Saturday, July 9, 2011

Story of the Workers with Fire

Storyof the Workers with Fire (AGNIHAR),

also known as the Story (kahani) of the Iron Smelters (Lohar)

In the beginning there was a Green God called "Haram". (The word Hara means Green in Indian languages. But whether the name Haram is derived from this or some other root, is not clear, as there are different opinions. Some call him Dharam, or Dharmes, which is related to the Indo-European Firma, or that is fixed, permanent)

He made everything.

Haram made all the animals, and gave them work to do.

Only onem family Haram forgot. These were the "Asuras". (Surya means the sun, so some suggest these are people who live in the dark. But Ahura in the Iranian tradition meant the wise people, as in Ahura Mazda. Again some difference of opinion)

The Asuras asked Haram "What can we do? What work have you got for us to do ? Give us work!!" (The word "work" in Indian languages is Karam. This can also mean fate)

Haram said: "All right ! you can work with fire !"

The Asuras were happy. They made fires. They burnt the dark forest. They made black charcoal from the burnt trees. With charcoal they cooked the earth in great ovens. From stones they made iron. From iron they made sharp weapons. They cut down trees They killed animals. They made war. They became rich and strong. Everyone was afraid of them !

The animals came running to Haram in terror. Haram's white horse 'Hamsraj Pankraj', the Swan Horse (Hamsa means Swan, Panka means wings) had his nose filled with smoke. He lost his appetite. He could not ear. He became sick. "Help us ! The animals cried to Haram. "The Asuras are destroying the whole earth !!!

Haram sent his white birds. They flew to the Asuras who worked in the dark caves of the earth. "Stop these fires!" the birds pleaded. "Stop this work!" the birds shouted.

The Asuras laughed at the birds. They threw coal dust on their white wings. They caught the feathers of the birds with their iron tongs. The birds became covered with coal dust and their feathers were spoilt. "Our God is Work (Karam)" the Asuras boasted. "Now we worship Karam not Haram (or Dharam). We will not stop working. We will burn up everything !"

The birds returned to Haram. Their feathers were spoilt, with the polluting smoke of the fires. One bird was now the Crow. Another was the Stork. The last is called the "Scissor bird" (Kenchi Chiriya, or Drongo), because its tail is divided where the Asuras caught it with their tongs used in smelting iron. "Our feathers are ruined ! the birds lamented, "We are no longer beautiful. The fires have covered us with ash !"

Haram's wife is Sita (the Furrow in the earth, also the tip of the plough with which the earth is cultivated. She is born from the earth) She is the gentle womb of the earth.

"Be careful!!" she warned Haram. "These Asuras are proud and hard-hearted. Do not go to them directly. Take a round-about path. Be clever !!" (The myth is also sometimes referred to as the
indirect path)

Haram came to the Asuras in the disguiye of a small child. He looked weak, his skin covered with ugly patches. He appeared to be sick, his body wounded. He came to the Asuras like a beggar. "Help me !" Haram begged the Asuras. "Please give me some work that I can do ! I am without Mother or Father. I am ready to work for you !"

The Asuras laughed at Haram. "What work can you do ? You are sick. You have no strength. Go to the Old Woman. She makes charcoal in the forest, which we use in our fires. Maybe she can give you a job that you can do."

The boy Haram went to the Old Woman. "Can I help you with some job ?" he asked. She felt sorry for him. "What can you do?" she enquired. "Maybe you can look after my grain. It has to be dried in the sun, but the birds come and eat it ! Can you keep an eye on my grain ? That is an easy job for you to do. Are you hungry ?" she asked. "You can give me an egg--that is all I need," the boy replied.

Haram took the egg when the woman had gone to the forest. He went to play with the children of the Asuras. They played a game rolling iron balls so that they fell into a hole in the ground. "Can I play with you?" the child Haram asked. "But you have no ball to play with!" the Asura children replied. "I have this egg!"Haram showed them. "Your egg will get broken in the game, if it is hit by an iron ball!" the children mocked. But Haram played their game, using his egg. He beat the Asura children at their game. "This boy has some kind of magic!" the Asura children concluded. They ran to tell their Fathers.

Meanwhile the Asuras were finding that they were getting less and less iron out of the ground. They were worried. They wondered if some magic that the strange child was using, was working against them. They decided to find out from the child Haram how they could get iron out of the
ground once more. "What should we do, so as to get iron from the earth ?" the Asuras now asked Haram. "We cannot get iron from rocks as we did before ! Tell us the magic formula. We know that you can use magic. How can our fires change stones into balls of iron ? What is the secret ?"

At first Haram refused to answer them. Then at last he said: "Yes, I know the Secret. You have to make a Sacrifice!. Only then will fire change the earth into precious metal"

"What is this Sacrifice ?" the Asuras enquired. "How should we make a Sacrifice ? What should we do ?" (Karam can also mean a ritual sacrifice)

"Perhaps you can sacrifice a white hen" Haram suggested. The Asuras got some more iron from the earth when they made this sacrifice. But it was very little. They asked Haram again to help.

"May be you could sacrifice a goat--that is bigger!!" Haram proposed.

The Asuras sacrificed a goat. That was more effective, but still not good enough. Again they approached Haram. Once again he suggested an even bigger animal, this time a Buffalo. That is more expensive. But even that did not satisfy the needs of the Asuras.

In the end the child Haram revealed the secret lying behind the need to sacrifice: "Actually, you must sacrifice a human being !"

But where to find a victim ? " I have no Father or Mother. I am weak, my body is sick and covered with wounds. You can sacrifice me !" Haram told the Asuras. Now they were really happy.

"How can we sacrifice you ?" they wanted to know. "Put me into your fire ! Close me up in the oven in which you burn your stones. Let me be in the flames for three days and three nights. Then open up the oven, and let me out!"

The Asuras did as Haram suggested. When they opened the oven Haram stepped out, golden like the rising sun. He came out riding on his white swan-horse Hamsraj Pankraj.

"So far we only got black iron out of the earth using fire. Where did this wonderful gold come from ?" The Asuras asked in amazement.

"This can happen if you offer Sacrifice !" Haram revealed.

Then all the Asuras rushed into their fire. "Let us also get this precious gold!" they cried. "Close us up in the burning oven!" they instructed their wives. "Cook us for 3 days and 3 nights !" they commanded their women folk.

The first day the women heard their men shouting. "Why are they shouting?" the women asked Haram. "Perhaps they are fighting over the gold; you know how greedy they are!" Haram suggested.

Then there was silence.

When the women opened the oven, they found only dry bones and ashes.

"You have cheated us!!!" they now accused Haram.

"Cheated you ?" Haram asked "Do not talk to me about cheating ! I gave you a work to do. You burnt my earth. You killed my animals. You never listened to my bird messengers. I came myself to ask for your charity. You mocked at me. So now do not talk about cheating!!!"

"But I can still help you again" Haram added. "You can work again--but not like you did before. You must not work all the time. The earth must have time to rest. You should dance. You must respect other creatures. You must offer Sacrifice. You must not be greedy. You must not only work to become rich. You must work for all creatures, so that all might become beautiful. Your fires must be used to transform the whole earth. You must be wise. Do for others what you would like others to do for you. Give generously, and then you will receive !"

This is the new covenant that Haram gave to all creatures.

Ps. In the original myth, as told by the Pahan (shaman), the widowed wives of the Asuras clung to his horse as he was returning back to the skies. Then one woman fell into the forest, another into a river, another onto a mountain, another onto a rock. They became the Spirits of Nature, and can still be found in the land. They are angry spirits, and so can bring sickness, suffering. They need to be appeased.

Haram told his creatures: "I do not need to eat. What you sacrifice is no use to me !! But these Spirits who are Angry, they need to be offered your sacrifices. Give your Sacrifices to them ! Then they will not hurt you. Then you can Prosper.!"

According to many the myth of the Iron Smelters is recited at the time of the Sacrifice. The Sacrifice protects the living from the angry spirits of the dead, who feel that they have been cheated. These spirits are associated with the feminine beings of the Underworld. They are the spirits of nature. The living are afraid of these spirits.

Should human beings be afraid of the spirits of nature ? Science and Technology have been developed to free people from this fear. But in the process, nature itself has been destroyed. At a deeper level, the Sacrifice that human beings have to make, is to Nature. Unless nature is propitiated, it will eventually destroy us. It is nature that brings us many blessings, but also suffering and disease, if we do not respect the spirits of nature, and take care of them.

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