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Hunting The Stag Lapalang

Source: Folk-tales Of The Khasis

Once upon a time there lived with its dam on the Plains of Sylhet
a young deer whose fame has come down through the ages in Khasi
folk-lore. The story of the Stag Lapalang, as he was called, continues
to fascinate generation after generation of Khasi youths, and the
merry cowboys, as they sit in groups on the wild hill-sides watching
their flocks, love to relate the oft-told tale and to describe what
they consider the most famous hunt in history.

The Stag Lapalang was the noblest young animal of his race that
had ever been seen in the forest and was the pride of his mother's
heart. She watched over him with a love not surpassed by the love of
a human mother, keeping him jealously at her side, guarding him from
all harm.

As he grew older the young stag, conscious of his own matchless grace
and splendid strength, began to feel dissatisfied with the narrow
confines and limited scope of the forest where they lived and to
weary of his mother's constant warnings and counsels. He longed to
explore the world and to put his mettle to the test.

His mother had been very indulgent to him all his life and had allowed
him to have much of his own way, so there was no restraining him when
he expressed his determination to go up to the Khasi Hills to seek
begonia leaves to eat. His mother entreated and warned him, but all
in vain. He insisted on going, and she watched him sorrowfully as
with stately strides and lifted head he went away from his forest home.

Matters went well with the Stag Lapalang at first; he found on the
hills plenty of begonia leaves and delicious grass to eat, and he
revelled in the freedom of the cool heights. But one day he was seen
by some village boys, who immediately gave the alarm, and men soon
hurried to the chase: the hunting-cry rang from village to village
and echoed from crag to crag. The hunting instincts of the Khasis
were roused and men poured forth from every village and hamlet. Oxen
were forgotten at the plough; loads were thrown down and scattered;
nothing mattered for the moment but the wild exciting chase over
hill and valley. Louder sounded the hunting cry, farther it echoed
from crag to crag, still wilder grew the chase. From hill to hill
and from glen to glen came the hunters, with arrows and spears and
staves and swords, hot in pursuit of the Stag Lapalang. He was swift,
he was young, he was strong--for days he eluded his pursuers and kept
them at bay; but he was only one unarmed creature against a thousand
armed men. His fall was inevitable, and one day on the slopes of the
Shillong mountain he was surrounded, and after a brave and desperate
struggle for his life, the noble young animal died with a thousand
arrows quivering in his body.

The lonely mother on the Plains of Sylhet became uneasy at the delay
of the return of the Stag Lapalang, and when she heard the echoes
of the hunting-cry from the hills her anxiety became more than she
could endure. Full of dread misgivings, she set out in quest of her
wanderer, but when she reached the Khasi hills, she was told that
he had been hunted to death on the slopes of Shillong, and the news
broke her heart.

Staggering under the weight of her sorrow, she traversed the rugged
paths through the wildwoods, seeking her dead offspring, and as she
went her loud heartrending cries were heard throughout the country,
arresting every ear. Women, sitting on their hearths, heard it and
swooned from the pain of it, and the children hid their faces in
dismay; men at work in the fields heard it and bowed their heads and
writhed with the anguish of it. Not a shout was raised for a signal
at sight of that stricken mother, not a hand was lifted to molest her,
and when the huntsmen on the slopes of Shillong heard that bitter cry
their shouts of triumph froze upon their lips, and they broke their
arrows in shivers.

Never before was heard a lamentation so mournful, so plaintive, so full
of sorrow and anguish and misery, as the lament of the mother of the
Stag Lapalang as she sought him in death on the slopes of Shillong. The
Ancient Khasis were so impressed by this demonstration of deep love and
devotion that they felt their own manner of mourning for their dead
to be very inferior and orderless, and without meaning. Henceforth
they resolved that they also would mourn their departed ones in this
devotional way, and many of the formulas used in Khasi lamentations
in the present day are those attributed to the mother of the Stag
Lapalang when she found him hunted to death on the slopes of Shillong
hundreds and hundreds of years ago.

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