Little Known Stories Of Khasi And Jaintia Traditional Attires

When you hear the word silk shawl what comes to your mind?

  • Warm
  • Cosy
  • Used by women

What if we told you that Khasi men of Meghalaya too use hand woven silk shawls made of Eri silk on special occasions?  

Eri silk shawl is worn by Khasi men during weddings and funeral ceremonies as a mark of respect and as a symbol of solemnity. The difference is they drape it around their neck and not wrap the silk shawl around their shoulders.

Khasi men with traditional headgear and Eri silk shawls at a wedding ceremony. More about this picture later in this story.

We are taking this opportunity to tell you more about some of the outerwear, accessories including an item of tribal jewelry used by the Khasi and Jaintia tribes of Meghalaya. This will be a picture story.

Does Every Khasi Man Own An Eri Silk Shawl?

Yes, every Khasi man who follows the indigenous Khasi religion owns at least one hand woven silk shawl made of Eri silk.  The preferred color is white, the undyed natural color of Eri silk. Also, In Meghalaya, we have a custom where we welcome guests or visitors with an Eri silk shawl. It is draped around their neck.

Imagine giving a hand woven silk shawl as a gesture of welcome!

Does Every Khasi Woman Own An Eri Silk Shawl?

Not all, though many do.

‘Thoh rew stem’ is a traditional Eri silk shawl or a wrap around with a checked pattern.

Here is one such.

the famous checked pattern

used as a shawl and wraparound

All the Jaintia women own a Khyrwang and Thohsaru, which are the wrap around skirts worn during festive seasons. These are made of Eri silk.

Here is a picture of the Jaintia Khyrwang and Thohsaru. 



Are you ready for the next ‘show and tell’? See this image – taken during the famous Nongkrem festival in 2019.

Khasi men at the Nongkrem festival in 2019

Notice the blue striped shawl on the gentleman on the left and the white one on the person next to him. Both are Eri silk shawls.  

There are more tit bits we want to share with about the things you see in this image.  Read on...

Silk Turbans Worn By Khasi Men

A Young boy displaying the traditional turban

It is a tradition for Khasi men to wear a turban on special occasions. All of them are adept at wrapping this on quickly and nicely.  Notice the smart red turbans in the photo. These are made of mulberry silk.

There are two types of turbans worn on different occasions.

  • Turbans using mulberry silk shawls: These are of mixed colors, like yellow, red, and maroon. These are worn during dance festivals, wedding ceremonies and on other festive occasions.

  •  Turbans using Eri silk shawls: These are made using hand woven silk shawls made of Eri silk and worn while performing rituals, like in the Behdeinkhlam festival. The same material is draped around the neck as a shawl during funerals. These are usually white in colour.

“One of Meghalaya's most colourful religious festivals, Behdeinkhlam, is celebrated for three days during July at Jowai. The word literally means 'driving away of evil (plague) by wooden sticks'.” Source

Time to show you a piece of striking tribal Jewlery in the photo above, notice the large beads worn as a cross belt. This is called a Paila.

What Is A Paila?

Paila is a string of threaded beads worn during special occasions by the Khasi and Jaintia tribes of Meghalaya. These beads are large, red and gold in colour, and are worn by both men and women. This is a much-recognized piece of tribal Jewlery of Meghalaya.

Paila - the gold and coral necklace

Originally the red beads used to be real coral. Now, they are mostly made of ‘Mawpleit’ which is a marble typed stone,  that is then painted red. They are strung using Muga silk thread.

Coral is not available in Meghalaya and were sourced from Bhutan and Kolkatta, as per information we got from Badshai who is part of Zizira, a sister concern of ours. How did Badshai know? Well, he heard it from his close relative who is a goldsmith and follows the indigenous Khasi religion. So, he knows about tribal jewlery of Meghalaya. Our info is directly from someone who knows first-hand – from the source. That is the advantage Muezart and Zizira have – all of us have roots in this community.

As for the gold colored beads, they are made with Gold. The pure Pailas have solid gold beads!  But the mass produced Pailas are lac beads covered with gold.

This is what Miranda, a Muezart maker added:

My mom got a Paila made for me and my two sisters. It is a tradition that all girls should have at least one to two Pailas. Most of my cousins have Pailas too.

Miranda (right) with her paila

, another Muezart maker said:

“ Families which have converted to Christianity do not always own a Paila

Here are three young ladies, a girl with a boy, a man and young girls, looking so striking in their traditional costumes, specially thanks to the Pailas', a famous tribal jewlery they are wearing around their neck.

a lighter moment posing for photos

Tourists throng local cultural festivals

taking part from a young age

men also take part in local festivals

How Many Beads In A Paila? 

Pailas have anywhere between 8 to 20 beads. Normally they have at least 8. The male dancers have Pailas with ten beads. Also, the middle beads, which fall on the chest of the dancer, are the biggest among all the beads. Towards the neckline, the beads start decreasing in size.

Our picture story continues...

Are The Ceremonial Whisks Made Of Yak Hair?

a young boy with a whisk

Here is a young boy wearing a traditional outfit and a Paila, the bead necklace which is a popular piece of traditional tribal jewlery.

Notice the striking whisk the boy is holding during a traditional dance ceremony. We were told that these are made of Yak's hair. Interesting because Yaks are not native to Meghalaya.

An interesting story we heard is that there was an ancient trade route from Dhaka to Tibet that went through the Khasi hills. And that is how the tradition started.

We could not get anyone to confirm this. Could well be a legend. We will try and find out and update this post once we know. In case you know something, do share with us! These days the whisks continue to be made of Yak’s hair.

Ka Pansngiat Theisotti

Please notice what the girl is wearing on her head. There is a little story around this.

Crowns Little Girls Wear During Festivals

The headgear that this girl is wearing is called, 'Ka Pansngiat Theisotti' in Khasi, which means the ‘A crown for the pure/virgin’. It is made of silver and mostly worn in ceremonial dances.

This crown is considered the most important part of their attire. The wearing of these in ceremonies and festivals has a deep meaning – it shows how women are held in high esteem in the society, that they are considered important in the daily affairs of the family.

A Matrilineal Society

Did you know?  All the three tribes of Meghalaya, Khasi, Jaintia and Garo, are Matrilineal. The girls have the first right to inherit property and have a strong say in the family.

The lineage of the tribe and the clan names are derived from, or follow, the women’s family line. Even through marriage, the woman’s lineage is passed on to her children.

Women in the clan are not ill-treated or looked down upon, nor given a lower standing in family, clan name or wedlock. The women shoulder the responsibility of carrying forward the clan name and identity.

The Khasi women retain their culture and customs even when they travel to other parts of the world. It is the responsibility of the women in the clan to make sure these traditions continue, and the sanctity of the headgear is kept. The women have to be strong.

A Peep Into An Ancient House

While working on this post, we chanced upon an interesting photo with a colleague  – the photo you see below. She shared some interesting facts around it, which we want to share with you.

men wearing Eri silk shawl

What you see is a family gathering for a wedding ceremony in village Panaliar, Jowai, West Jaintia Hills district. You see an elder of the family (‘’kni’’) along with his nephew, his son and his grandson, all dressed up for a wedding.  All of them are wearing Eri silk shawls.

What is interesting is – they are in a traditional house which is close to 100 years old, belonging to the ‘Lakiang family’. Known as ‘The Iung Blai’ in Pnar language, this is where the religious ceremonies of the indigenous Pnar people are performed during the Behdeinkhlam festival.

The long rods that you see on the wall are in fact swords and are associated with the culture of the Pnar people. These swords were arranged on the wall by the owner of the house and are almost as old as the house itself. (Pnar is an Austroasiatic language spoken by the Jaintia tribe)

In the olden days the elders of this house, mostly the men folk, used to wear traditional costumes - yuslein (dhoti), yoospong (turban), tylle tympong (earrings), symphiah (bangles) – and used to perform a dance called ‘Chad Mastieh’. All items of the costume belonged to the owners of the house and were maintained by them too. 

100 year old traditional house

Traditions Are Maintained

So, as you saw, Eri silk shawls and turbans are part of the traditions of the Khasi and Jaintia communities. These are hand woven silk shawls made within their state - right from rearing the Eri silkworms, to spinning the thread to dyeing them using natural dyes and weaving - all done locally in sustainable ways. Eri silk weaving has been a cottage industry for centuries. What they used to make for themselves are now available for you too, through the Muezart store.

Did you find these little-known stories from our traditions engaging?  Is there anything more that you want to know? Contact us.

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