Mawphlang: Meghalaya’s sacred forest from where you can't take away even a leaf

Mawphlang sacred forest is home to ancient trees, mosses, mushrooms, and sacrificial sites. Indigenous Khasi people protect the 800-year-old forest and it is believed that taking away even a pebble from sacred groves may invite the wrath of forest deities

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Mawphlang: Meghalaya’s 800-year-old sacred forest

Mawphlang: Meghalaya’s 800-year-old sacred forest

Hidden away in Meghalaya’s Nongrum village is an 800-year-old forest protected by the indigenous Khasi people. Spread over 200 acres, Mawphlang forest is home to ancient trees, mosses, mushrooms and also coronation and sacrificial sites from the bygone centuries.

Mawphlang, literally meaning 'moss-covered stone,' holds deep cultural and spiritual significance for the local Khasi people who consider it to be the sacred abode of their local deity, Labasa. The Khasi community, which follows their own religion called Niam Khasi, believes that Labasa not only resides in the forest but also protects both the forest and their community from misfortune.

This belief underscores the profound connection between the Khasi people and their natural environment, reflecting a harmonious relationship rooted in respect for biodiversity.

Visitors are not allowed to take anything away from Mawphlang sacred groves, not even a pebble or a leaf, as it may invite the wrath of forest deities. According to folklore, once a group of men cut some trees and loaded the wood in their vehicle, but it did not start. They could leave the place only after putting the woods back and seeking forgiveness. Whoever attempts to break the rules is believed to be punished with illness, and bad luck.

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A wild mushroom variety at Mawphlang. Pic: Flickr

Rituals of the ancient forest

The forest is preserved through strict laws enforced by the community and the guides who accompany visitors. Historically, the Mawphlang Sacred Grove was the designated area for worshipping Labasa. At the entrance to the sacred forest, monoliths were erected as ritual stones, which stand even today.

In the Khasi tradition, sacred forests were used for religious rituals.

The Mawphlang forest was first used by the the Lyngdoh clan -- the first clan of this kingdom. Traditionally, the king and his associates performed the religious rites and rituals. During British rule, Christian missionaries arrived in the region, and today 75 percent of Meghalaya's population follows Christianity.

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However, many still practice Niam Khasi and the Mawphlang kingdom is one of them. The present king belongs to the Lyngdoh clan and the royal office takes decisions on all matters regarding the sacred forest.

sacrificial sites
A site where rituals once took place. Pic: Flickr

In the past, before entering the forest for rituals, the men of the tribe would offer prayers at the monoliths. If the deity Labasa appeared in the form of a leopard, it was taken as a good omen to proceed. However, if a snake appeared, the rituals would not take place, as it was considered a bad omen.

Only men with beards and moustaches were allowed to perform rituals in the sacred forest, and women were not permitted.

Even now, Khasi people pay homage to this spot before entering the forest. The forest is divided into three parts. The first is Laitdyrkhang, the oldest part of the forest, where you can see the tallest trees, some considered to be as old as 1,000 years.

Mawphlang is home to around 400 plant species and 25 types of orchids. Prominent among the flora are Rudraksha trees, pines, rhododendrons, and ka phal (Myrica esculenta).

The middle part of the forest, Phiephandi, is the site for rituals. This is where Khasi kings and ceremonial leaders (Ki Lyngdoh) held their meetings and anointed new chiefs. The locations are marked with monoliths, standing as solemn reminders of a dignified past while the forest encroaches around them.

ancient tree
An ancient tree in the sacred groves. Pic: Flickr

The locals sacrifice animals here for wish fulfilment. Earlier, bulls were sacrificed but have now been replaced by hens and roosters.

The newest part of the forest is Law Nongkynrih, created as an extension to protect the old sacred forest area. Here, the Khasi people grow plants and trees that can be sold to earn income. They include various herbs and Rudraksha, beads which are said to be the tears of Lord Shiva.

The place is an offbeat tourism destination. The green meadows, flowing streams, and vibrant pines that dominate the surrounding hills create a memorable experience when visiting Meghalaya's sacred groves.

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