Khasi Folktale: The Cooing of the Doves

Presented here is a retelling of an ancient folktale of the Khasi people who dwell in Meghalaya in north-eastern India and parts of Assam and Bangladesh, sourced from “Folk-Tales of the Khasis,” by K. U. Rafy. It tells how long ago, unlike today, doves sang wonderful songs like many other birds. These songs expressed their happiness to be alive and the glory of the world around, until something happened to end their glorious melodies. Their joyous singing was replaced with the sad, wistful, “Cooing” sound, we are familiar with them making today.

THE COOING OF THE DOVES

The story tells how back in the old days a happy family of the first doves lived in the forest. The youngest was a daughter named was Ka Paro. Being the youngest she was much loved by her parents and siblings who were all protective of her pampering her more than they should. The family often ate together in a nearby field of grain. When it was time for food, they insisting she remain securely hidden in their family nesting tree until the signal was given that all was safe enough for her to venture forth.

Ka Paro

 One day they had left Ka Paro alone in the family nest while they flew to the field and around the area making sure there was no potential danger. While she waited, Ka Paro grew bored and flew to the top of a nearby tree which had a many succulent red berries growing in its branches. She was not interested in the berries but was looking forward to feeding in the grain field with her family. While she waited, she saw many other birds feasting upon them but did not take much notice. Instead, she spent her time preening her feathers while waiting for her family to give the signal all was clear for her to join them.  

A Handome Jungle Bird

To her surprise a very handsome jungle bird of a clan she had never seen before flew down and perched on a nearby branch and started pecking at the berries. Ka Paro had never seen a bird as stunning as this one, with such gorgeous feathers of gold and green, and he came and pecked berries on the very branch that she perched upon.

She was surprised and delighted, and greatly admiring this handsome stranger and began to sing one of her sweetest melodies to attract his attention hoping to please him.

Seeing the gentle beautiful Ka Paro, and hearing her beautiful voice, he was very quickly drawn to her and sang along with her. He introduced himself as U Jylleit, the jungle bird, and she told him she was Ka Paro the dove. The two became fast friends and met every day on the same branch in the same tree. She would sit preening her feathers and singing while, he picked at the berries singing a duet with her. Every now and then the two exchanged shy, admiring glances.

They grew to love each other and U Jylleit plucked up the courage to ask her parents for consent to their marriage. However, her parents were not warmly welcoming to the proposal not feeling too sure of how genuine U Jylleit really was. They did not want to judge him unfairly yet wanted to protect their beloved daughter from being hurt.

Marriage

Therefore, they thought carefully about what to do. Ka Paro loved U Jylleit with all her heart and begged her parents to approve the marriage. She begged, she pleaded and argued her case again and again declaring she loved him like the moon loved the stars and that she would love him forever, while he declared his own eternal love for her before her parents.

However, her parents knew more of the world than their young daughter. Maybe they were being overprotective, but they were not too certain of this handsome stranger who had flown in from nowhere to win their daughter’s heart. Furthermore, there was also the question of a marriage between two different unrelated clans, which the two lovers undeniable were, which made them feel uncomfortable. There was also another reason that caused them to doubt the strength of U Jylleit’s love for their daughter.

They knew that the red berries had attracted him to the tree where their daughter perched, and knew those berries only appeared at the present time of the year. Moreover, with all the other birds feeding on the berries the tree would eventually be gone and would not return until the following year. They also knew, like other crops, the berries appeared at various times in different places and birds and animals moved from one place to another to feed on them.

A Test

For these reasons they were reluctant to risk their daughter’s happiness. Nevertheless,  rather than issues a flat refusal they wisely decided to put U Jylleit to a test

Ka Paro’s parents told the two lovers they would only allow the marriage after all the berries were gone. They wanted to see if U Jylleit, for the love of their daughter, be content with the meagre diet of the doves, which he could have survived on. The two lovers readily agreed. U Jylleit swore he would stay with Ka Paro through thick and thin and never leave her. For her part, Ka Paro had absolute confidence her lover would stay and share the same plain and meagre food as her. She simply did not believe he would fly away to another place where the berries could be found in abundance.

And so, the two lovers continued to meet in the tree and while Ka Paro sang and preened U Jylleit sang and ate red berries which became fewer and fewer. One day Ka Paro flew to the tree to meet her lover and began singing and preening expecting her to join her. He did not arrive as he usually did so she continued and preening and singing but still he did not arrive. Looking around, for him she was shocked to see all the berries had gone and realised the truth.

Hearbreak

U Jylleit, without even saying goodbye, had  taken wing to find another berry tree and she never saw him again. Her heart broken; Ka Paro never sang another note. The only sound she would utter from that moment on was a melancholy “cooing” which is the same we hear from doves all around the world today.

© 28/04/2022 zteve t evans


REFERENCES, ATTRIBUTIONS AND FURTHER READING

Copyright April 28, 2022 zteve t evans


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Khasi Folktales: The Origin of Thunder and Lightning

The Khasi People

The Khasi people live in the north-eastern Indian state of Meghalaya with populations in the neighboring state of Assam and some regions of Bangladesh. They evolved their own unique mythology and folklore and created many wonderful folktales that attempt to explain different aspects of the natural world.  There are all sorts of stories featuring monkeys, tigers, lynxes and other wild animals.  The domestication of some animals is also dealt with telling how dogs, cats, goats and oxen came to live among humans and give explanations of cosmic creation and natural phenomena. The Khasi divinities, such as the twin goddesses Ka Ngot and Ka Iam, who gave their names to the rivers Ngot and Lam respectively, are found along with other divine beings.  All this and more can be found in Folktales of the Khasis by Mrs. K. U. Rafy (1920) and presented here is a retelling of the story What Makes the Lightning?

What Makes the Lightning?

The story begins in the young days of the world when animals socialized with people. They spoke their language and tried to copy human customs and manners.  Every thirteen moons the people held a great festival where there were many sports and events.  People competed against each other and demonstrated their abilities in many different activities and one of the most popular was the sword dance.  All the people from the hills and the forest would come and take part and it was a gay and happy time.   The animals loved this event and would watch the people competing, dancing and having fun and the younger beasts began to ask the elders for a festival of their own.  After considerable thought the elders agreed and said that the animals should appoint a day when their own festival should be held.

U Pyrthat’s Drum

With great enthusiasm the animals learnt all the skills and rules for the competitions and all the moves and steps for the dances.  When they were ready they set a date for the festival to begin, but no one knew how to let everyone know the event was taking place. Someone suggested that perhaps U Pyrthat, the thunder giant, would beat his drum to tell everyone the event was beginning.   U Pyrthat  agreed and began to beat his drum summoning all the animals to their great festival.  His drum could be heard in the farthest of hills and the most remote places of the forest and the animals flocked towards the sound excitedly and a soon a great multitude gathered around U Pyrthat and his drum.

The animals had gone to great trouble to prepare  grooming and preening themselves to look their very best.  Each one carried either a musical instrument or a weapon relevant to how they intended to participate in the festival events.  There was much merriment when the squirrel marched in banging on a small drum followed by a small bird called the Shakyllia playing a flute, who was followed by a porcupine clashing cymbals together. It was a very happy day and all the animals were jolly and laughing, sharing a jokes and having fun.  The mole looked up and saw the owl trying to dance but because her eyes were not used to daylight she kept bumping into objects.  The mole laughed so much his own eyes became narrowed and his vision unclear and that is how we find him today.

The Sword Dance of U Kui, the Lynx

When the fun and merriment reached its height U Kui, the lynx appeared carrying a most splendid silver sword which he had lavished a lot of money on.  He had bought it just for the festival because he wanted to show off his skills in the sword dance.  Calling everyone to attention he began his dance leaping and stepping with energy, grace and precision.  Everyone cheered and admired his elegance of movement and technique but his success went to his head and he began to see himself as better than the others.

U Pyrthat’s Sword Dance

U Pyrthat, the thunder giant, saw the performance of the lynx and was full of admiration for his dancing skills and was very impressed with the silver sword.  He had not brought a sword himself as he had brought the drum he used to summon everyone. Thinking that he should like to try a dance or two wielding such a fine sword he asked the lynx if he could borrow it as a favor. U Kui was reluctant to allow the thunder giant to borrow his silver sword not only because it was so fine and expensive but because he did not like the idea that he might be upstaged.   The crowd seeing his reluctance began to shout,

 “Shame! shame! shame!”  

and booed and hissed thinking that it was rude and ungracious of him to refuse being as the thunder giant had beat his drum to summon them all.  In the end the lynx was shamed into lending the the giant his sword and reluctantly the handed it to him.

Taking hold of the magnificent silver sword the thunder giant prepared himself to dance.  When he was ready he suddenly burst into life leaping high and whirling the flashing blade in circles all around him.  He danced so furiously and leapt high and the flashing blade dazzled everyone.  As he danced he beat on his drum so hard the earth shook and the animals fled in terror.

Thunder and Lightning

U Pyrthat was inspired by the silver sword and danced faster and faster, leaping higher and higher.  Carried away by his dancing and the wonderful blade he leaped right into the sky with the silver sword flashing all around him while he beat on his drum, the sound rumbling and crashing down to earth.  At times, the noise of the drum and the flashing of the sword are still heard and seen by people all around the world.  They called it thunder and lightning, but the Khasis people know that it is the drum of U Pyrthat, the thunder giant and the stolen sword of U Kui, the lynx, that the people hear and see.

U Kui’s Heartbreak

U Kui was heartbroken at the loss of his fine silver sword.  Folks say that afterwards he made his home near a great hill and would sit and look at the sky when U Pyrthat danced.  He kept piling stones upon the hill hoping one day to make it high enough to reach the sky where he hoped to to  reclaim his sword from the dancing thunder giant.

© 13/03/2019 zteve t evans

References, Attributions and Further Reading

Copyright March 13th, 2019 zteve t evans