The Legend of the ‘Forbidden Tree’
At the beginning of Creation, Mother Earth (Ramew) and her husband Basa started feeling lonely in their otherwise empty world. They prayed to God to be blessed with some children. God heard their prayer and they were blessed with five children: the Sun the eldest daughter, the Moon their only son, and three more daughters, Water, Wind and Fire. Ramew was thrilled with her children and the great changes they could bring on the world, making it fruitful and lovely. But still, she felt there was something missing, and implored God to send someone to help her tend her vast and beautiful gardens. God understood her need and called the biggest ever council ever seen in heaven to elect the future caretakers of earth. It was decided, after many days of deliberation, that seven out of the sixteen clans living in heaven should descend to earth and populate the wilderness. They were to be known as Ki Hynniewtrep – ‘The people of Seven Huts’. Their country was to be called ‘Ri Hynniewtrep – ‘The Land of the Seven Huts’. These seven clans had become the ancestors of the seven sub-tribes of the Khasi race, comprising the Khynriam, Pnar, Bhoi, War, Maram, Lyngngam and the now extinct Diko.
God made a covenant with the seven earthly clans: as long as they lived virtuous lives, and respected both the ways of man and the laws of God, they would be free to come and go as they pleased between heaven and earth. God provided them with a bridge to heaven by planting a huge oak tree on the sacred mount of Lum Sohpet Bneng – the Mount of Heaven’s Navel – as a token of the covenant.
For a while, all went well and the people of Hynniewtrep prospered happily on earth. But the people started to forget their covenant and began to live their lives according to their own inclinations. They started violating the covenant that required them to ‘know Man, know God and earn Righteousness’.
Angered by man’s disobedience, God allowed the ‘Diengiei’ to grow and cover the earth, denying the crops of man of sunlight and threatening to destroy all life on earth. Man, who had become emboldened to seek his own solutions was now ready to discard his covenant with God. All the male representatives of all seven clans were called to a dorbar, where they decided to cut down the tree. They all took up their axes and hacked all day at the tree until nightfall.
Next morning, they were all astonished to see not a trace of their previous day’s labours. The tree was perfect again. Fearing the influence of evil spirits, some of them retracted. But rest went ahead with cutting the tree again. But the same story repeated again every day morning. The tree was wholesome again when they returned to continue the cutting of the tree.
They called a second dorbar to find a solution to the problem. A small bird explained to them the problem and offered a solution too. The bird narrated that after they left to rest at night, a tiger came and licked at the wounds of the tree and healed the tree. To stop the tiger from healing the tree, the bird suggested that they wedge the axes in the trunk with the blades facing outward.
They accepted the advise of the bird and wedged their axes in the tree trunk with the blades facing outward at the end of day’s work. The blood stains proved the bird right and their previous day’s labours were preserved. The men lost no time in progressively cutting into the tree trunk and soon got it crashing down on to the ground. The branches fell on the Bengali country flattening them into plains and spreading on its surface a fertile mulch of foliage. The trunk and colossal boughs of the tree crashed down on Khasi terrain, making such indentations in the earth that the country to this day is all mountains and gorges.
Everyone was relieved, but God was sorely angered by man’s treachery and contempt for the covenant. God then severed the direct link with man, and closed forever the bridge to heaven, thereby, stranding the seven clans on earth. Their golden age thus came to an end