The second lecture of the School of Social Sciences – Institution of Eminence Distinguished Lecture Series was delivered by Prof. Desmond L. Kharmawphlang on the topic Folklore, the Archive of Indigenous Knowledge Systems: Living Lore and Lessons at the C.V. Raman Auditorium, University of Hyderabad on 1 February 2024. Prof. Kharmawphlang teaches at the Department of Cultural and Creative Studies at the North-Eastern Hill University (NEHU).

Prof. Jyotirmaya Sharma, Dean of the School of Social Sciences, welcomed the speaker and audience. Dr Joly Puthussery, Head of the Centre for Folk Culture Studies, introduced the speaker and chaired the event. Prof. Kharmawphlang began the lecture by expressing his privilege to be a part of the Golden Jubilee celebrations of the University. He noted “the several intersectional nodes that mark the journeys of North Eastern Hill University, Shillong and University of Hyderabad,” established in 1973 and 1974 respectively and said that there have been healthy exchanges of ideas between the institutions.

In the wide-ranging and arresting lecture, Prof. Kharmawphlang dwelt on the significance of indigenous knowledge systems and their connection to folklore, with specific reference to the Khasi, as well as the need to archive. He discussed multiple projects of archiving folk materials that he has been part of: The British Library Endangered Archive Project, PARADISEC Catalog (, and the Shillong Digital Archives ( He also explored categories in traditional knowledge and folklore, referencing Graham Dutfield’s work, particularly on ecosystems. An example was given from the northern part of Khasi Hills, involving agrarian practices tied to the hill-rice cultivation calendar, where drumming and singing were integral for communication. The lecture delved into the cultural significance of Sohpetbneng Peak where the Khasi are said to have descended from the sky. The speaker paralleled his experience of collecting stories of Sohpetbneng with Andrew Lang’s views on folklore and archaeology. A preliminary archaeological excavation was conducted in 2014 for seven months and stone tools were recovered. The specimens, he opined, fitted well with the narratives retained in the cultural memory.

Prof. Kharmawphlang further discussed the experience of culture as an artistic form, using the example of a weaver from Mawprem who created a motif inspired by the Khmat Dulong Byrni (Byrnihat Bridge) that fascinated her as a child. The speaker noted how such artistic work reflects individual and collective memory, transmitting it to future generations and creating traditions. A sketch by Lieutenant Henry Yule (in 1844) showcased Meghalaya’s living root bridges, described as a testament to the depth of indigenous knowledge. The speaker recounted interactions with villagers of Nongblai, emphasizing their unique perspective that these bridges are seen as trees, revealing a profound understanding of nature, root nourishment, and soil chemistry. Ownership of the bridges was linked to the river, demonstrating a unique connection to nature. The bridge-growers were noted for their ability to communicate with the roots, emphasizing the importance of listening to the forest. The speaker expressed concern about ecological fragmentation in rainforests due to human-centric preoccupations. The discussion also touched on National Geographic’s intervention to map the living root bridges, highlighting the speaker’s teaching collaboration in Italy with Dr. Barbara Mazzolai of the Italian Institute of Technology. Overall, the speaker aimed to promote ecological consciousness through thought-provoking perspectives on indigenous knowledge and environmental sustainability.

In his concluding remarks, Prof. Kharmawphlang referenced tacit knowledge, animistic intelligence, and Rudolf Steiner’s corpus, highlighting the influence of indigenous knowledge on theosophy. He reiterated the central theme of folklore, emphasizing its robust research capabilities and how its elements form the corpus of indigenous knowledge. Professor Kharmawphlang concluded by asserting that folklore serves as the natural archive of indigenous knowledge systems.

During the Q&A session, participants posed diverse questions. Topics included the impact of urbanization on local folklore, the existence of Khasi folklore related to conflict, details about healing and indigenous knowledge, the significance of Mar Phalyngki, and viewing folkloric texts through the lens of colonization. Prof. Kharmawphlang discussed urban folklore, noting how contemporary songs reflect issues like traffic jams and the adaptability of folklore. He also addressed the disappearance of rivers and water spirits due to pollution, highlighting the inclusion of conflagration in narrative themes.

A question on healing led to the speaker sharing how an indigenous healer named Marin used mud for treatment, employing archaic terms for their perceived curative properties. The question about Mar Phalyngki prompted a storytelling session, where the speaker narrated the tale of the giant. The final question explored the idea of bowdlerization or sanitization of tales, acknowledging the colonial officers’ contributions in collecting tales from the Northeast region. Overall, the Q&A session delved into various aspects of folklore, urbanization’s impact, healing practices, cultural significance, and the colonial influence on narrative preservation.

The vote of thanks was presented by Mr. Nijil V, Assistant Professor, CFCS, for the informative lecture, the Dean’s words of the encouragement and the audience’s great response. The event ended with participants engaged in refreshments as they broke into informal conversations on breath-taking root bridges, bewildering Dakhni boulders and beyond.