As we walked through a meadow adjacent to the sacred forest, our guide pointed towards the monoliths at the entrance of the forest. I had seen these monoliths in many places during my journey across Meghalaya and when I had earlier asked the locals why they are erected every time I would get a different answer. Sometimes these monoliths are erected as a boundary, sometimes as a foundation mark of a market place and here at the entrance of the sacred forest, these monolith were erected as ritual stones. Khasi people are required to pay homage at this spot before they enter the forest. The vertically erected stone is considered masculine and horizontally laid out stone is feminine. In the old times before the men of the tribe would enter the forest for rituals, prayers would be offered at the monoliths. It is said that if the deity Labasa appeared in the form of a leopard, they would take it as a good omen and proceed. If a snake appeared instead, the rituals would not take place since it's a bad omen. Interestingly, only men with beard and mustache were allowed to perform rituals at the sacred forest and women were not allowed.
Standing at the entrance, Wankhangbok also told us that this 76.8 hectare vast forest is divided into three parts. First is Laitdyrkhang, the old part of the forest where you can see the tallest of trees which are considered as old as 1000 years. Middle part of the forest is called Phiephandi, which consists of around 40 hectares of the total forest area. It was also the area where we explored during out excursion. The last and newest part of the forest is Law Nongkynrih, which is created as an extension to protect the old sacred forest area.
Story about the king
Of all the trivias I get to hear about new places I visit, stories from the historical past interest me the most. A place as mysterious as this forest of course had an interesting story too. It is said that the people of Blah clan who moved to Mawphlang from the Jaintia Hills were the original rulers of this region. Together with other clans they formed Hima Mawphlang or The Kingdon of Mawphlang. However, after a few years the people of the clan got weary of ruling the region and decided to hand their powers over to the next worthy ruler of some other clan.
Khnah Lyngdoh Nonsai, a woman from Baligaon Assam was summoned and her son was chosen to be the king. However the woman wanted to take due permission of the deity of the sacred grove before she accepted and so she planted three saplings. Over three years she took care of these saplings and when 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 is chosen from the Lyngdoh Clan. There is a part of the forest near the ritual site where the first king and four other members of the clan took an oath to protect the clan and the forest which is now covered by overwhelming wilderness.
Treasures of the Sacred Grove
Right at the entrance of the forest we saw a bright colored berries that almost look like candies on a stalk. This is a corm that belongs to the family Arisaemas Serratum. The flower of the plant is commonly known as Cobra lily and if you end up eating this stalk, it will tear your throat up almost instantly. This flower is usually found in damp forests and I had seen it once before in Valley of flowers in Uttarakhand too.