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Geography of Meghalaya - People, Climate and Culture | North East India Info

Meghalaya (25° 02' - 26° 07' N and 89° 49' - 92°50' E) is literally ‘the abode of the clouds’. It became an autonomous State on April 2, 1970, and was declared a State of the Indian Union on January 21, 1972. The State has a geographical area of 22,42,900 ha (0.7% of the country’s geographical area). 

Meghalaya Political Map
Meghalaya Political Map

Topographically, Meghalaya is a plateau except for narrow strips of plains in the northern, western and southern parts. Shillong, the capital, is situated in the centre of a high plateau. 

The elevation ranges from less than 100 m to 1961 m. The highest peak is Laitkor Peak (1961m). Nokrek is the highest peak in the Garo Hills. 

As per the Census records, the State is the homeland of three of India’s ancient hill communities – the Khasis, the Jaintias and the Garos. Khasi is spoken by the Khasis and Jaintias, while Garo Hills is the homeland of the Garos who prefer to call themselves ‘Achik’. 

The western part of the State is warmer where the temperature ranges between 120 C to 330 C. The central upland is relatively cooler where the minimum temperature goes down to 20 C and the maximum temperature is around 240C. 

The average annual rainfall in the State varies from 4,000 mm to 11,436 mm. Cherrapunji (= Cherapunjee) and Mawsynram in Meghalaya are well known as the highest rainfall spots in the world. Cherrapunji had the distinction of recording the highest rainfall in the world, 24,461 mm, in 1860-61 (Choudhury 2003). 

The major rivers of Meghalaya include the Simsang, the Manda and the Ganol in the Garo Hills and the Jadukata, the Umiam, the Umtrew, the Lubha and the Kopili in the Khasi and the Jaintia Hills. The total human population of Meghalaya is 2.31 million, which is 0.2% of India’s population (2001 Census). Nearly 80% of the population lives in the rural areas. 

Meghalaya’s population is predominantly tribal (85.5%). As per the 2001 Census the population density of the State is 103 persons per sq. km.

There are different legends, beliefs and findings of the Khasis, Jaintias and Garos. It is said that Khasis were the earliest immigrants who made their way across northern Myanmar to Khasi in the plain of East Assam where they established a new centre. Khasis linguistically represent the Mon-Khmer speeches spoken in South-East Asia. 

The Khasi, Garo, and Jaintia tribes each had their own kingdoms until they came under the British administration them in the 19th century. Eventually, the British incorporated Meghalaya into Assam in 1835. After the Independence in 1947, Meghalaya was given autonomous status within Assam. 

However, the Meghalaya was not satisfied with the arrangement and started a the peaceful and constitutional struggle for more independence. 

The turning point in their struggle came when Assam introduced Assamese as the state language, a language unknown to the tribes of Meghalaya. 

The Centre recognised their plight and their right for a state of their own. In the year 1972, Meghalaya became a full-fledged state in the Republic of India. 

All the three major ethnic tribal groups, namely, the Khasis, Jaintias and the Garos also have their own traditional political institutions that have existed for hundreds of years. 

These political institutions were fairly well developed and functioned at various tiers, such as the village level, clan level and state level. In the traditional political system of the Khasis, each clan had its own council known as the Dorbar Kur which was presided over by the clan headman. 

The council or the Dorbar managed the internal affairs of the clan. Similarly, every village had a local assembly known as the Dorbar Shnong, i.e. village Durbar or council, which was presided over by the village headman. 

The inter-village issues were dealt with through a political unit comprising adjacent Khasi Villages. The local political units were known as the raids, under by the supreme political authority known as the Syiemship. 

The Syiemship was the congregation of several raids and was headed an elected chief known as the Syiem or Siem (the king). The Siem ruled the Khasi state through an elected State Assembly, known as the Durbar Hima. 

The Siem also had his mantris (ministers) whose counsel he would use in exercising executive responsibilities.

Taxes were called pynsuk, and tolls were called khrong, the latter being the primary source of state income. In early 20th century, Raja Dakhor Singh was the Siem of Khymir. 

The Jaintias also had a three-tier political system somewhat similar to the Khasis, including the Raids and the Syiem.  The raids were headed by Dolois, who were responsible for performing the executive and ceremonial functions at the Raid level. At the lowest level were the village headmen. 

Each administrative tier had its own elected councils or durbars. In the traditional political system of the Garos a group of Garo villages comprised the A·king. 

The king functioned under the supervision of the Nokmas, which was perhaps the only political and administrative authority in the political institution of the Garos. 

The Nokma performed both judicial and legislative functions. The Nokmas also congregated to address inter-A·king issues. There were no well-organized councils or durbars among the Garos.

To study more about Meghalaya some books recommendation given below. These are also used as references for this article. So, I highly recommend you go through these books. For details click the book title.


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