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Chugan & the Atong, An abode of culture

Posted in Notebook

Meghalaya – known popularly as the ‘abode of clouds’ can also be aptly called the ‘abode of culture’. There are the three major tribe residing in this State; the Garos’, Khasis’ and Jaintias’, amidst the minor tribe – the Rabha, Hajong, Koch-Kacharis, Boros’ etc.

The Garos’ know for its cultural diversity is very unique for those studying their culture. The Garo custom is based on Mahari system – the clan. Each and every clan is called by a chatchi - Ambeng, Chambugong, Rongmuthu, Rongrok, Bolwari etc. 

Though most of the cultural believes and traditions are same, still they prefer to call themselves a separate identity. However, all are bound together and prefer to call themselves as ‘A ·chik’.

Again, the Garo Hills belt is divided among some cultural diffusion – its sub dialect. Those residing in the western belt call themselves as Ambeng and those on the southern belt as Atongs, with several others like the Awe, Gara-ganching, Matchidual, Megam, Ruga, Chibok, Matabeng, Dual, Chisak, etc.

In this write up we will go in-depth to study one of the cultural aspects of the Atong speaking dialect of the Garos’ residing in the Southern belt of Garo Hills. The most important event in their cultural life is the Chugan, a ritual performed to send the deceased sprit to the land of death –Balpakram.

Balpakram is now a National Park of the Indian Union located in South Garo Hills. The park is home to varied species of flora and fauna. The Garo’s have a legendary belief that the soul of the deceased dwells at Balpakram.   

Chugan a post funeral ceremony last for three days continuously held usually in the month of October after harvesting on three specific days - Wednesday, Thursday and Friday.

Atongs called it Chugan Manga. They also have a legendary believe of re-incarnation after death. They believe that if this ritual is not performed the deceased will reborn as beast animal not as humans again.

This ritual, which remains incomplete without rice beer – “Chu”, symbolizes moment of grief and enjoyment. They say that during this ceremony the sprit of the dead comes to take the deceased sprit (the one whose Chugan is being performed) along with them and they engage themselves in enjoying Chu and food (usually rice served with Gourd). This sequence of ritual is called Mitina, next to Dama Dochi go’a – eggs are burst on a drum that marks the beginning of Chugan.

Young and old participating in the ritual, dances whole night as they enjoy food and drinks marked with slaughtering of cows. Some other rituals follow these.

Grengdikpua – is an important ritual, wherein a wooden structure of the deceased is made. This is shown towards the Sun. This is a testimony of the deceased sprit shown to the Sun God “Salgra”, that you (Sun) have called him.

This wooden structure is than taken across the villages along with a cow. This ritual is called Matchu Nokjapang, followed by a ritual called “Grengdik gopa” – the wooden structure is buried at the deceased house. All the sequence of the rituals marks slaughtering of cows.

The last three rituals are Chari Ro’gata, Songpron’ja and Grog’wa. These sequence marks that the sprits (who have come to take part in the Chugan ceremony) should not take the rice from them (the Atongs’) as they take the present sprit of the deceased to the land of the death, as all participate dancing with the sprits enjoying rice beer and food.

The Delang (ceremonial structure of the deceased, shown in picture) is burnt subsequently.  This marks the end of the ceremony.

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