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Khasi Girls.jpg
Khasi women in traditional dress
Total population
Regions with significant populations
              Meghalaya, India1,382,278[2]
              Assam, India34,558[3]
Christianity 80%,[4] Niam Khasi 20%[5]
Related ethnic groups
Khmers, Jaintia people, Palaungs, Was, Kinh and other Mon–Khmers

The Khasi people are an ethnic group of Meghalaya in north-eastern India with a significant population in the bordering state of Assam, and in certain parts of Bangladesh. The Khasi people form the majority of the population of the eastern part of Meghalaya, that is Khasi Hills, constituting 78.3% of the region's population,[6] and is the state's largest community, with around 48% of the population of Meghalaya. They are among the few Austroasiatic-speaking peoples in South Asia. A cultural tradition of the Khasi people is that they follow the matrilineal system.[7] Under the Constitution of India, the Khasis have been granted the status of Scheduled Tribe.


Khasi mythology

Khasi women and standing-stones, near Laitlyngkot, Meghalaya, India
Khasi women and standing-stones, near Laitlyngkot, Meghalaya, India

Khasi mythology traces the tribe's original abode to 'Ki Hynñiewtrep ("The Seven Huts").[8] According to the Khasi mythology, U Blei Trai Kynrad (God, the Lord Master) had originally distributed the human race into 16 heavenly families (Khadhynriew Trep).[9] However, seven out of these 16 families were stuck on earth while the other 9 in heaven. According to the myth, a heavenly ladder resting on the sacred Lum Sohpetbneng Peak (located in the present-day Ri-Bhoi district) enabled people to go freely and frequently to heaven whenever they pleased until one day they were tricked into cutting a divine tree which was situated at Lum Diengiei Peak (also in present-day East Khasi Hills district), a grave error which prevented them access to the heavens forever. This myth is often seen[by whom?] as a metaphor of how nature and trees, in particular, are the manifestation of the divine on Earth and destroying nature and trees means severing our ties with the Divine. Like the Japanese, the Khasis use the rooster as a symbol because they believe that it was he who aroused God and also humbly paved and cleared the path for God to create the Universe at the beginning of time. The rooster is the symbol of morning marking a new beginning and a new sunrise.

Khasian is closely related to Palaungic language of Myanmar. Pre-Khasian migrated through Upper Burma to Brahmaputra Valley on the way to Meghalaya.[10]


See also: Peopling of India

The Khasi language is classified as part of the Austroasiatic language family. According to Peter Wilhelm Schmidt, the Khasi people are related to the Mon-Khmer people of Southeast Asia. Multiple types of research indicate that the Austroasiatic populations in India are derived from migrations from Southeast Asia during the Holocene period. Many of the words are similar to other Austroasiatic languages such as Palaung and Khmer language:

There are also words similar to those in Sino-Tibetan languages, such as nga meaning "I," which is the same in Tibetan, Burmese, and Old Chinese as it is in Khasi. Traces of connections with the Kachin tribe of North Myanmar have also been in the Khasis. The Khasi people also have their own word for the Himalayan mountains which is Ki Lum Mankashang which means that at one point in time, they did cross the mighty mountains. Therefore, all these records and their present culture, features, and language strongly show that they also have a strong Tibeto-Himalayan-Burman influence. The word "Khas" means hills and they have always been people of cold and hilly regions and have never been connected to the plains or arid regions. This nature-loving tribe calls the wettest place on Earth their home. The village of Mawsynram in Meghalaya receives 467 inches of rain per year.

Primarily an oral language, they had no script of their own, until the arrival of the Welsh missionaries. The Welsh missionaries originally used the Bengali script before resorting to the Roman script to transcribe the Sohra dialect of the Khasi language. Particularly significant in this regard was a Welsh evangelist, Thomas Jones.

Modern times

Khasi man in Sreemangal, Bangladesh.
Khasi man in Sreemangal, Bangladesh.

The Khasi first came in contact with the British in 1823, after the latter captured Assam. The area inhabited by the Khasi became a part of the Assam Province after the Khasi Hill States (which numbered to about 25 kingdoms) entered into a subsidiary alliance with the British.

The main crops produced by the Khasi people are betel leaves, areca nut, oranges, pineapples, plums, litchis, local varieties of rice and vegetables.

Geographical distribution and sub-groups

Khasi states, 1947
Khasi states, 1947

Many Khasi sociologists classify the Khasi tribe in the following seven sub-tribes, which are collectively also known as the Children of the Seven Huts:

According to the 2011 Census of India, over 1.41 million Khasi lived in Meghalaya in the districts of East Khasi Hills, West Khasi Hills, South West Khasi Hills, Ri-Bhoi, West Jaintia Hills and East Jaintia Hills. In Assam, their population reached 35,000.


Khasi children, 1944
Khasi children, 1944
Dancers during the festival of Shad Suk Mynsiem in Shillong
Dancers during the festival of Shad Suk Mynsiem in Shillong

The traditional Khasi male dress is a Jymphong, a longish sleeveless coat without collar, fastened by thongs in front. Nowadays, most male Khasis have adopted western attire. On ceremonial occasions they appear in a Jymphong and sarong with an ornamental waist-band and they may also wear a turban.

The traditional Khasi female dress is called the Jainsem or Dhara, both of which are rather elaborate with several pieces of cloth, giving the body a cylindrical shape. On ceremonial occasions, they may wear a crown of silver or gold. A spike or peak is fixed to the back of the crown, corresponding to the feathers worn by the menfolk. The Jainsem consists of two pieces of material fastened at each shoulder. The "Dhara" consists of a single piece of material also fastened at each shoulder.


The Khasis are, for the most part, monogamous. Young men and women are permitted considerable freedom in the choice of mates.[11] Potential marriage partners are likely to have been acquainted before betrothal. Once a man has selected his desired spouse, he reports his choice to his parents. They then secure the services of a mediator to make the arrangements with the woman's family (provided that the man's clan agree with his choice). The parents of the woman ascertain her wishes and if she agrees to the arrangement her parents check to make certain that the man to be wed is not a member of their clan (since Khasi clans are exogamous, marital partners may not be from the same clan). If this is satisfactory then a wedding date is set.[citation needed]

Divorce is relatively common,[11] with causes ranging from incompatibility to lack of offspring. This ceremony traditionally consists of the husband handing the wife 5 cowries or paisa which the wife then hands back to her husband along with 5 of her own. The husband then throws these away or gives them to a village elder who throws them away. Present-day Khasis divorce through the Indian legal system.[citation needed]

The type of marriage is the determining factor in the marital residence. In short, post marital residence for a married man when an heiress (known as Ka Khadduh) is involved must be matrilocal (that is, in his mother-in-law's house), while post-marital residence when a non-heiress is involved is neolocal. Traditionally (though nowadays rule is not absolutely true), a Khasi man returns to his Iing-Kur (maternal home) upon the death of his spouse (if she is a Khadduh and they both have no children). These practices are the result of rules governing inheritance and property ownership. These rules are themselves related to the structure of the Khasi Kur (clan system).[citation needed]


Khasi names are known for their originality and elaborate nature. The given names may be invented by parents for their children, and these can be based on traditional native names, Christian names, or other English words. The family names, which they call "surnames," remain typically in the native Khasi language.[citation needed]

The Khasi people do not have sub-tribes, a confusion that sometimes arises from the expression Khynriam, u Pnar, u Bhoi, u War. This term is mainly based on the geographical location a Khasi inhabits. Khasi inhabiting the northern part are known as Bhoi, as that area is often called Ri Bhoi. People in the east are known as the Pnar, and they call their land Rilum Jaintia. The south are called War or Ri War, because of its mountainous regions and soil fertility. The west has a number of regional names: Maram, Rimen, Khatsawphra, Mawiang, Lyngam. A Khasi who inhabits the central area is known as Khynriam. The War inhabitants of the Khasi community designed and built living root bridges of the War region.[citation needed]

Traditional polities

The royal seat of Khyrim at Smit
The royal seat of Khyrim at Smit

The traditional political structure of the Khasi community is democratic in nature. In the past, the Khasis consisted of independent native states called Syiemships, where male elders of various clans under the leadership of the Chief (called U Syiem) would congregate during Durbars or sessions and come to a decision regarding any dispute or problem that would arise in the Syiemship. At the village level, there exists a similar arrangement where all the residents of the village or town come together under the leadership of an elected Headman (called U Rangbah Shnong) to decide on matters pertaining to the locality. This system of village administration is much like the Panchayati Raj prevalent in most Indian States. There were around 25 independent native states on record which were annexed and acceded to the Indian Union. The Syiems of these native states (called Hima) were traditionally elected by the people or ruling clans of their respective domains. Famous among these Syiemships are Hima Mylliem, Hima Khyrim, Hima Nongkhlaw, amongst others. These Syiemships continue to exist and function till today under the purview of the Khasi Hills Autonomous District Council (KHADC), which draws its legal power and authority from the Sixth Schedule of the Constitution of India.[12]


Before the arrival of Christian missionaries and post- conversion, almost all of the Khasi people practiced an indigenous tribal religion.[13][14] The main Christian denominations today followed among the Khasis include Catholicism, Anglicanism, Presbyterianism (largest Christian denomination among the Khasis), and others. Around 80% of the Khasi tribe numbering around 1.2 million are Christian of various denominations (mainly Presbyterian and Catholic) and 20% of them numbering around 0.3 million still follow their indigenous khasi religion called "Ka Niam Khasi".[15][16] In Khasi traditional religion Niam Khasi, the principal deity U Blei Nongthaw, who is formless is the Supreme creator of the whole universe.[17]

Fertility rate

According to a 1998-99 research by the National Family Health Survey of India (NFHS), the Khasi tribe, along with Jayantia and Garo had the highest fertility in India at TFR=4.57.[18]

Notable people

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See also



  1. ^ "A-11 Individual Scheduled Tribe Primary Census Abstract Data and its Appendix". Government of India. Retrieved 28 October 2017.
  2. ^ "C-16 Population By Mother Tongue - Meghalaya". Retrieved 28 October 2020.
  3. ^ "C-16 Population By Mother Tongue - Assam". Retrieved 28 October 2020.
  4. ^ Ghosh, Paramita (16 October 2021). "Missionary is not a popular word in India. But in the Khasi hills, it holds a different meaning". ThePrint. Retrieved 14 July 2022.
  5. ^ Khasi, in Dizionario di storia, Istituto dell'Enciclopedia Italiana, 2010
  6. ^ ORGI. "C-16: Population by Mother Tongue". Office of the Registrar General & Census Commissioner, India. Archived from the original on 15 August 2018. Retrieved 10 July 2018.
  7. ^ Khasi, in Dizionario di storia, Istituto dell'Enciclopedia Italiana, 2010
  8. ^ Shakuntala Banaji (1 April 2010). South Asian media cultures. Anthem Press. pp. 48–. ISBN 978-1-84331-842-2.
  9. ^ Aurelius Kyrham Nongkinrih (2002). Khasi society of Meghalaya: a sociological understanding. Indus Publishing. pp. 130–131. ISBN 978-81-7387-137-5.
  10. ^ the only other AA branch present in mainland India, Khasian, shows clear affiliation with the Palaungic language of Myanmar (Sidwell 2011) such that we can confidently suppose a pre-Khasian migration through Upper Burma to the Bhramaputra Valley on the way to Meghalaya(Sidwell 2021:62)
  11. ^ a b Leonetti, Donna; Nath, Dilip; Hemam, Natabar (December 2007). "In‐law Conflict: Women's Reproductive Lives and the Roles of Their Mothers and Husbands among the Matrilineal Khasi". Current Anthropology. 48 (6): 861–890. doi:10.1086/520976. ISSN 0011-3204.
  12. ^ "Traditional Institutions of the People of Meghalaya, Heritage of Meghalaya: Department of Arts and Culture, Government of Meghalaya". Retrieved 13 September 2017.
  13. ^ Iarington Kharkongngor (1973), The Preparation for the Gospel in Traditional Khasi Belief. I. Kharkongngor. pp. 19-26.
  14. ^ Gurdon, P.R.T. The Khasis.
  15. ^ Ghosh, Paramita (16 October 2021). "Missionary is not a popular word in India. But in the Khasi hills, it holds a different meaning". ThePrint. Retrieved 14 July 2022.
  16. ^
  17. ^ "History & Culture | South West Khasi Hills District | India".
  18. ^ Saikia, Udoy Sankar. "High Fertility in Khasi Tribe of Northeast India- A Repercussion of the Fear of Identity Loss?" (PDF). Public Health, Flinders University, South Australia. Retrieved 9 August 2022.
  19. ^ "Constitution of India". Retrieved 15 August 2022.
  20. ^ "J.J.M. Nichols Roy: Khasi Hills Autonomous District Council". Retrieved 15 August 2022.