The Eight Metals | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, December 08, 2012 / LAST MODIFIED: 12:00 AM, December 08, 2012

Tangents

The Eight Metals


Rafes with his offering. Photo: Ihtisham Kabir

The other day I was waiting in Shyamoli for a friend when I noticed a man selling rings on the sidewalk. Some of them looked different from normal rings because they contained no stones, and I soon realized what they were. I had heard of Ashtadhatu rings before, but this was the first time I saw them being made and sold.
Ashtadhatu means “eight metals” and - in theory - is an alloy of gold, silver, copper, lead, tin, zinc, iron and antimony. Statues made of Ashtadhatu are considered sacred and pure in India. Many people believe that wearing such a ring brings health benefits, including relief from rheumatism and digestion problems.
The man, who had shreds of various metals in different containers, finished fitting a ring in a customer's finger. Then he glanced quickly at my camera before looking at me. I asked his name.
“Rafes Fakir,” he said.
I asked him how he made the ring. He showed me a pre-made brass ring with a hole in the center where the Ashtadhatu alloy is fitted.
But how was the alloy made? Didn't he need a fire to weld the metals together?
No, he said, because the metals were soft and could be mixed into an alloy by simply beating them together.
He pointed out the components: pitol, iron, shisha, mercury, dosta, tama, silver, rang. They were in small pieces in separate containers, and they all felt malleable when I squeezed them.
I ordered a ring for 50 Taka (I suppose price is the main reason gold has been replaced in the combination.) Rafes cut little pieces of the metal shreds into a container and mashed them thoroughly. Then he used a hammer to beat the alloy into the ring's hole, finally using a file to smooth it out nicely.
The ring, which has to be worn on the right hand for the Ashtadhatu to make contact with food, fit snugly on my ring finger.
Rafes is 58 years old and hails from Madaripur. Father of six and grandfather of three girls, he is the third generation in his family to do this work. His father taught him this work.
His only son is studying for his school certificate exam. “Will he follow in the family tradition?” I ask him. “He is too young to decide now,” he replied.
Rafes has sold Ashtadhatu rings on the sidewalk for seven years, working from 8am to 2:30pm seven days a week. He splits his time between Shyamoli and a spot near Suhrawardy Udyan.
I asked him the question uppermost in my mind.
“How do you know that it works?”
“That is for the customers to decide,” he says with a modest smile. Then he adds, “I have been selling these rings for seven years, and who can stay in business that long with a product that does not work?”

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