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  • Writer's pictureDavid Connolly

The Sacred Forest of Mawphlang | Meghalaya

Of the 125 sacred groves documented in Meghalaya, the sacred forest of Mawphlang, known locally as the Lawkyntang, is the largest at 78 hectares. It remains a mystery why the forest never grows out of its boundaries and into the adjoining grasslands — locals say that any attempt to grow trees beyond has always ended with the plant dying. They also warn that visitors who try to take anything out of the forest are punished by the forest deity — Labasa.

The gravity of these rules could be summed up in the age-old tale often narrated by designated guides about the army officers who tried to take out wooden logs from the forest. A variation of the legend goes that the truck carrying the logs met with an accident that proved fatal. Some say that the truck suddenly refused to move from its place until the logs were unloaded and put back into the forest.

Many of the stories about reckless visitors and sceptical locals attempting to transgress the forest laws would end with Labasa, the protective spirit, taking the shape of a leopard or a venomous snake, followed by mysterious death or injury. Such stories of divine intervention and curses are reinforced by centuries of oral tradition, wittingly or unwittingly keeping the force of conservation strong among the Khasis.

Witness the enchanting aura of these tracts of virgin forest land that are guarded from the ills of human intervention by a spirit god and — even more importantly, by the local communities.

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