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Broom - The customary practice

September 21, 2017

Blog Stories - People Called Shillong

 

It is said that most Khasi practices have their origins in their folktales and legends. Numerous social customs which are still highly regarded and practiced in Khasi society have their roots in the tales and legends passed down from one generation to another and their place in modern Khasi society are still tremendous.

A visit to a Khasi’s house and one would rarely find the sight of a broom lying around in the room. It is a common phenomenon while not outrightly rejecting that a handful of cases could contend this notion. Still, when considering the symbolic representation associated with the broom, one could find that for a Khasi, the broom implies more than just an object used in dusting activities. 

When someone does enquire into this practice, it will be found that it is from a particular legend about a man who falls in love with a river nymph that this household practice which is very much adhered by the Khasis, came into being. Perhaps, many Khasi households are not even aware now that such a practice has its roots in a folktale. Fewer still might have the habit of doing so without actually knowing the real reason behind their action. The broom is automatically kept aside after it is used consciously away from the view of a visitor.

 

In Shillong too, this practice is very much alive within indigenous communities and households. Moving back to the legend, we shall find that it was said that the river Nymph who was also in love with the man was taken to his home to meet his mother. His home was prepared and cleaned by his mother to welcome her future daughter-in-law but being forgetful, forgot to hide the broom from the guest's sight(the broom being a symbol of filth and muck) offended the Nymph and made her leave the house offended.

This legend, truly finds expression even today as it continues to be a part of most Khasi households and its existence is no longer a fantastic tale of the past alone. Early mornings, houses would be dusted and cleaned, and the broom would then be kept somewhere out of the sight of the guests lest it offends them too if they happen to see a broom which is a sign of great disregard.

A guest, whether human or a nymph, is considered a divine creature which comes from the same source of being if one should account the Khasi tales of man’s genesis on earth. Humans too are considered divine for they did once lived in another realm before setting foot on earth as accounted the various versions of folklores on the genesis of the Khasis on earth.

The Khasis composed of 16 families were split when 7 finally stayed down on earth which then forms the basis of the seven clans that make up the entire Khasi commune as we know today. In that connection, the practice of hiding the broom after the house is dusted finds an association in lore and practice.

 

This practice, however, is still very much animate and existing even today. It is amazing to see how hundreds of year’s long tradition could still be seen alive and living in a twenty first century modern society. There is always an inclination to shift towards something new- that is what the history of the world often tells us. Here, however, we see instead a living memory still being a part of everyday life.

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The People Place Project is an initiative to chronicle the life and times we live in. Through a lens of people and places, we hope to pin together the narrative of how we have come to be here - our language, our thoughts, our attire, our structures - everything that defines us. The Project will travel through cities of the world to unravel fresh individual narratives that add to the whole. Started in 2014 under the title People Called Mumbai, the project now aims to travel across the prime cities of India and the globe. 

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