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The deities of the hills

india Updated: Sep 12, 2008 23:45 IST
Rahul Karmakar
Rahul Karmakar
Hindustan Times
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You have probably never heard of these deities, unless you are a Naga, belonging to a specific tribe that identifies with a specific deity. HT introduces you to some of these enigmatic spirits of our land.

Chükhiu: The only one with a visage, Chükhiu is the odd god out in Nagaland. Somewhat resembling Hanuman, Chükhiu’s nature-sculpted rock face looms over Khonoma. Inhabited by the Angami tribe, Khonoma is where the Naga secessionist movement had taken shape in the 1950s. Chükhiu is the god of the animals. For the Angamis (and other tribes) hunting ensured food. And praying to Chükhiu before a hunt guaranteed kills that would sustain the entire family or clan. Chükhiu ascertained that no one killed his animals for sport, only for food. Successful hunters even offered him a part of their kill.

Miawenüo: This Angami goddess is perhaps the quirkiest of Nagaland’s spirits. With her penchant for ignoring a devotee’s actual needs while granting wishes, she was more of a liability in those days of dependence on divine intervention. If a person sought good harvest, Miawenüo would bless him or her with children; if someone asked for children, she would grant livestock. Miawenüo, in a way, helped the Angamis think before wishing. She also taught them a lesson: rely more on your own enterprise than on the supernatural to get work done.

Lijaba: The god of a tribe believed to have descended from Longtrok – a cluster of six stones – needed to do something special. Lijaba did just that, saving the Aos from a long phase of pestilence followed by famine. But Lijaba was very demanding; he wanted all the Ao males – females in certain cases – to abstain from all pleasure and to perform rites to expiate their sins. The Aos not only obeyed, they incorporated the rites and ‘genna’ (taboo on activities like physical contact with the opposite sex for the six days of the Moatsu festival in May (‘Moa’ means God’s blessings).

Chung Pathen: In the pre-Christian days, the Kukis of Nagaland were in awe of Thilha the Demon. He would destroy their crops, unleash diseases and poison livestock if villagers failed to offer him the blood of cows, pigs, unblemished roosters and ‘mithun’ buffalo. It was crucial to keep Thilha in good humour; it was equally important to have a supergod who could counter him. Chung Pathen was the one, though as hard to please. But once satisfied, he countered Thilha’s easily.

Arimpuh: Almost all gods in Nagaland love rice beer, their addiction apparently giving mortals the license to guzzle. And Arimpuh, god of the Yimchungru tribe, was no different. This minimum-fuss god was by and large benevolent, and all that a devotee needed to do was place a bamboo mug of rice beer near the entrance of his or her house, luring the spirit to stay in the house throughout the yea (like alcohol is offered to Shiva as Kaalbhairav in Ujjain).

Youngwan & Kahshih: Sometimes, a god tags an anti-god along to ensure mortals don’t forget him after their prayers are answered. The Konyak tribe thus had the angry Kahshih virtually riding piggyback on the seemingly benign Youngwan. Kahshih scripted suffering and death until the people went on an elaborate appeasement drive. Youngwan determined the fate and destiny of the Konyaks.

Litsaba: Non-Christian Sumis swear by this crop-protecting deity, who alsotakes care of human reproductive health. Litsaba is invoked during the Tuluni post-harvest festival in July. Nobody works that day in the fields.

Sebarai: The Creator knows best. And if he prefers cooked rice and meat (meedo-karba), so be it. Sebarai’s presumed fondness for a non-vegetarian diet was precisely the reason why the Kacharis of Nagaland began offering him meedo-karba. On special occasions, they would not partake of food before offering it to Sebarai, preceded, like with the Vedic people, by an elaborate ritual to properly propitiate the Creator with.

Rampaube & Tengrangpui: For the Zemes, god isn’t greater than parents. So parents are their living gods, and the spirits are their metaphysical form. Consequently, Rampaube is the father-like god and Tengrangpui is the divine mother. Non-Christian Zemes believe the parental deities reside on Mt Pauna – Nagaland’s third highest peak – from where they derive their strength to “face the harsh world”. Pauna, incidentally, is home to the elusive cailihei, the ginseng-like herb believed to bring the dead back to life.