Tales Through Iron

Shampa Shah

Indira Gandhi Rashtriya Manav Sangrahalaya is dedicated to the depiction of how humankind evolved in time and space. Primarily an open air museum spread over 197 acres, its various exhibitions – ‘Tribal Habitat’, ‘Coastal Village’, ‘Himalayan Village’, ‘Desert Village’, ‘Rock Art Heritage’ and ‘Mythological Trail’-present a continuity from prehistoric rock shelters to contemporary ways of life in close natural environs. Mythological trail hosts a collection of adivasi and folk myths of India- depicted in two and thee dimensional forms. The concept of the exhibition was to document the vast treasure of oral, intangible heritage in a way that it would not get lost in files and volumes but would strive for a live contact with people. These myths have been depicted by the artists and craftsperson of those very communities to which the myths belong. At present there are about 40 exhibits on display which about 60 artists have worked on. The materials used have been varied, ranging from clay, stone, bronze, and terracotta to paints. From among these 40 exhibits the iron mural depicting the Lohar origin myths forms one of the entrance to this exhibition. (The Kingdom of Lohripur and the Lohar Origin Myth Artist ¬ - Shri Hiralal, Nandlal, Bhagguram, Santosh, Panchuram and Jailal Region ¬ - Bastar, Chhattisgarh Dimension ¬- 14 feet x 12 feet Material -¬)

Iron King Sabarsai of Loharipur had twelve sons and one daughter. When time came the eldest son, Logundi was crowned the king and Angarmati became the wife of all the twelve brothers. In Loharipur the roads and houses were made all of iron and when the brothers began work in their foundry, everything burned aglow. People there ate molten iron for food. So once when there was drought, and the whole world turned up at the house of the God, Lohripur people remained oblivious of it all. This unsettled the God a bit and made him suspect Logundi as possessing more powers than Him. Sukhi Chamarin knew the trick to cool off hot iron, so accompanied by her, God entered Lohripur and asked for food. When they were served molten iron soup in a bowl, they were scared and asked for water to wash their hands. Sukhi Chamarin realised that her tricks would not work with this virgin iron. In Lohripur they had never heard of water. They had to go to the next village in search of it and meanwhile God vanished. God's trick however played havoc with the people. No sooner had they touched water, than they lost their ability to eat hot iron and died as soon as they ate their food. Angarmati however stopped after her first spoon, ran to a Gond house and jumped into the pitcher of butter-milk. She saved herself and also her son who was born after some time. He was called Jwalamukhi. When he grew up, he decided to avenge his father and uncles death. Jwalamukhi made a big iron cage, went to the sea 'shore where the sun and moon played everyday and caught them in his cage. Immediately there was darkness all over and a terrible chaos. The Gods had to descend from the heavens to look into the matter. It was only after they apologized to Jwalamukhi and acknowledged him as the bravest man. The sun and the moon were then released.

Iron Mural
On this iron mural two other myths related to iron smithy have also been depicted. According to the other story; making of iron tools such as pair of tongs and hammer, was rendered possible, taking inspiration from a dog sitting cross legged and a woodpecker. Another myth links the craft of iron smithy with the epic story of Mahabharat thereby establishing its antiquity. Draupadi and Bhim were passing by a jungle when a lovely flower carried by the wind alighted on her. The fragrance of the flower was such that Draupadi wanted the flowering tree to be planted in her garden. On enquiry, people told Bhima that the tree bearing the rare flower was none other then the Saal tree (Shorea robusta) which was kept locked inside seven iron castles in the kingdom of Lohripur as its wood yielded the best quality coal. Bhim taking the help of a boar dug tunnels right from the sea up to the castles. The forceful waves threw open the castle gates and the seeds of the Saal tree dispersed all over the world. Besides these myths the fabulous iron mural which also serves as a gate carries the over powering ambiance of nature. All the individual figures in this iron mural are made from a sheet iron by beating, cutting and folding i.e., each figure is made without a joint or welding. The mural has also been fitted with oil lamps which can be filled and lighted on special occasions. Traditionally the Lohars make agricultural tools and a variety of beautiful lamps which carry images of nature besides the oil bowls. Their myth of origin has been depicted on these traditional lamps.

The museum tries to highlight such exquisite pieces of indigenous art before people.

Source : Photographs by the Author


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