July in the Jaintia Hills districts of Meghalaya is a season of festival where local people find an occasion to showcase their traditional culture. The annual festival of the Pnara tribe begins on July 15 to conclude on July 20. Known as Behdienkhlam, the religious festival beckons huge number of tourists from the country and abroad. Jowai, locating at an altitude of 1220 metres from sea-level and only 64 km. away from Shillong by road, in the north eastern state wears a fresh look where the youths celebrate the festival with traditional dance and music.
The most striking event takes place on the final day where the Pnara boys and girls throng Aitnar and dance to the tune of their traditional drums and pipes. The participating boys and girls surround a wooden post at a pool they call khnongs and start dancing with all joy.
Organized by Seinraij Jowai after the sowing season, another attraction of the festival is a football-like match which they call dat la wakor to be played between two groups from two different sides of the non Christian Pnara-dominated places. The match predicts the entire harvest season. The first goal scorer would be considered to be the winner of a bumper harvest.
According to what the Pnara people believe, “Behdienkhlam” tands for driving away the plague. “Khlam” means ‘Plague.’
Those who believe in niamtre from Iongpiah, Dulong, Panaliar, Loomkyrwiang, Chilliangraij, Loomiongkjam, Tpep-pale Iawmusiang, Ummulong and Shillong Sein Raij bring a nice-decorated chariot to Aitnar where the festival is celebrated to help them overcome the destructive and to keep the diseases at bay.
They jump on the poles and sometimes break them while dancing on the huge muddy pool. The women are not allowed to participate in the dancing.