Smelting Songs from Central India: the Asurs

Songs and verses are predominantly used by traditional craft-communities to store and perpetuate important social and technological information. These simple and easy-to-memorize songs are often employed as learning tools to teach crucial technical and cultural aspects of the craft to an apprentice. The songs and verses often outlive the craft in the individual or collective memory of the members of the craft-community and provide a critical entry point for the anthropologists attempting to understand the socio-cultural and technical aspects of past craft-production.

Here I am reproducing two songs related to iron-smelting, that was collected during my research fieldwork with the Asur tribe in Jharkhand.The first one is a hymn or khobra to the Sansi (tongs) and Kutasi (hammer), sung at the beginning of the annual Sansi-Kutasi festival, still observed by the Asurs in March every year. This song depicts the anxieties of the Asur iron-smelters. The second one is a smelting-song. It was one among many songs sung while collecting ores, making charcoal, preparing the furnace or smelting iron. This song, like many other smelting-songs recorded, primarily in Africa, has a theatrical element attached to it. Unlike the previous one, this song cannot just be sung, it needs to be enacted, or physically performed. The songs are originally in Asuri, which is not a written language, and currently endangered. I translated these songs into Hindi with the help of my Asur interlocutors, who all speak the language. The English translation given here, are mine.

Song 1
Khobra to SansiKutasi
O sacred Dhemna (tongs) and Dhemni (hammer)
See we’ve assembled today to sing thy praise

O please take good care of us
So that our bodies are not brunt by the sparks of fire while we work

And even if the sparks touch our bodies
Let there be no burns and let there be no pain

Today we have thus assembled
To offer our prayers to Sansi-Kutasi
Please take care of us [o Sansi-Kutasi]

Please also see that the chapua [bellows]
sansi-kutasi-chulha [tongs-hammer-furnace] and hasa [charcoal]
Produces good iron together

Song 2
The Smelting-song

We’re making hasa [charcoal] on the hills
We’re burning hasa on the hills

Hasa ready!
We make loha [iron] in a kuthi [smelting-house] on the hills
We forge our tools in the kuthi on the hills

Take sansi-kutasi in front
Hang the ghana [sledgehammer] over your shoulder
Now let’s forge the pal [ploughshare]

Come on!
Hurry up!
The hasa becomes cold in the forest


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