soh-blei (high priest) and the various lyngdohs (or priests) to Ka Blei Synshar (the ruling goddess), with the hope of good harvests and bright future for the people.
The goddess on this occasion may be regarded as a Khasi Demeter, although no mysteries form part of her services as at the Grecian Eleusis. The Nongkrem ceremony and dance held at Smit falls generally in the month of May (The Late Spring).
A fortnight before the puja and dance at Smit the soh-blei, or high priest, pours out libations of liquor in the kyram-blang, or the place where the sacrifical goats are kept, and in front of the great post (of dieng sning or Khasi oak), in the house of the Syiem priestess. Dancing then takes place in front of the post.
Later on the Syiem, with the high priest and other attendant priests, walk with extremely slow gait to a small hill where a stone altar has been prepared and sacrifices a cock in honour of U Lei Shillong or the god of the Shillong Peak. A silver dish with powdered rice, liquor in a gourd (kaiad um), betel-nut and some leaves of the Khasi oak (dieng sning), are also necessary aduncts of the puja.
A goat is then sacrificed and the sacrifice is followed by a dance of twenty- two men armed with swords and shields and chowries (fly-flaps). Having danced before the altar, the party returns to the house of the Syiem priestess and executes another dance in the great courtyard.
The Syiem and certain selected persons dance in front of the rishot blei, or holy post of the Khasi oak inside the house of the Syiem priestess, the dancers being entertained with dried fish and ginger. Then follows the great dance of girls and men in front of her house. The girls dance in the centre, taking such tiny steps, that the lifting of their feet from the ground is hardly perceptible, the arms held down to the sides and the eyes demurely downcast.
It is on this occasion that they wear their beautiful peculiar silver (and sometimes gold) crowns. The hair is worn tied in a knot behind the head, but with a long tail hanging down the back. Rich silk clothes are worn by the girls, who present the appearance of being, if anything, over-clothed or as Yule aptly puts it, of “perfect parallelograms.”
They wear a profusion of gold and coral bead necklaces, silver and gold chains, bracelets, ear-rings of gold and any other jewellery they can lay hands on. Not only is the whole of the family jewellery requisitioned by the fair debutante (it is only the unmarried girls who dance), but she also borrows from her friends.
The men dance round the outside of the circle, waving fly-flaps and prancing (often wearing huge boots) with big strides. The music necessary for the dance consists of tangmuri (pipes), drums and cymbals. This is ka shad kynthei, or the dance of the women.
Then there is ka shad mastieh or the dance of the men, who are gaily dressed wearing plumes of black and white cock’s feathers (u thuiyah) and holding swords and shields. After gyrating for some time, two men at a time rapidly approach one another and clash their swords together in mock combat. They then retire and after again revolving for a period, repeat the process; then other couples follow and take their place. This goes on until the dancers get tired or are told to stop.
There is a very pretty dance called ka shad lymmoh, performed by men who hold the leafy branches of trees in their hands. This is most effective. Then there is a dance of many young girls, very well-dressed, covered with the usual gold and coral beads and silver chains, and wearing the silver crown or pansngiat. The young women dance with spirit and with an absence of all shyness, but still with the greatest decorum. Many of the women, spectators as well as dancers, can be observed to be without the usual tap moh khlih or head-cloth, the absence of which is always a sign amongst the Khasi women of merry-making.