Kongthong, the Indian “Whistling Village” Where Everyone Has a Song for a Name

Kongthong, a remote village tucked away in the hills of India’s Meghalaya state, has a unique, centuries-old tradition where every inhabitant is given both a regular name and a song at birth, both of which become their identity.

Kongthong was recently nominated as India’s no. 1 recommendation for the United Nations World Tourism Organization’s ‘Best Tourism Villages‘ contest, both for its natural beauty and hospitable dwellers, and its unique naming tradition. The 650-or-so people who call Kongthong home, have a normal name that they use for official purposes, as well as unique tunes composed for them by their parents at birth. These songs are made especially for them, are used as their bearers’ names throughout their life, and die with them when their time comes. Because everyone in Kongthong uses their song name locally, the beautiful community has become known as India’s Whistling Village.

Photo: Rasheda Akter/Unsplash

“It is an expression of a mother’s unbridled love and joy at the birth of her child. It’s like a mother’s heart song, full of tenderness, almost like a lullaby,” Kongthong native, Shidiap Khongsit, recently told a BBC correspondent.

Called jingrwai iawbei – literally ‘grandmother’s song’ – the song name has been a tradition in Kongthong for as long as anyone can remember. The three tribes that call this village home once believed that using songs for names while hunting in the forest kept evil spirits away, as they couldn’t discern between them and animal calls. Over the years, the whistle-like songs received a more practical function, as they made it easier for locals to call to each other over long distances.

Each newborn in Kongthong is given a unique jingrwai iawbei by their mother. Technically, they are given two, as each song has a short version, which is used as a sort of nickname when its bearer is within earshot, and a long version (between 10 and 20 seconds long) that are sung out in the fields, or when one needs to call out to someone over mountains and valleys.


“Nobody can say for sure when it began, yet most agree that it has been around ever since Kongthong came into being,” Shidiap said. “Kongthong itself has been here even before the kingdom of Sohra was established by our people and by those from other villages in the area.”

Every person in Kongthong learns both their sung names and those of their family and friends the same way we learn and use our regular names, by listening to them since birth and saying, or rather singing them regularly.


Like many other rural dwellings in India, Kongthong has seen a mass exodus of its youths in recent years. They move to cities like Shilong, located about 60 kilometers from the village, in search of jobs and an easier life, and this threatens the unique whistled name tradition. Luckily, the internet may help prevent that.

Thanks to online exposure of its unique jingrwai iawbei names, Kongthong has started to realize its tourism potential, with thousands of tourists coming here every year to hear the sung names of the locals and admire the impressive natural surrounding. There was a time when the people of Kongthong didn’t even realize that their sung names could prove a draw for tourists, it was just part of their culture. Today, things are changing, and it just might save this special tradition.


Kongthong is not the world’s only whistling village. A few years back, we wrote about Kuşköy, a small Turkish village where people used special whistling sounds to communicate over long distances.