Khasi: U Ksuid Tynjang

This story is part of the Khasi Folktales unit. Story source: Folk-Tales of the Khasis by Mrs. K. U. Rafy (1920).

U Ksuid Tynjang

The Ancient Khasis were wont to people all their beautiful hills and forests with innumerable supernatural beings, who were supposed to be working in the world, either for good or for evil, and dominating all the events of men’s lives. There were Bleis (gods) of all grades, and Ksuids (demons or goblins) without number, and Puris (sprites or fairies), visible and invisible, to be encountered everywhere. The religious observances of the Khasis are mainly intended to fulfil obligations supposed to be imposed upon them by these imaginary beings, who are described as quick to take offence and difficult to appease, hence the many and complicated ceremonies which the Khasi religion demands.

One of the most familiar names in ancient lore is that of U Ksuid Tynjang, a deformed and lame demon who haunted the forests and tormented mankind and, for his misdeeds, had been doomed to suffer from an incurable and loathsome itching disease, which could only be allayed by the touch of a human hand. All the stories related of this repulsive demon are concerned with his forbidding personality and the tortures he inflicted on the victims he captured purposely to force them to rub his body and relieve the terrible itching to which he had been doomed. He used to tickle them to death with his deformed and claw-like hands if they tried to desist from their sickening task.

To lure people into his grasp, he used to imitate the human voice and to shout “Kaw-hoit, Kaw-hoit!” the common signal-cry of people who lose their companions or their way — a cry to which all humane travellers quickly respond, for it is considered equivalent to murder to ignore the signal-cry without going to the rescue. In this way U Ksuid Tynjang was able to locate the whereabouts of lonely wanderers, and thither he would direct his unsteady steps, skipping and hobbling through the jungle, until he came up to them and made them his captives.

In those days a great fair was periodically held at the foot of the Hills, and to this the Khasis from all over  the country were wont to resort, especially the younger folk, who were fond of pleasure and liked to see the show of fine cloths brought there for sale. It happened that two young sisters from the Hills, Ka Thei and Ka Duh, with their brother, attended one of these fairs in the company of some of their neighbours.

It was their first visit to a fair, and they were so taken up with the wonders of it that they forgot all about the time and walked to and fro, gazing at the strange people and wares, until unconsciously they drifted away from their friends.

It was now growing late, and Ka Thei, the eldest sister, anxiously bade the others cling to her that they might retrace their steps and if possible find their companions, but although they walked from one end of the fair to the other, they met nobody they knew. By this they were in great dismay, and they determined to start for home as fast as they could, hoping to overtake their friends on the way.

Evidently everyone was far ahead, for though they walked very fast and called out at intervals, they saw no signs of a friend and heard no response, and by the time they reached the Shillong forests, when they were yet some miles from home, night closed upon them, and they lost their way in the dense dark jungle. It was hopeless to try and proceed further for the path could not be traced in the darkness, so the three timid young travellers sat down, footsore and forlorn, crushed down with foreboding and fear.

Just then, they heard a loud cry in the distance, "Kaw-hoit!" and they all thought it was the cry of one of their friends signalling to them, and the three shouted back in chorus "Kaw-hoit!" and waited expectantly for some one to appear. To their horror, they saw approaching, not a friend as they had expected, but the deformed and diseased figure of a hideous Ksuid, upon which they realised that they had responded to the mimic-cry of U Ksuid Tynjang, whom they had often heard described and against answering whose call they had often been warned.

In a few moments he was with them, and peremptorily he ordered them to rub his itching body with their hands. Although they sickened at the contact, they knew better than to disobey for U Ksuid Tynjang was known to be very cruel, tickling to death those who dared to disobey him.

It happened that the young brother escaped being seen by the demon, a fact which Ka Thei hoped might turn to their advantage, for she had an alert and a resourceful mind. She motioned to him to squat down on the ground, and she hastily took off the knup (leaf umbrella) hanging from her shoulders and covered him with it.

Soothed by the touch of the young maidens’ hands, the Ksuid began to doze. With a little contrivance, Ka Thei succeeded in approaching her brother, quickly stuck some shrubs in the knup to make it look like the surrounding jungle, and whispered to him to crawl away as soon as the dawn broke and seek the path to their village to carry the news of their fate to their parents, and bid them offer sacrifices to the god of Shillong, in whose territory they had been captured, for their deliverance. With the help of the shrub-covered knup, the boy got away at dawn unobserved and reached his home, whereupon his parents offered sacrifices to U ’Lei Shillong for the deliverance of their daughters.

Whenever the Ksuid fell asleep, the sisters were able to take turns at their unpleasant task. In order to lighten their lot somewhat, they planned to kindle a fire for the following night, and they collected dry sticks and made ready; when night fell, they kindled the fire and felt less afraid.

During the night, Ka Duh, in putting some fresh wood on the fire, found a large, heavy dao — an axe-knife — of iron which she showed to her sister, who at once took it as an augury that deliverance was forthcoming and that the god of Shillong was working for them. She at once began to think of a plan whereby the dao might be useful to break the spell of the demon and to free her sister and herself from his power. She heated the thick blade red-hot while the Ksuid slumbered, and, taking it by the handle, she seared his body with the hot iron, so that he died.

Such, however, is the tenacity of all Ksuids that, even when they are killed and die, they do not go out of existence. U Ksuid Tynjang could no longer resume the form of a demon as he had formerly done, but he could assume some other form and remain in his old haunts. The form he chose was that of a jirmi — a creeper of a tough and tenacious nature which entangles the feet of hunters when they run in the chase, and saps the life out of the forest trees, and destroys the plants cultivated by mankind. This plant is known to this day as the Tynjang creeper.

(1200 words)

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