The Khasi people - indigenous to the northeastern state of Meghalaya in India, a matrilineal society with rich mythological beliefs and rituals. This essay provides an overview and introduction to their beliefs, focusing on deities, mythology, rituals, and unique cultural aspects.

Khasi women and standing-stones, near Laitlyngkot, Meghalaya, India
Khasi women and standing-stones, near Laitlyngkot, Meghalaya, India

Beliefs and Mythology

Central to Khasi mythology is the belief in a supreme creator, U Blei Nongthaw, who is considered the ultimate god responsible for creation and the universe's order. This deity's characteristics embody omnipotence and omniscience, transcending human qualities and remaining distant from everyday affairs of the Khasi people. Instead, daily spiritual interactions are directed towards lesser deities, spirits, and ancestors who act as intermediaries between humans and U Blei Nongthaw.


The Khasi pantheon encompasses several deities, each with distinct personalities, domains, and stories. Among these, Ka Blei Synshar, the goddess of wealth, and U Ryngkew U Basa, the god of the hearth, are particularly venerated for their roles in providing for and protecting the household. Another important figure is Lei Shyllong, the deity of Shillong peak, who is believed to protect the Khasi land and its people from disasters. The Khasi pantheon includes numerous other deities, each associated with specific aspects of life and nature. For example, Ka Blei Tynrai, considered the primordial goddess, is often associated with creation and the protection of the Khasi people. There are also deities associated with natural elements and phenomena, such as U Lum Sohpetbneng, the navel of heaven, which symbolizes the spiritual connection between heaven and earth, and is a central figure in the Khasi creation myth.

Ka Blei Synshar, revered as the goddess of wealth and prosperity, occupies a significant place in Khasi belief. She is invoked for blessings of abundance and success in endeavors, especially those related to agriculture and commerce. The veneration of Ka Blei Synshar reflects the community's agrarian roots and the importance of economic well-being. Rituals dedicated to her often involve offerings of food and drink, symbolizing the community's hopes for bountiful harvests and prosperity. Her worship underscores the Khasi people's respect for the forces that govern nature's bounty and their acknowledgment of the divine in everyday prosperity.

U Ryngkew U Basa is the guardian deity of the hearth, representing home, family, and community welfare. This deity is central to the domestic sphere, embodying the warmth, safety, and unity of the family unit. Offerings are made to U Ryngkew U Basa to ensure the protection of the household from misfortune and to maintain harmony within the home. The hearth, being the center of the Khasi home, is not just a physical space for cooking but a sacred spot where the family gathers, making U Ryngkew U Basa an integral part of daily family life and rituals.

Lei Shyllong, from whom the capital city of Meghalaya, Shillong, derives its name, is a powerful protective deity associated with Shillong Peak. This deity is believed to safeguard the land and its people from disasters and external threats. Lei Shyllong's abode, the Shillong Peak, is considered sacred, and rituals are performed to honor the deity, seeking his blessings for protection and prosperity. The reverence for Lei Shyllong reflects the Khasi people's deep connection with their geographical surroundings and the belief in the sanctity of natural landmarks.

Ancestral Worship

Ancestral worship plays a crucial role in Khasi religion, with ancestors revered and remembered through rituals and ceremonies. The Khasi believe that their ancestors' spirits guide and protect the living, influencing their fortune and well-being. Rituals involving offerings and prayers are regularly performed to honor these spirits, ensuring harmony between the living and the dead.

Principles of Ancestor Worship

The Khasis believe that their ancestors' spirits remain active and interested in the welfare of their descendants. These spirits are thought to reside in a parallel spiritual realm and can influence the material world, offering protection, guidance, and blessings to their living relatives. The well-being of a family is often attributed to the benevolence of its ancestors, and misfortune is sometimes seen as a result of ancestral displeasure.

Ritual Practices

Ancestor worship among the Khasi involves several ritual practices aimed at honoring and appeasing the spirits of the ancestors. These include:

  • Offerings and Sacrifices: Families make offerings of food, drink (especially rice beer), and betel nut to their ancestors. These offerings are made on special altars within the home or at family shrines. In some cases, animal sacrifices may be performed during significant ceremonies or to mark important family milestones.
  • Ritual Feasts: Communal feasts are a common aspect of ancestor worship, where family members gather to share a meal in honor of their ancestors. These gatherings reinforce family bonds and ensure the ancestors' continued favor and protection.
  • Memorial Stones: The erection of memorial stones or monoliths in honor of the deceased is a prevalent practice. These stones serve as physical markers of the ancestors' presence and contributions to the community, acting as focal points for rituals and ceremonies.
  • Annual Ceremonies: Specific annual ceremonies are dedicated to ancestor worship, such as the Shad Suk Mynsiem dance festival. These events provide opportunities for communal reflection, remembrance, and celebration of ancestral heritage.

Social and Spiritual Significance

Ancestor worship strengthens the Khasi matrilineal system, emphasizing the role of women as the keepers of family heritage and tradition. Since lineage and inheritance are traced through the female line, female ancestors hold a particularly revered status within the family's spiritual pantheon. This practice reinforces social cohesion and continuity, linking individuals to their clan's broader history and identity.

The spiritual relationship with ancestors also underpins the Khasi ethical system, with the living striving to lead lives that honor their forebears. The desire to maintain the ancestral spirits' favor encourages adherence to community norms and values, acting as a moral compass for the individual and the community.

Integration with Modernity

Despite the pressures of modernization and the influence of global religions, ancestor worship remains a vibrant part of Khasi spirituality. It adapts and evolves, reflecting the community's ability to maintain its cultural identity while navigating the challenges of the contemporary world. Ancestor worship in Khasi belief exemplifies the community's resilience, the depth of its spiritual traditions, and its profound connection to heritage and the natural world.


Khasi rituals are deeply embedded in their daily life and agricultural cycles. One of the most significant rituals is the Ka Pom-Blang Nongkrem, a thanksgiving dance festival. This five-day festival is celebrated for good harvests, peace, and prosperity. It involves intricate rituals, offerings to deities and ancestors, and traditional dances by both men and women, showcasing the community's unity and cultural vibrancy.

Shad Suk Mynsiem (Dance of Peaceful Hearts)

Shad Suk Mynsiem is one of the most important annual festivals celebrated by the Khasi people, usually held in April. It is a three-day festival that celebrates the spring season, marking the beginning of the sowing period. Men and women participate in traditional dances, wearing elaborate costumes that symbolize the rich cultural heritage of the Khasi tribe. The dance is performed to the accompaniment of traditional music, and offerings of food and drink are made to the ancestors and deities, seeking their blessings for a good harvest and peace. The festival is a vibrant display of gratitude and joy, embodying the community's harmony with nature and their cultural values.


Behdienkhlam is one of the most significant festivals for the Pnar (Jaintia) Khasis, celebrated after the sowing period in July. It is primarily associated with seeking divine blessings for a bountiful harvest and the community's protection from plagues and diseases. The festival features ceremonial tree trunks being carried to a central place, symbolizing driving away the demon of cholera. Young men participate in a symbolic football game using a wooden ball, believed to appease the spirits and gods. Behdienkhlam culminates in the immersion of the Khnong (sacred logs) in the local river or pond, signifying the washing away of evil spirits and diseases.

Ka Shad Shyngwiang Thangiap

Ka Shad Shyngwiang Thangiap is a funeral dance ritual, showcasing the Khasis' profound respect for the dead and their belief in life after death. This ritual is performed to honor the deceased, ensuring their safe passage to the afterlife and expressing the community's collective grief and remembrance. The dance is a poignant part of the funeral ceremonies, reflecting the deep spiritual and emotional bonds within the community and their reverence for the continuity between life and death.

Ka Bam Khana Shnong

Ka Bam Khana Shnong is a community feast ritual that emphasizes social cohesion and unity. This ritual involves the sharing of a communal meal among village members, signifying the strength of community bonds and collective identity. It is an expression of gratitude for the village's well-being and prosperity, often associated with specific agricultural milestones or festivals.

Rituals of Passage

The Khasi people also observe various rites of passage that mark significant life events, such as birth, coming of age, marriage, and death. These rituals involve specific ceremonies, offerings, and traditional practices that guide the individual through life's transitions, integrating them into the community and the ancestral lineage. For instance, naming ceremonies for newborns involve offerings to ancestors, seeking their blessings for the child's health and future. Similarly, marriage rituals emphasize the joining of two families and the importance of maintaining lineage and heritage.

Unique Beliefs

One of the most distinctive aspects of Khasi belief is their matrilineal system, which significantly influences their societal structure and religious practices. Inheritance, lineage, and family names are passed down through the female line. This matrilineal system is mirrored in their religious practices, where women play a central role in rituals and ceremonies, acting as custodians of family traditions and religious practices.

Sacred Forests

The Khasi people also harbor a profound reverence for nature, manifested in their concept of sacred forests. These are patches of ancient forest that have been preserved for centuries, untouched due to religious and cultural beliefs. The Khasis believe these forests are the abode of spirits and deities, serving as a vital link between the human and spiritual worlds. Entering these forests is subject to strict traditional norms, and they serve as significant biodiversity reservoirs, illustrating the community's sustainable environmental practices.

Mythological Creatures

Khasi mythology is rich with tales of mystical creatures and heroes. Among them, U Thlen, a shape-shifting serpent that embodies evil and greed, stands out. Legends of U Thlen highlight moral tales that caution against greed and the destruction of communal harmony. Heroes in Khasi mythology often embody virtues such as bravery, wisdom, and integrity, serving as moral exemplars for the community.

Mawbynna is a legendary creature believed to inhabit deep pools and rivers in Khasi mythology. It is described as a gigantic fish or eel-like creature that can capture and devour humans. Mawbynna stories often serve as cautionary tales about the dangers of the natural world and the respect that must be accorded to the habitats of such creatures. These tales underscore the Khasi's reverence for nature and the belief in the coexistence of the human and the supernatural realms.

Ka Iawbei Tynrai, often translated as the "Grandmother of the Origin," is a mythical figure rather than a creature, revered as the progenitor of humanity. She is considered the ultimate ancestor and is venerated in many Khasi stories and rituals. Ka Iawbei Tynrai embodies the maternal aspect of creation and is often invoked in prayers and ceremonies related to fertility, agriculture, and family well-being.

U Sier Lapalang is a mythical bird that is often mentioned in Khasi folklore. It is said to possess extraordinary beauty and a mesmerizing song that can enchant anyone who hears it. The bird is symbolic of longing, unattainable desires, and the fleeting nature of life's pleasures. Stories involving U Sier Lapalang often teach lessons about the dangers of succumbing to temptation and the importance of focusing on more spiritual and enduring values.

The Khasi also believe in various spirits and banshees, entities that inhabit forests, mountains, and remote areas. These spirits are respected and sometimes feared, as they are thought to possess the power to influence the natural world and the lives of humans. They are often invoked in rituals and offerings to ensure protection, fertility, and prosperity. The presence of these spirits in Khasi mythology highlights the community's belief in a world where every element of nature is imbued with spirit and significance.

Legend of Nohkalikai

Ka Likai is the central figure of a tragic tale that has become legendary among the Khasi people. The story of Ka Likai involves themes of betrayal, sorrow, and supernatural intervention, reflecting on human emotions and moral lessons. The tale is set in Sohra (Cherrapunji) and tells of a woman named Ka Likai, who, unbeknownst to her, was tricked into eating her own daughter's flesh by her jealous second husband. Upon realizing the truth, she fell into a state of inconsolable grief and madness, eventually throwing herself off a cliff. This cliff is now known as the "NohKaLikai Falls," named after her. The story is a poignant reminder of the depths of human emotion and the consequences of jealousy and betrayal. Nohkalikai Falls Wikipedia


The Khasi people's beliefs, mythology, and rituals offer a window into a culture that intricately links spirituality with daily life, nature, and community. Their deities, ancestral worship, and unique rituals underscore a harmonious existence between humans and the supernatural, guided by respect for nature, lineage, and communal well-being. Through the lens of Khasi mythology and religious practices, one can appreciate the depth and richness of India's cultural diversity, reflecting themes of sustainability, matrilineal societal structure, and reverence for the natural world.

Khasi People Wikipedia page