You would love to cruise through the region around Raliang in Meghalaya's Jaintia Hills District. This is the beautiful 'Lakadong Country' that courses through gently rolling hills, verdant forests, and fields that boast of a variety of crops including the one-of-its-kind Lakadong, the world's best turmeric.
As you travel due west from there on the opposite bank of the Myntang River, you will reach the historic and picturesque township of Nartiang where you will find a garden of monoliths and an ancient Hindu temple.
This story revolves around Nartiang's famous hero, U Mar Phalyngki, who unknowingly brought the market goddess of Raliang and got the market established there.
Nartiang is now a small township 65 km east of Meghalaya's capital city, Shillong, but historically it used to be the summer capital of the Sutnga Kings of Jaintiapur. It was also home to U Mar Phalyngki, the giant of the Phalyngki clan and a trusted lieutenant of the then Jaintia king.
What’s unique about Nartiang is that it is the only place where a unique collection of hundreds of monoliths of all sizes is found. These stones were erected between 1500 and 1835 CE by U Mar Phalyngki, U Luh Lyngskor Lamare and, subsequently, many other later Jaintia clansmen.
Monoliths of Meghalaya come in two types: the “moochynrang”, or male, monoliths or menhirs which always stand erect, and the “mookynthai'' or female dolmens that always lie flat on the ground.
The Day U Mar Phalyngki Brought The Market Goddess to Nartiang
Coming back to the story, late one summer morning on the Mawlong day of the week which was Raliang’s market day, U Mar Phalyngki asked his wife, Ka Synshar, to hasten with the list of things to buy.
On this particular Mawlong, he had to apply medicine on the hoofs of his injured oxen. The sun was already high above the horizon and he hadn’t eaten as well. Ka Synshar asked their daughter, Ka Long, to hurry up and place rice and curry on the nickel plate for her father to eat before he left.
After his food, U Mar Phalyngki came out and sat in the verandah, chewing a serving of shikyntien kwai (areca nut, betel leaf, and lime) and smoking on a hookah. Presently, Ka Synshar came out with the list: dried pork, dried fish, and rice cakes, among other things. She also gave him forty cowries and a rupee coin to exchange for the cowries. In those days people used cowries for small change.
“What about salt?”, asked U Mar Phalyngki. He shouldn’t leave the salt out. It was the one essential ingredient not only for humans but for the oxen too. Farmers dissolve the salt in water and sprinkle the mixture on the pastures to make the grass tastier and more palatable for the animals, inducing them to graze the grass from the roots and eat their fill in a very short time.
Ka Synshar said they had enough salt left in the house from the last sowing season. U Mar Phalyngki then set out on his long journey with a rucksack on his back. Looking at the sky he saw rain clouds gathering. It’s going to rain soon, he thought to himself, hurrying faster, overtaking everyone on the way. At the same time, he lamented that he didn’t think of taking a ‘knup’ along to keep rainwater off his head and back.
Raliang Market, at Last!
Just as he entered the market he espied the betel-nut seller. “Oho!”, he muttered, “must get these first.” He bought the week’s stock of areca nut and betel leaf. Next, he bought his favourite tobacco for himself together with the “langning” (potentilla fulgens) that people chew along with their kwai. Langning is believed to have medicinal properties that keep the mouth and teeth healthy.
As he paid for the langning he saw a heap of “mawjem” in the next stall. His wife will want these, he thought and bought a “khri” (a small basket measure) of them. Mawjem is soft limestone, rich in calcium that pregnant women of those days nibble to supplement their bodies’ calcium needs.
By now the forty cowries his wife gave him had exhausted. There’s still dried fish and meat to buy. So after exchanging his rupee for cowries with the money-changer, U Mar Phalyngki went over to Ka Sah, the dry-fish seller, who enticed him with her best “ktung lai”.
Then his old friend, the meat seller from Mawkaiew offered him a good bargain because he wanted to finish off his stock before the rains started falling. Dark clouds would burst into a steady downpour any moment now but there were still rice cakes to buy. He rushed to Ka Sbuh’s stall for the flavourful cakes. Drops of rain had now started falling. “Could you lend me a knup, please?”, he asked the shopkeeper.
“I’m sorry, I can’t help you”, she replied, “I also need it, having to go all the way to Shangpung, six miles away.”
Well, he’ll go to Ka Ron’s house, he thought, she should be able to spare one for him. She was Raliang’s wealthiest woman and also held the contract for collecting market tax for the King.
No Knup for U Mar Phalyngki
Upon hearing his request Ka Ron made up a woeful face. “Oh my God!” she said, “how I wish I can help you but you see all my children, grandchildren, and workers need them every day. It’s the weeding season in the paddy fields and we have to graze the cattle every day. I’m sorry I can’t spare even a single knup. Besides, you said you’ll return it on the next market day, that’s eight days away! If I leave my paddy fields now weeding, my crops might get spoilt!”
Poor Mar Phalyngki didn’t expect to be turned away empty-handed in this way. As he left Ka Ron’s house he saw in the corner of the storeroom a stack of knups, enough for two times the number of people in her household. And yet this woman would not lend him one! How heartless this woman was, he thought and burned with anger inside.
Still, he could try one more house. This time it was a poor woman, Ka Riang, that he approached. She too pleaded helplessness. The only knup she had was full of holes and urgently in need of repair. It was pouring now and U Mar Phalyngki was at his wits’ end.
Until now he didn’t realise how heartless the people of Raliang were. They could have easily helped but didn’t. Overcome with rage, he retraced his steps to the place where a huge slab of stone laid in the market. Yanking it off its perch of four standing stones, he raised it over to cover his head and shoulders and started on his long journey back home.
It didn’t long for U Mar Phalyngki to reach Umtisong lake on the outskirts of Nartiang. By now the rain had stopped and he had no more use of the stone. So he threw it by the lake’s northern edge and carried on his way home.
Strange Commotion By The Lakeside
Soon after that episode, on a certain Mawlong day, two women, Ka Ron Sumer and Ka Song Myria were out to collect firewood on the Thad - the bull-fighting field. When it was noon they took a break, and sat on a rock, chewing on their ‘kwai’ - areca-nut with betel leaf and lime.
That was when they suddenly heard a huge commotion that sounded as if a large number of people were shouting, crying, and quarrelling. The two women looked around but saw nothing. Yet the noise continued and they were very much scared.
They spotted a couple of cowherds nearby and beckoned to them. The boys too said they’ve heard the strange noise on the previous Mawlong days but saw nothing. The women and boys decided to cross over the marshy strips of land towards the source of the noise on the northern side of Umtisong lake. But to their surprise, when they reached there, the noise stopped and they saw nothing at all, only the thick undergrowth of the jungle. The place must be haunted, they reasoned, and became even more frightened.
Frightened as they were, Ka Ron and Ka Song decided, along with the boys, to return on the next Mawlong to find out if the noise could still be heard. All four came and once again heard the strange noise. But when they went towards the direction of the sound, the noise suddenly stopped and nothing could be seen or heard except the swaying of the trees and the whistling of the wind. It must be some kind of curse coming upon the village, they thought, and decided to tell the elders.
And so word spread to an elder who then passed it onto the Daloi, the administrator, of Nartiang territory, who Daloi instructed his Basan (the councillor) to inform either of his deputies, the Pators, about the incident and find out if what was reported was true. The Basan informed the Pator of Nongkhyllep and on the next Mawlong, they went to the “Thad” and then over the marshes to the northern side of Umtisong lake.
They too heard the strange noise but could see nothing. The Daloi now decided to hold a durbar (an assembly) on which all important personages of the township must be present, including U Mar Phalyngki and U Luh Blei, the diviner.
The Cause Behind The Strange Noise
It wasn’t long before the meeting went underway. The Daloi went through the proceedings detailing the events that took place and asking all concerned to confirm the occurrences so that there was no ambiguity in their narration.
Satisfied that they all spoke with one accord the Daloi then asked U Luh Blei to find out the cause of such a strange noise so that they can figure out a way to avert any danger that might come to the town and the territory.
A Luh Blei is an important figure in the community. He is endowed with special divining powers. Luh means to woo and Blei means God, so Luh Blei means to woo God or to communicate with him in a way no ordinary mortal can. When U Luh Blei speaks, it is not him who does so but God speaks through him.
Now, upon the Daloi’s command, U Luh Blei brought out his ‘shanam’, a small nickel vessel with a chained lid where lime for kwai is kept. A swinging shanam also serves the purpose of divining. U Luh Blei closed his eyes and began chanting the mantras as he swung the shanam to and fro.
Midway through the chants U Luh Blei suddenly exclaimed, “My Lord Daloi, we are undone! U Mar Phalyngki has committed a blunder. He has brought the Market Goddess of Raliang to Nartiang and now she resides where he is keeping her!”
The Daloi was as astonished as everyone else at the revelation. U Luh Blei explained that that was the reason behind the strange noises: the Goddess has established the market at Nartiang on every Mawlong as used to be held at Raliang. The noises that people heard were those of the fairies that attended the market. Fairies are pure spirits that mortal eyes cannot see except when they sometimes chose to appear in human form.
Now, this has become a matter of concern for the Daloi. There might be a conflict with the Daloi of Raliang as well, who might not be too happy with U Mar Phalyngki stealing away their goddess!
An Indignant Mar Phalyngki
U Mar Phalyngki was, of course, not very happy at the accusation. How could he, a mere mortal, steal a goddess, he asked? Then U Luh Blei explained: he brought a stone that was the seat of the goddess. When her seat was taken away, she followed it wherever it went!
This was the enlightenment he received from God, he said, and they have to establish a market at Nartiang. The goddess did not leave Raliang without a reason. That was why she chose U Mar Phalyngki to carry her seat that rainy day. He then, unknowingly, brought the goddess to the new abode.
It transpired that some of Raliang’s people had turned hard-hearted and insensitive to other people’s sufferings and needs. At last, by refusing to lend a knup to U Mar Phalyngki that rainy day even though they could, they displeased the goddess so much that she decided to shift her abode permanently and finally to Nartiang.
The Pator of Nongkhyllep also agreed that U Mar Phalyngki could not have brought the goddess of his own accord. It was not man’s doing but God’s. And as revealed to U Luh Blei, a market must now stand at Nartiang.
But the issue was sensitive because the Raliang people would not take too kindly to it and so the King’s consent must be obtained. After all, he was King over all the twelve Dalois of the Jaintia Kingdom and none would dare affront him.
The King’s Orders
When the King returned from Jaintiapur to Nartiang the Daloi lost no time apprising him of the events that had taken place.
The King summoned the Daloi of Raliang to his palace to know from him the facts related to the refusal of Ka Ron to lend a knup to U mar Phalyngki. He also ordered a durbar to be held in the winter of that year to decide on the establishment of the market at Nartiang.
The Daloi of Raliang was far from happy at the turn of events. Although the King left it to them to keep their weekly market on Mawlong day, they had forever lost the benign presence of their goddess, all because of the lack of sympathy on the part of Ka Ron who also happened to be his close relative.
So upon returning to his town he convened a dorbar and put Ka Ron on trial. He stripped her of all the lucrative market contracts she held and ostracized her from society.
400 years on, U Mar Phalyngki’s name remains on record today as that of the man responsible for bringing the market goddess to Nartiang from Raliang and creating a market when none existed before.
Thus he brought prosperity to Nartiang territory, as well as to the surrounding territories. Farmers, traders, and craftsmen now had a place to sell their wares, and buyers needed no longer travel far off to get their household needs.
He also brought in an artistic touch to a market by helping to create the monolith garden that exists till today, making it a place worth visiting and enjoying.