Mawphlang: The Sacred Forest of Khasi Tribe

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Mawphlang – meaning ‘moss-covered stone’ in Khasi-spanning 193 acres of land area. It is believed that the members of the Lyngdoh clan (Khasi kings and ceremonial leaders) are protectors of the forest. There were many monoliths; as reminders of a dignified past as the forest creeps around them. According to the locals, there is a saying: “No kingdom can be without a sacred forest, like no sacred forest be without a kingdom.” They believe the forest to be the Khasi deity, Labasa’s abode, which protects the clan from all harm. Hence we were all set and drove towards Scared Grove.

Mawphlang: The Sacred Forest of Khasi Tribe

This forest is one of Meghalaya’s oldest and most famous sacred groves. Its also known as ‘Nature’s Museum’ for harbouring a diversity of medicinal plants, trees, mushrooms, birds, insects and flowering plants.For centuries, Khasi customs and traditions have been woven into the land and the forests. One of these forests remains significant today – the Sacred Groves of Mawphlang. 

Mawphlang: The Sacred Forest of Khasi Tribe
The sacred forest

I was amazed by the area’s scenic beauty- with the woods tucked away in a corner and beautiful green meadows stretching out far and wide. The dark canopy above and soft humus under my feet transported me to a primaeval age. The contrast from the green fields and vibrant pines that dominate the surrounding hills. Leafy green branches mark the entry to the forest, and as you step inside, you will see an inter-connected network of trees and plants – some of which are said to be over 1,000 years old.

Mawphlang: The Sacred Forest of Khasi Tribe
Nature’s mesuem

The forest is divided into three sections- the old or first part of Laitdyrkhang, which has the tallest & oldest trees over 1000yrs old. Phiephandi is the middle part of the forest, consisting of around 40 hectares of the total forest area. And Law Nongkynrih, the last or the new part created as an extension to protect the old sacred forest area. Tourists can visit the tree section’s first and second sections. Guides are compulsory with who you can sign up for a half trek or an hour tour. The entry fee is Rs 20, and a guide fee of Rs 300. I did the same and opted for a guided tour for a half trek. We got a guide who can speak English as well as Hindi.

Mawphlang: The Sacred Forest of Khasi Tribe
Our Khasi guide

As I entered the forest, a ‘green tunnel’ formed naturally by the branches of the trees covering the entrance. And the only audible sounds were the melodious calls of songbirds and the hum of crickets. There was also the occasional buzzing of bees and dragonflies and the gurgling of forest streams. The entire forest floor was carpeted with humus that had accumulated here for centuries. Hence especially where the trail grows narrow, be cautious of your step.

Mawphlang: The Sacred Forest of Khasi Tribe
Green Tunnel

Further ahead was the first group of monoliths: one seated stone and three standing stones. The vertically erected stone is considered masculine, and the horizontally laid-out stone is feminine. At this place, village elders seek permission. Permission from the deity to perform the sacrificial ritual inside the forest. The appearance of a leopard was considered an encouraging sign to conduct the ceremony as planned. However, an impression of a snake was considered inauspicious and abandoned the ritual. Interestingly, only men with beards and moustaches were allowed to perform rituals at the sacred forest and women were not allowed.

Mawphlang: The Sacred Forest of Khasi Tribe
Ritual Monoliths

I continued with my trek; on the way, I saw a stone shaped like a long table. The guide explained it as a preparation table for rituals. And further ahead, a cluster of smaller moss-covered our guide told us that this was where preparation for ceremonies was done during the old times. Earlier, a bull was sacrificed, but these days, a cock.

Mawphlang: The Sacred Forest of Khasi Tribe
Moss covered Monoliths

Apart from the tales associated with the grove, the forest has an abundance of flora and fauna. It is home to approx 400 species of plants, which consist of 25 types of orchids alone. And numerous varieties of trees, many of which are said to have therapeutic properties. It is an absolute nerd paradise for any biologist and nature enthusiast.

Mawphlang: The Sacred Forest of Khasi Tribe
Phiephandi- Middle part of the forest

Every mysterious forest has a story, and so does the Scared grove. As per history, the Blah clan moved to Mawphlang from the Jaintia Hills. And they formed Hima Mawphlang or The Kingdon of Mawphlang together with other families. However, after a few years, the clan’s people got weary of ruling the region. Hence decided to choose a worthy king & hand over their powers to some other family.

Mawphlang: The Sacred Forest of Khasi Tribe
Walk among old trees

Hence a woman from Baligaon Assam Khnah Lyngdoh Nonsai was sent for. The clan chose her son to be the king. However, the woman wanted due permission from the deity of the sacred grove. So she planted three saplings and took care for three years. Slowly all three saplings survived; she accepted this as a sign of acceptance by the deity and made her son the king of Hima Mawphlang. Since then, the king of Hima Mawphlang has been chosen from the Lyngdoh Clan. There is a part of the forest near the ritual site where the clan’s first king and four other clan members took an oath to protect the family and the forest, which is now covered by overwhelming wilderness.

Mawphlang: The Sacred Forest of Khasi Tribe
Lyngdoh Clan Monolith

I was surprised to see many Rudraksha trees (Elaeocarpus Ganitrus) in the grove. It’s a Teenmukhi (three-faced) Rudraksha tree, considered an auspicious tree among Hindus. Other exciting trees were pines, rhododendrons and ka phal (Myrica Esculenta).

Rudraksh Tree

But the highlight among all was the poisonous Lily Cobra plant. It even appears to resemble the hood of a cobra! 

Lily Cobra

Though wildlife sightings are rare, the forest is inhabited by toads, foxes, snakes, squirrels, wild cats and several bird species. Ahead on the trail, there were mosses and lychens of colours and textures that we had never seen before. We had never seen mushrooms of such variety and vibrance as we saw during our hour-long walk here. Most of these were not edible, although one type of white coral mushroom is widely eaten here.

Mawphlang: The Sacred Forest of Khasi Tribe
Wild Mushroom

While leaving the grove, our guide said only one rule was followed in this sacred forest. And, that is – “You cannot take anything out of this forest, else the deity gets upset”. Removing even the tiniest thing from the forest means disrespecting the deity. It is said that whoever attempts to break this rule is punished with illness, which can even lead to death. Local lore says that in 1970, the army tried removing the dead wood and trees from this forest, but they could not because the truck didn’t start even after trying multiple times.

The mystic forest

As I reached the car, my guide gave me Rudraksha. I thanked him & asked why he gave it to me. Then he explained Khasis follow a matrilineal system of inheritance. In the Khasi society, only the youngest daughter, “Ka Khadduh”, can inherit the ancestral property. And since I was the youngest in my matrilineal system, I was gifted. I was stunned to realise I was travelling with my Granny, mom & aunts following the Khasi culture. Our guide clicked our picture to show it to their tribe. I was so proud.

Mawphlang: The Sacred Forest of Khasi Tribe
Our Lineage

I was surprised to know across 56 Himas or Kingdoms in the state, there are almost 215 sacred groves, and Mawphlang is the biggest one. In the coming years, the locals are tirelessly working to give protected status to the other holy groves. This was interesting! Post the sacred forest, I, along with my mom & Aunt, was all set to trek the David Scott trek before its dark.

By Air: 

The nearest airport to Guwahati. A cab can be booked outside the airport to reach Shillong. It would be best if you changed the cab from Shillong to Mawphlang or Cheerapunji. 

By Rail: 

Guwahati Junction railway station is well connected with most of the cities of India. Upon reaching, one can book a cab to Shillong; from Shillong, a different cab has to be taken for Mawphlang or Cheerapunji. 

 By Road:

Private cabs or shared taxis of Guwahati regularly ply to Shillong. One has to change the cab in Shillong to reach the destination in Meghalaya. You cannot drive since a private vehicle is not allowed.


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