Friday, January 18, 2008

IRON SMELTING BY ASUR TRIBE- A THING OF THE PAST


IRON SMELTING BY ASUR TRIBE- A THING OF THE PAST
BY
DR. NITISH PRIYADARSHI

The word Asur occurs in a number of places in the Rigveda, Brahamanas, Aranyakas, Upanishadas and Epics which comprise the sacred literature of the Hindus. The Asur have been identified as primitive tribe in Jharkhand State of India. Their original occupation was iron smelting but now very few live by this profession. When the Asurs came to their present area of habitation is not known, but according to legend they lived with their kinsmen the Mundas, who in course in time drove them away. Driven by their kinsmen, the Asurs took shelter in the Netarhat Plateau, where they have been living for centuries unknown. According to other thoughts Asur had settled in Jharkhand before one thousand B.C.
There are references to the asurs in the Rigveda describing them as great builders. Centuries of isolation coupled with exploitation and subjugation by one or the other alien element, have driven the Asur into comparatively inaccessible tract of the land amidst hills and mountains, forests and undulating slopes.
The Asur locality is known as the Netharhat group of plateaus within Chotanagpur Plateau of Jharkhand State of India. The Netarhat plateau hills are of a nearly uniform height of about 3,600 feet above the sea level. The Plateau is formed of LATERITE rocks. It is from these rocks, the Asur used to extract iron ore for iron smelting.
Iron-smelting used to be the principal occupation of the Asurs, but now it has ceased to be so. Few years ago only one furnace was found working at village Ramgaria in Bishunpur thana where only two families worked and earned a very meager living.

IRON SMELTING BY ASURS:-

Three varities of iron ore are recognized by the Asur at the Netharhat Plateau. One is magnetite which is called POLA by the Asur. The other one is Haematite from coal measures known as BICHI and third one is Haematites from Laterite known as GOTA. The Asur were able to locate a site for the ores by observation and experience. On the basis of their family labour iron smelting was carried on by them. Green sal trees were cut by them in the neighbourhood of their furnace for preparing char coal as char coal of green sal was capable of generating sufficient heat for smelting iron ore in their furnaces which were usually located in the neighbourhood of water sources like Dari, Chua or rivulet.
The Asur family engaged in iron smelting perform SANSIKUTASI worship which may be called productive magic, as it is aimed at securing good iron while smelting. All the implements required for smelting and black smithy are collected in the front of the house. A cock and hen both of red colours are sacrificed during the worship. The ritual is followed by dance and drinks and merry-making. The peculiar feature of this festival is that musical instruments which are so essential for all social and festive occasions among the Asur are not played on this occasion when the youths and girls are engaged in dancing. Every head of a family has to don himself with a new piece of cloth on this occasion which is considered important in the annual cycle of festivals of the Asur.

During the last several decades due to the introduction of improved metallurgy and the forest conservation policy of the Government imposing restriction on wanton cutting of forest gave a final death blow to the industry of iron smelting in this plateau. Iron-smelting has now practically become a thing of the past.
References:
Gupta, S.P. 1976. The Asur, Ethno-Biological Profile. Bihar Tribal Welfare Research Institute, Ranchi.
Gupta, S.P. 1974. Tribes of Chotanagpur Plateau. Bihar Tribal Welfare Research Institute, Ranchi.
Ranchi District Gazetteer, 1970. Government of Bihar.
S.K.Singh, 2005. Inside Jharkhand. Crown Publications, Ranchi.

Dr. Nitish Priyadarshi
Geologist
Email: nitish.priyadarshi@gmail.com
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