Descendants of Indus Valley Builder Tribe May Soon Disappear, Taking Secret Knowledge with Them
More than four millennia ago, the Indus Valley civilization was a vast and sophisticated culture spanning what is now Pakistan and western India. Their urban planning was admirable and they had impressive water storage and maintenance. This civilization also domesticated animals, harvested crops, and created a unique writing system. The Asurs of central India are the descendants of the famous builder tribe of the Indus Valley civilization, but these people and their secret knowledge are now under severe threat .
The Asurs are one of the oldest groups of indigenous people in India and one of the most ancient metallurgist groups in the world. Their ancestors date back to the Mahabharat Age and passed down special knowledge for iron smelting. The metallurgy of the Asurs is exceptionally advanced and deeply connected to their culture and customs. For example, while smelting iron an Asur woman can sometimes be heard singing to the furnace as if it were a mother expecting the birth of a healthy baby.
A modern Asur man using a traditional furnace to make iron in Ranchi city. ( Nitish Priyadarshi )
Most modern Asur people live in poor conditions in Jharkhand and West Bengal. They lack healthcare, clean water, and educational facilities. Furthermore, bauxite mining in the region has created pollution, illness, and livelihood problems. Nowadays, their numbers only total about 8000 people, but there are some Asurs who are still battling to hold on to their distinct culture and traditions.
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One of their distinct cultural features is an advanced knowledge of how to extract iron from laterite rocks. This sets the Asurs apart as everyone else extracts iron from hematite and magnetite.
Laldeo Asur is one of the last custodians of the traditional technique of iron smelting by Asurs. ( Abhishek Saha )
Ashis Sinha, a research scholar and local journalist, points out that the origins of the Asur people can be found in key ancient Indian texts such as the Rigveda and Upanishads. As a report by the researcher states, “The Asurs of 12 BC were the greatest. They established the Mohenjodaro and Harappan Civilizations. They were tall and Herculean in their builds.”
One of the best-known examples accredited to the Asurs for their advanced knowledge of ironworking is the famous Ashoka Iron pillar at Delhi. That pillar shows almost no signs of corrosion despite its age and almost pure iron content. It also surpasses modern smelting techniques.
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The iron Ashoka pillar. ( akubhatta)
The advanced metalworking knowledge of the Asurs can also be seen in the iron pillar at Dhar, Iron beam at Konark, and Damascus steel, according to Sinha.
The decreasing population and dismal treatment of the Asur people is worrying. They were once a great builder tribe, but if things do not change soon their special skills, customs, indigenous knowledge, and lives could all be lost.
Top Image: A group of Asur men outside a traditional hut in Polpol Path. Source: Abhishek Saha