KHAMPAT AND THE BANYAN TREE L.Keivom IFS(Rtd) (Note: Written on September 12,1986 at Rangoon)

KHAMPAT AND THE BANYAN TREE L.Keivom IFS(Rtd) (Note: Written on September 12,1986 at Rangoon)

About sixty miles from Kalemyo (Tahan by the Zo people) on the road to the border town Tamu lies astride a small and insignificant town called Khampat, a walking distance from Muolcham, the nearest village on the Indian side of the border. Though it bears a Shan name meaning a Gold necklace (Kham=Gold, Pat=necklace), the town occupies a predominan t place in the hearts and history of the Zo people. For Khampat has been known and recognised as one of the earliest sedentary settlements of the Zo people.

To many, Khampat sounds like a legendary place. Much of the Zo legends are indeed associated with it. One such legend is that before leaving the town, the Zo elders planted a banyan tree with a solemn vow that when its branches touched the earth, their descendants would return to this ancestral soil to rebuild their old settlement. To a Zo, therefore, Khampat is not just a place but his Hebron, a symbol of his hopes and dreams, a guide in his search for his identity and origin, and a dialogue between the past, the present and the future.

Under what circumstances did the Zo leave Khampat and the Kabaw valley- whether they abandoned it due to famine or in search of greener pastures or were pushed out by a stronger force-have never been clearly told. That they were nostalgic about the place and the fact that they were longing to return to it would suggest that they might have been forced to leave Khampat against their will. It was probable that they had to flee from the oppressive rule of the more powerful Shan swabaws (princes).

Tradition suggests that Khampat was fortified with high earthern ramparts. The town was divided into ten sectors with the palace at the centre. Each sector was enclosed by earthern walls and connected to the palace at the centre by a labyrinthine maze. B.Lalthangliana who conducted some research on the ruins has surmised in his book History of Mizo in Burma that the ruler could be one of the nine vassal chiefs of the Burmese king. Unfortunately, little remains are left to be seen. The havoc of man�s recklessness and of nature played their part in burying much of the Khampat�s past into oblivion. But all is not lost.

The Banyan Tree survived and continued to grow and grow. The year of reckoning and fulfilment came in 1916 when its spreading branches touched the earth. Would the long-held belief turn apocryphal? Not long after the Khampat exodus, hardly any Zo remained at the Kabaw valley. They dispersed from there, some heading towards the Arakan Hills and the major bulk climbed the rugged Chin Hills, went further west as far as Chittagong hill tracts to be stopped only by the Indian Ocean. Many of them did no longer remember the sacred appointment their forefathers had made with the banyan tree.

But Destiny played her part with clock precision. In that year, said Lalthangliana, Sainguauva and party of twenty strong left Mizoram then called Lushai Hills for the Kabaw Valley and finally established a settlement which they fondly named it Lehpankon within the present Kale township in Sagaing Division.

Until February 1925 no Zo did survey the Khampat banyan tree. The first Zo who measured the sacred tree was Dengkunga. He came from Manipur along with three others to preach the Christian faith. They were Watkin Roberts� men belonging to the North-East India General Mission (NEIGM). The tree trunk, measured at a height of four feet from the ground, was 108 feet in circumference. One branch was touching and crouching on the sourthern wall of the legendary town.

Then came 1952. In February of that year, one Thanghleia and seven others went to Khampat to see the banyan tree and explore the possibility of establishing a settlement near the tree which they considered as sacred to their nation. With permission granted by the village authorities, Thanghleia and his party built little huts near the banyan tree. For them, it was a rendezvous with their national destiny, a homecoming, and an entry into their Jerusalem and a partial fulfilment of an ancient vow. They then went to Tahan (Kalemyo), the Zo capital in the Kabaw Valley, to collect essential provisions . They proudly related to their Zo brethren their encounter with the sacred tree. They listened to them with bated breath, mouth watering.

When they returned to Khampat on March 12, 1952 sad news awaited them. A storm hit the sacred tree and the main trunk broke twenty feet from the ground and collapsed on the ground! They were crest-fallen. Sadness and fear gripped them. Helplessly, they approached an old monk in the neighbourhood village to interpret the significance of the ominous fall. The sage old man bit his parched lips, twitched his drooping eyelids and with a far-away look in his eyes, he spoke:

The big tree has fulfilled its mission. You have now come back and its presence is no longer necessary. You now represent the tree. Be multiply. Be of good service to men and animals. Remember one thing, my sons. Help them to prosper under the shade of your kindness and love.

There have been claims and counter-claims as to who had planted the banyan tree. Some songs purportedly dedicated to the legend are of very recent origin, composed mostly after the 50s, and therefore, do not stand the test of historical scrutiny. The only reference I have come across in which the name of the planter is mentioned is the Hmar tradition. According to this source, one Chief Luopui of the Thriek clan who was once a great chief of Khampat planted the banyan tree.

So rich was he, the legend claims, that he ate only from golden plates. Amongst his many priced possessions was a rare and very expensive Burmese gong that could produce more than ten descending rhythmic waves when struck. It was said that his servant Kimchal once ran away with the rare gong and tried to sell it at a high profit. He went from one chief to another in the region but no one dared to buy the gong knowing that it belonged to Chief Luopui.

By some force of circumstance, Luopui had to abandon Khampat and moved westward along with his people. He died at Thantlang at a very old age. Perhaps like the imprisoned Shah Jahan who spent all his waking hours looking towards the Taj Mahal (he built to symbolise his eternal love for his wife Mumtaz) till his eyes grew dim, Luopui would also have spent many tearful hours looking down from the hills the lushy and verdant Kabaw Valley and the ruined Khampat and the magic banyan tree he had planted till the summer haze enveloped and shielded the valley from his vision. In his inner ears, however, he could still hear vividly the echoing voices of his people chanting in unision,

On the south is Chief Lersi, On the north, Chief Zingthlo; At the centre, Chief Luopui: Luopui planted a banyan tree, The hornbills feed on its fruits.

Simah Lersi, hmarah Zingthlo, Khawmalaiah Luopui; Luopuiin phunbung a phun, Khawthlang puolrangin tlan e.

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