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Art and Craft

Costumes and Jewellery

The three major tribes of Meghalaya have distinct costumes and jewellery. However, with the change of time as in the rest of the country, the males have adopted the western code of dress leaving the ladies to continue the tradition of ethnic sartorial elegance. The Khasi lady wears a dress called 'Jainsem' which flows loose to the ankles. The upper part of her body is clad in a blouse. Over these, she ties both ends of a checkered cotton cloth on one shoulder, thus improvising on apron. On formal occasions, worn over the 'Jympien' is a long piece of Assam muga silk called 'Ka Jainsem Dhara' which hangs loose below the knees after being knotted or pinned at the shoulders. The 'Tapmohkhlieh' or head-shawl is either worn by knotting both ends behind the neck or is arranged in a stylish manner as done with a shawl. The Jaintia maidens dresses like her Khasi counterpart but with the additional of a 'Kyrshah' - a checkered cloth tied round the head during harvesting. On formal occasions, however, she dons a velvet blouse, drapes a striped cloth called 'Thoh Khyrwang', sarong style round her waist and knots at her shoulder an Assam muga piece hanging loose to her ankles. In contrast, the Garo women wears a blouse, a raw cotton 'Dakmanda' which resembles a 'Lungi' and the 'Daksari' which wrapped like a 'Mekhla' as worn by Assamese ladies. The jewellery of the Khasis and the Jaintias are also alike and the pendant is called 'Kynjri Ksiar', being made of 24 carat gold. The Khasis and the Jaintias also wear a string of thick red coral beads round their neck called 'Paila during festive occasions. The Garo ladies wear Rigitok, which are thin fluted stems of glass strung by fine thread.

General Ornaments

Dressing up and wearing ornaments forms important component of not only dance but daily life as well. The items turned out from the richest metals reveal the intricate system of folk jewellery in the state. Perhaps metallurgy was practiced extensively in the past.

Some of the ornaments worn by females are as following

Coronet-Ka pangsngiat - a crown in pure gold or silver with a flattened top which varies in shape between oval and round.

Wahdong - round earrings of pure gold which are like chains, the top most ends converging with the upper portions of the ear.

Siar Kynthei - earring bedecked in the ear-lobes and looping down. It must be of pure gold.

Lakyrdeng - for earlobes, of gold.

Ki tad ki mahu - bracelets of gold.

Khadu syngkha - bracelets of gold, very thick and heavy.

Shah ryndand - necklace of gold, tightened to the neck.

Kynjri tabah - bands of silver worn down from the neck.

Kanupad - coral beads and water pearls of reddish radiance but half of them being modelled in pure gold.

Male Ornaments

Kynjari-silver chains

Coral beads-half of which in the band are pure gold.

Wrislets in pure gold

Siar shynrang-earring of gold to distinguish from siar kynthai of women

A sword belt and scabbard in pure and plaited of silver on which the sword is hung.

Quiver- of silver on which three arrows are placed.


Traditional Dance

Only two men participate in rhythmic motion, by heeling and stepping out faster and briskly. The dancers holding firmly the sword and sympiah, dance with appropriate gesture and posture. They demonstrate the run-up in a chase and when winding up, they draw themselves closer to each other, bending down their bodies with the sword lowered, the swords then clumped in their hands, they bow down thrice among themselves like saluting reciprocally. ( The symphiah when swayed seems to indicate averting some impediments and sword held in hand and briskly shaken, their ever readiness to strike at some adversaries, both physical and moral.)

The mastiah performed as religious is different from mastiah thma, a war like dance where dancers demonstrate a kind of combat or a duel.

Shad pyllun

This is a big group dance where man and women dance together. Women dance in a slow motion because they dance, crawling on with their toes, taking three steps forward then carrying themselves backward by the heels. Men, however make the faster steps stepping in and out coming closer to the women, continuing this move then darting away and keeping on this position round and round in the circle.They hold aloft their sympiah when inclined and wave it when reclined.

Shad wait

This is sword dance which toward its close, ends in a crossed motion among two or four dances, two formed in a row maintaining their position and ending in a reciprocal close up of two dancers in each row. It is started by the dancers casting out three steps forward by their right foot, then receding. Each pair of dancers then celebrate a chase, round the circle holding the sword occasionally stretching out or brandishing it one man running forward and one from behind and complete the chase for three round, changing direction. The whole process is repeated thrice before winding it up.

Shad Iynti

is a march dance. Dancers while marching wave their swords and sympiahs. Flutes and drums are played in the background. Usually this kind of dance is performed during state receptions or other celebrations.

Shad nguh

This dance is also held during state reception or inspection. To make it courteous and befitting, the dancers on making the usual steps in a brisk movement finally approach the royal guest, bend their bodies, clasping the thuias( a plume of birds feathers) on both their hands bow down thrice demonstrating it with their bodies and hands.

Shad thma

The pair of dancers armed with sword and the shield, chase and combat by skirting off to directions right and left stepping up and pacing up appropiately with the balanced posture. After completing a round, they come close, strike each other with swords or shield. Then run chasing each other and finally wind up by bowing down at each other.

Lah- ho

It is one of the principal dance of the highlanders. In the eastern Jaintia region it is presented as an informal programme, the dance precludes women and is performed as a recreational programme , mostly boys participate forming two rows clasping hands over each other`s shoulders presenting the rhythmic movement in which they make few exchanges of words.

Shad lukhmi

A group dance in which a row of men take up position with women in alternate succession crossing hands over each other`s waist demonstrating a group motion in direction north to south and vice-versa. The shield used is very small and is not the same used for martial dance.

Agricultural Dances

These dances are performed at the field depicts the different phases of cultivation.

Tu hali

This dance creates a scene of women constructing or renovating the bunds or level lines of irrigated rice lands where a group of men nearby are ploughing the field.

Krut Kba

It highlights men and women at work gently dropping the hoes, striking the ground, then raising them back to the tune of instrumental and vocal music in the background.

Lur masi

It is driving the bullocks for ploughing , in a series of song and dance.

Sympat kba

It is a ceremonial threshing of the sheaves of grain on stone.

Rwai shoh kba

It is a harvest songs sung by groups jubilantly.

Musical- instruments

Traditional instruments

Musical- instruments have their own importance. They are used in dance, vocal singing, demonstrations and devotional performances. Playing of instruments varies according to time and place. Like drumming is a popular art and largely used for sacred and devotional music, yet the different styles and the types used, connote different meanings. Ksing lum paid is one kind of drum which is beaten to signal the begining of the dance. Ksing Dum Dum is used for counselling young ones so on. Following are the instruments used by Garo community. These instruments are manufactured by them and are composed of different kinds of drums, bamboo and horn wind instruments, gongs and cymbols. The Gambil (Gareya arborica) tree is used for making frames of the drum.


It is a long, narrow drum, thickest in the centre and tapering away at each end. It may be of 4 to5 feet long and is made out of wood.


It is a larger drum than a Dama. It is made out of wood with both ends covered with cowhide. The Kram is larger at one end and tapers away to a much smaller size at the other. They are used only on solemn occasion such as funeral and some annual ceremonies of a religious nature, while the Damma may be used any time. The Kram may not be taken out of the owner`s house except on certain important occasions, or else it is believed by the Garos that some misfortune may befall the owner.


It is a large drum consisting of earthenware pot covered with cowhides. It is beaten only to call the people to assemble at the Nokma`s house when he calls them for feast or entertainment. The Nagra is a sacred possession and can be possessed only by the Nokmas, as such, it cannot be taken out of the house of the Nokma. The Garos believe that if somehow, the Nagra is taken out of the Nokma`s house, ill-luck is certain to visit the owners. The Nagra can be beaten only by the owners or by one of his relation, and not by any one else.

The Trumpets

There are two kinds of Garo trumpet played in accompaniment of the drums.

a) Adil- It is a small trumpet made out of the top of a buffalo`s horn to which a bamboo mouth-piece is attached. It is about six inches long.

b) Singga- It is merely the whole of the buffalo`s horn, and can produce sound only two or three times at one breath.

The flutes All Garo flutes are made of bamboos only. There is no decoration or inscription on them.

a) Otokra- It is a big bamboo flute about 3 feet long and one inch in diameter, with only two finger holes.

b) Illongma- It is a small bamboo flute with three steps only.

c) bangsi-It is much smaller flute than others with three notes.

d) Imbingi- It is another kind of flute made out of a short piece of thin bamboo, closed at one end and open at the other. The outer hard covering of the bamboo is pooled off, leaving the softer white part below. The mouth -piece is a square hole about half an inch from the top of the closed end. From the mouth-piece downwards a small slip or tongue is cut in the upper surface of the peeled bamboo, by slitting it down on both sides to a distance of about half an inch.

Gongmina or Jew`s Harps

The Jew`s harp is made out of a thin slit of bamboo about 4 inches long and half an inch wide. It is so cut that a thin tongue runs down the centre of the slip connected there with at one extremity only. One end of a short piece of string is fastened to Jew`s Harp, and to the other end, a small bamboo handle is attached. The instrument is held between the thumb and forefinger of the left hand, placed between the teeth so that they touch it lightly, and the string is given a succession of sharp tugs by means of the handle in the right hand.

Rang or Gongs

The Rangs or Gongs are brass or metal plates or basin. They are used for various purposes by the Garos. They are played as a musical instruments during the dances and festivals. They are also used as a gold reserve, because a man`s wealth and social standing are measured by the number of Rangs one possesses. A dead Nokma is laid out before the cremation on rows of these gongs. In cases of legal disputes, the guilty has to pay the fine in terms of Rangs.These gongs acquire value with age.


There are two kinds of cymbals used by the Garos. They are the following.

a) Kakwa- It is a cymbal very similar to those used in the plains by the Hindus.

b) Nenggilsi- It is a smaller cymbal than the former. It resembles two small cups of brass. These cymbals are used by hitting against each other in tune with other instrument.

Other instruments

Apart from these instruments played by the Garos there are other instruments as well. There are various kinds of drums like Kynphong, Naila and Padiah. They are normally oval although few are slightly bent from the middle to their heads shaped like a cucumber. The wood frame is hallowed from tree cutting, having been properly dried and oiled, their heads kept bare, then filled with sheets of skin. These drum in all cases are suspended from the two sides of the shoulder to the chest by a cord and a drummer plays by beating with hand upon its heads. Like drums there are different kinds of Harps such as Singdiengphong, a primiative harp which bears eight strings modelled from the soft bamboo from the soft bamboo barks or reeds. Diengphong is played as an accompaniment to the songs or a tune.


It played by beating upon its strings and joints on the border by a light bamboo or wooden chip. The other harps are the Maryngod, the sarong, the Marynthing and the Duitara. Marymgod and Sarong are similar in shape but Maryngod is an amalgamated thick wood coating where the fingers of the right hand strike and the left touching the strings changing and playing the tune.Duitara is thin where its small hollow rectangularly framed, the wooden bar holding the pegs being slightly lumpy. It has four strings. The roundback is patched with a piece of goat`s skin.

Tangmuri is common flute used at dances and processions. It has a horn spanned out like a cup and a base behind, on its upward surface are seven holes. The sharati is another flute, having some eight large holes. Its noisha is slightly bend.Tanglod is a flute having both the noisha and read affixed to it. besli is a pipe reduced from a thin bamboo cut amid the two joints, its bark being properly scrapped with six or seven holes bored into its surface and is just like the chuwiang which has eight holes.

Trumpets mainly are the Ronsing and the Turoi. Ronsing is a buffalo`s horn naturally bended, the inside is hallowed and small opening is made on its two end. Turoi is a trumpet made of solid brass more elongated bending upwards having broad rim.

There are few cymbals used in which the Kynshaw is made up of two copper flat plates( with some dots and marks engraved upon its surface).The Majra is made from brass has two curved or pointed plates. They are played by striking them together with drums and flutes at big dances.


Meghalaya is the homeland of three ancient hill communities, the Khasis, the Garos and the Jaintias. There are a number of crafts found in Meghalaya and the significant ones are cane and bamboo work, artistic weaving and wood carving. Weaving is an ancient craft of the tribals of Meghalaya - be it weaving of cane or cloth. The Khasis are famous for weaving cane mat, stools and baskets. They make a special kind of cane mat called 'Tlieng', which guarantees a good utility of around 20-30 years. The Garos weave the material used for their costumes called the 'Dakmanda'. Khasis and Jaintias also weave cloth. The Khasis have also been involved in extracting iron ore and then manufacture domestic knives, utensils and even guns and other warfare weapons using it

bamboo and Cane crafts

Cane and bamboo craft occupies an important place in the economy of the state, next only to agriculture. The artisans attend to the craft when free from agriculture. The products of bamboo and cane are mostly of two types, namely (i) articles required for day to day use and of medium quality, more suited to local requirements; and (ii) articles of finer quality, both decorative and functional, to meet the requirements and tastes of more sophisticated markets. The Khasis are known for creating attractive cane baskets and sieves. The Garos are also rich in the various forms of bamboo culture. Garo Hills are rich in bamboo and cane. Some of them include also a few species resembling Khasi bamboo and cane. There are many kinds of constructions and craft made from bamboo such as various kinds of basket and mat making. The semi-tropical climatic condition characterise the bamboo culture and influence the growth of a rich variety of bamboo. Articles such as baskets (locally known as khok or thugis) are popular. Artistic baskets known as meghum khoks are made in the Garo Hills, and are used by tribals to store valuable items including clothes. Pokerwork, in which designs are burnt into the bamboo with a red-hot pointed rod, is also done by the Garos. Khasi women in Meghalaya wear an attractive large round hat composed of a circular bamboo frame with a thick brim that is covered with cloth. The crown is worked with a pretty lattice design of cane at the edge and the top, each triangle in the pattern being tipped with a small circular blob. Mats, moorahs and Khasi umbrellas (locally known as kurup) are made in light and medium qualities. bamboo grows wild and some are specially grown. Meghalaya is rich in the varied kinds of bamboo. Some species include Ryngngai, a hard stem with thin leaves; Tyr-a, a kind of jungle cane; Siej Shrah, a hard stem with longer spans; Trylaw, prevalent in West Khasi Hills; Skong, a thin stem somewhat corky bark; Siej, a small smooth stem; Siej lieh, (a Koka Specie), Ry-ia-n, a thin bamboo with fewer leaves; Nam land, very small tender shoot; Japung similar to a raddan plant; Kdait (akra) and Sylli similar to Japung; Lana, a sort of broomstick, Siej iong used as chunga, and tube for carrying water; Shken, this has a smooth skin; Siej bri considered as an inferior bamboo; Rimet and Riphin, these are canes. Ryngngai, this is used for constructions; Try-a, this is used for making fences, barns and walls; Trylaw, this is very good for factorial use and paper making; Ry-ia-in, this is used as a string for moulding and wrapping; Kdait, this is good for making house walls; bamboo shoots or Lung siej, for making condiments, is seen on the north; Straw or u Sder and Tynriew a palm growing in the south are good for thatching housing.


Spinning and Weaving in Meghalaya is the exclusive monopoly of women. It is the traditional occupation of Garo women and is currently pursued by almost every family. The production of cotton textile items is restricted by and large restricted to dakmanda, worn from the waist to a little below the knee. The Garos also weave shirting, bedcovers, bed sheets, and tablecloths. The endi silk produced in Meghalaya is famous for its texture and durability. The important center for weaving endi silk is Sonidan, a village of about hundred bamboo huts. besides Sonidan, women in some other villages carry out endi silk weaving. Moreover, the production of jainsen (typical Meghalaya women's wear) with local mulberry silk has also been introduced. Silk weaving has generally encouraged through training of local weavers in a number of places, production on commercial lines.

Songs and Music

The Garos generally sing folk songs relating to birth, marriage, festivals, love and heroic deeds sung to the accompaniments of different types of drums and flutes. The Khasis and Jaintias are particularly fond of songs praising the nature like lakes, waterfalls, hills etc. and also expressing love for their land. They use different types of musical instruments like drums, duitara and instruments similar to guitar, flutes, pipes and cymbals.