National Highway 129A is a winding roadway which cuts through the lap of the hills, stages and unfolds beautiful hill after hill, all the while offering an orchestra of bird songs. Monika Kanga T journeys on this road to greet the mystic stones of Willong Khullen that stand testimony to human imagination and endurance
While there is a general lamentation over a draught of the vintage, there are some ancient creations that have stood against the test of times, educating the world about a mighty and glorious historical past, and one such testimonials is the Stonehenge at Willong Khullen, an ancient Maram village, in the Senapati district of Manipur. The Willong Stonehenge is at once mystic, real and surreal. The mystery lies in the fact that the stones are uncountable; that a certain confusion takes over the human mind during the numbering of the stones; ranging from the tallest being seven meters in height to a meter in width. They seem countable to the eyes beholding them, yet, the wistful thinking is encompassed by an enigmatic denial. The rustic folks love to harp on this one fact.
The stones are believed to be erected by an individual, a family or a clan, to mark grand occasions like a victory in war, merit feast, and occasionally in memory. As a result, every stone has a different proud owner. To the owner, the stone is a certificate of valour, power and wealth. The myth behind the stones is that they are alive and often people could hear the stones in conversant with one another, exchanging pleasantries such as, “Have you had your meal/dinner?” Other times, they could be overheard going about the activities of pounding paddy or soaked rice for brewing wine. Not just that, the stones are gendered as well; the female names that are heard being called upon as Kanga, Hinga, Hoila, Tala etc, and male names such as Kabi, Hingba, Luikang, Taruba etc. As a consequence, people do not venture out to the Stonehenge after sunset and before sunrise. The spirit of the stones could induce bad dreams, the most vulnerable being children and pregnant women.
The pulling of the stones is a serious, difficult and expensive proposition as the whole village and not just one clan is involved. Not any random stone can be hauled, and the people get to know if the stone can be dragged depending on a dream, after a stone has been selected. Following which, rituals are performed accompanied by a code of conduct which includes that a husband should not cohabit with his wife or else a misfortune may be chanced upon. There is a folk tale behind the hauling of the memorial stones, dating to a time when simians and human beings lived together. The primates were elder to humankind. They came to an agreement that mankind would help in dragging memorial stones for the monkeys. So, they made two ropes, men pulling on one side and the monkeys on the other. They also made another pact that if the rope snaps, then the other party will eat up the party responsible for the breakage of the rope. The human, being a rational animal made a dent on the rope that the primates were holding on to. Eventually, the rope of the monkeys snapped and the simians fled to the forest, while humans settled in the village, and continued the haulage of memorial stones.
The expedition to this splendid Stonehenge commences at 0 km Maram-Peren, National Highway 129A, a veer from the National Highway 02 at Maram Centre. The journey through this beautiful country road is packed with nature’s treat for the eyes, the ears, body and soul. The highway which cuts through the lap of the hills, stages and unfolds beautiful hill after hill, punctuated by hamlets, springs and streams of clear running water, rushing down the hills in a calm and unhurried manner, and to a keen ear, offers an orchestra in unison with the songs of cuckoos, flycatchers, bulbuls, barbets, drongos, woodpeckers, magpies, sunbirds, shrikes, minivets, tailor birds, prinias, tits, thrushes, treepies, wagtails, oriental white eyes and so on. Spring and summer months offer rain-washed, trees-decked hills in shades of green, adorned in their floral gorgeousness of rhododendron, cherry, peach and plum, and one could stop by a bayberry tree, a raspberry bush, autumn olive bush, to relish on the juicy fruits they bring forth. Autumn and winter months extend the golden glory of nature in ripen paddy fields, hog plum, wild apples, wild olives, gooseberry and so on. The contour of the Barak River between the hills conjures a spectacular blanket of fog and makes the hills sit majestically on the finest cotton balls. At 39th km, Willong Khullen village rests snugly in the palms of a beautiful hill, and right at the entrance of the village is the majestic Willong Stonehenge, inviting one to have a real good look.
PS. Maram is the only primitive tribe of Manipur and second in the Northeast after the Reangs of Tripura.
About the author: Monica Kanga T is a Maram from Manipur. She received her PhD degree from the University of Hyderabad and is an independent researcher.