Iron in the Vedas, Ramayana and Mahabharata


Fig. 1: The Bow in the Eight-wheel Box

Mar 20, 2012 — INDIA (SUN) — Evidence in support of the existence of iron from Vedic texts -- an analysis by Prof. Anand M. Sharan.

The meaning of the Sanskrit word ayas has been debated for a long time. Many have believed that iron did not exist during the Vedic Period, so ayas means non ferrous alloys (bronze, brass etc.). So far, there was no evidence to prove that iron was known to the sages like Vyas, Valmiki, etc.

It was also believed that iron was brought by the so-called Aryans into India, and the plains (Ganga-Yamuna) were inhabited after the cutting off of the forests in the swamps by iron tools. Before this era, the population of India was first settled along the Indus River, and then along the India-Nepal border.

Are such beliefs true? The answer, according to the author is - no. We can see this by examining the evidences presented here.

Fig. 2: Ravana and Banasura try to lift the bow

Fig. 1 shows the Bow that was used to select the proper person to marry Sitajee, as described in the Valmiki Ramayana. King Janaka had set the condition that whosoever lifts this Bow can marry his daughter Sita. Fig. 2 shows Ravana and Banasura, who were trying their luck to lift this Bow (Ramcharit Maanas by Saint Tulsidas). The description of how this Bow was brought for lifting is shown in Fig. 1, as mentioned in the Valmiki Ramayana. The appropriate verses number from 1 to 4. These verses are in Sanskrit with their Hindi translation written below each of the verses. Did the person who translated these verses not realize that iron (loha) did not exist in those days?

Fig. 3-4: India (left), Bihar (right)

Fig. 2 shows the Bow in an eight-wheeled box. It was wheeled to the place of contest by the ministers of King Janaka. Not only this, it is well known that Dhritrashtra embraced a dummy made of iron, instead of Bhima, after the Mahabharata War. Bhima's mace was made of iron. Similarly there are clear descriptions of iron in the Mahabharata, at many places. Many say that these descriptions were written or included many centuries after the Mahabharata War.

The word ayas has been mentioned in the Vedas many times. The Rig Veda was composed close to the Harappan Civilization. Could someone have known about iron in those days? How old are the Vedas? The early Rig-Veda mentions about the Asuras who were described to be nice people in the beginning.

Fig. 4 shows a map of Bihar, and Fig. 5 show pictures of Vishnupad at Gaya, a place where the Hindus go to offer water to their fore-fathers . In Fig. 5, one can see Lord Vishnu killing Gayasura, which can be written as Gayas-asura. Fig. 6 shows the Phalgu (Niranjana) river where the water is offered, and Fig. 7, the monastery at that location. Adi Shankaracharya had visited here during his travels around India.

Fig. 5: Vishnu killing Gayasura

The Asuras lived in India even during the Vedic days. The fact that the Asura, Banasura was invited to Sitajee's swamvar shows that the so-called Aryans (King Janaka) got along well with the Asuras. Furthermore, the presence of Ravana and Banasura (who lived near Arrah) indicates that people traveled far and wide even during those days.

Fig. 6: Phalgu (Niranjana) River at Visnupada Gaya

Bhima in the Mahabharata had killed the King of Magadha - Jarasandha at Rajgir (Fig. 8), and Bakasura, near Arrah. Rajgir was the first capital of India during its written history. Here, Lord Buddha had converted King Bimbisar on the Vulture Peak.

Fig. 7: The Monastery at Vishnupad

The presence of iron during Vedic , Ramayana, and Mahabharata days can be understood from looking at the Table 1. In Fig. 9, the Asuras are shown smelting iron near Netarhat. This picture was taken during the Sixties of the last century [Possehl,. and Gullapalli, 1999] . These Asuras were known to smelt iron in large numbers in the nineteenth century, and before.

Fig. 8: View of Rajgir

For how long the iron smelting technology has been within India can be seen in the Table 1. In Gufkral in the Kashmir Valley, iron was smelted during the Megalithic Age - around 2000 BC. This area is close to the locations of the Harappan Civilization.

Table 1: Radiometric Dates for Megalithic Iron in Penninsular India

The author of this paper mentions about iron smelting, later in the Gandhara area nearby. Biswas [1995] has identified three main areas where iron is known to be smelted since the ancient times. These areas are: (1) Atranjikhera near Delhi or Aligarh, Uttar Pradesh , (2) Singhbhum - Raipur areas where Asuras and Gond tribals live, and (3) Karnataka area, where one can see places like Paiyampalli (again Neolithic-Megalithic) where iron was smelted.

Fig 9: Asuras Smelting Iron near Netarhat

It is believed that the expansion of the Magadha Empire was due to the source of iron nearby (Baraaber Hills near Gaya - refer to Fig. 4) [Wolpert,1993].

The Asuras of Netarhat belong to the group of the tribals of Central India where today , most of the steel plants (roughly 90 % and above of steel production of India) takes place. The steel plants are located at Bhilai near Raipur, Rourkela in Orrisa, Jamshedpur, Bokaro, and Burnpur. The ore for the plant at Durgapur (West Bengal) possibly is also obtained from this area only.

Fig 10: Apparatus for Smelting of Iron by Asuras

We can be reasonably sure that iron technology within India was developed independent of those from outside, and that the Aryans did not bring this technology into India. Other relevant literature can be seen in the references listed below.

Finally, the word ayas included iron when mentioned in the scriptures.

Fig 11: Locations of Iron Ore in India


Banerjee, 1965, Iron Age in India, Munshiram Manoharlal, 54 Rani Jhansi Road, New Delhi, 55, India

Biswas, A.K., 1996, Minerals and Metals in India, D.K. Print World Ltd., Shree Kunj , F-52 Bali Nagar, New Delhi-15

Joshi, N. R., 1998, Tough Steel of Ancient India - Revisiting Indus-Saraswati Age and Ancient India

Kosambi, D. D., 1965, The Culture and Civilization of Ancient India, Routledge and Kegan Paul, London, U.K.

Possehl, Gregory L. and Gullapalli, Praveena, 1999 - The Early Iron Age in South Asia

Pigott, Vincent, editor, The Archaeometallurgy of the Asian Old World, 'University Museum Monograph 89, MASCA Research Papers in Science and Archaeology' Volume 16, Philadelphia: The University Museum, University of Pennsylvania, pp. 153-175

Wolpert, S., 1993, A New History of India, Oxford University Press, New York, Fourth Edition


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