Hargin: A Mythical Creature of Gilgit
In the imaginary creatures in popular folktales of Gilgit, Hargin is quite famous. Hargin is basically a giant snake, python, or anaconda like creature. In the mythical sense it resembles to the dragon in Chinese mythology or culture. Though people apply this name to refer to a giant snake, a close reading of the content of folktales and mythical accounts about leads us to the conclusion that it is a mythical creature. According to Mazhar Ali, a researcher of Shina language and lexicon, hargin is a compound word comprised of two words -hara and gin. When inflections are added to the root word of hara, the compound word of hargin is formed. In Shina language hara means a dissolute place and fontanelle at the same time. Hara is a root word from which multiple words are derived such as Haramosh, Harali, Haraspo etc. The word ‘gin’ itself connotes the mythological character of the creature hargin. The literal meaning of hargin appears to be the one who controls the mind.
In the mythical worldview of Gilgit-Baltistan, ibex is considered to be a domesticated animal of fairies. Therefore, certain supernatural traits are attributed with the ibex. According to folktales and mythical anecdotes in Gilgit-Baltistan, hargin is actually begotten by the dead body of ibex. When the horns of Ibex grow beyond 50 rings, he/she starts to get impatient, and he survived all these long years in harsh winter seasons. Also, the ibex has already summited every peak in the valley. The only things that s/he sees above himself is the full moon spreading its refulgent light all over the mountains and putting mellow taste into the fruits that have been ripped by the sunlight. The shimmering moonlight on snowclad mountains turn them into a beaming diamond. This uncanny scenery creates an urge in the ibex to reach out for moon. For that purpose, it stands at the top of cliff and tries to measure the moon. While attempting this, the ibex jumps over the ridge and dies thereof. Its dead body falls into the deep ravine and starts to decompose resulting in birth of thousands of vermin. After devouring the flesh, the vermin are left without any food. To feed themselves they started to devour one another. It is a kind of cannibalism within their own specie. The weaker vermin are devoured by the stronger ones. The vermin that eat most of the vermin become the strongest one. In the end only two vermin are left. The finale come with the stronger vermin devouring the only remaining vermin. With the devouring of the last vermin, the hargin is born.
Now vermin turned hargin becomes strong enough to hunt small prey like rabbit, snake, marmot, partridges, lambs of wild goats and other wild creatures. Gradually, it grows bigger in size and starts to prey upon every wild creature. At a certain stage of its evolution, hargin develops a capacity to transform her reptilian figure into beautiful human shape. For example, she can turn into a giant snake instantly, her neck stretches to great lengths to capture its prey from distance, she can turn into a precious stone, etc. Hargin has not a single set of roles. She has many facets such as she guards damsels in captivity of demon, she sits upon a treasure to save it from human plunder and she hypnotise birds to flock into her wide mouth and mesmerise humans with her ravishing beauty. In most of the stories hargin appears in the shape of a female, however there are tales where hargin is a male. In the tale of Gorpaching, an eponymous demon the king and his two sons, the same demon entices the widow queen and marries her to the dismay of the only and youngest son of king. In the end of story, the prince also kills her mother along with demon. So, it points towards functioning different psycho-social dynamics in Gilgit. Structurally, the demon has all the characteristics of hargin. For example, he can appear as a beautiful and colourful bird. It is in shape of the bird he entices the king and his two sons and takes them to bushes and devours them.
In folk and mythical tales of Gilgit, hargin is generally represented as a damsel with mesmerizing beauty. She looks so beautiful in the human shape that kings go mad in love with her. Through her enthralling beauty hargin succeeds to hide her ugly side of inhumanly nature. There are tales about hargin enticing the heart of a king and hypnotizing humans for her evil designs. For example, there is this story wherein a prince gets infatuated with the heavenly beauty of a girl who is actually a hargin. The prince gets married to her and leads a blissful life together. There were rumours about the new princess being hargin, but the prince ignored it by terming hearsays against his beautiful wife.
One night, he found her wife licking his back while he was asleep. He gets suspected and consults a witch doctor. The witch doctor prescribes a test to verify the veracity of suspicion about the possible identity of the princess. He advised the prince to cook a liver with excessive salt and make her to eat it. That night the prince offers the princess cooked liver. Later he takes him into a room and lock her in a room without water. At night the princess feels thirsty but could not find the water. Meanwhile, the prince and his soldier kept a vigil all night to monitor the princess. After searching for water in vain, the princess opens the small window. To the astonishment of spying prince and his courtiers, the princess after opening the window stretches her neck to reach the nearby stream to drink water. It confirms the real identity of princess as the hargin, but the prince does not divulge that knowledge to her.
The knowledge of inhuman nature of hargin greatly dismayed the prince. To get rid of her, he consults his minister and oracle. The minister and oracle advise him to prepare a room with iron. The princess acts upon the advice and constructs a room with iron. Following their advice, he asks the princess to spend a night with him in a newly built room. He tells her that he prepared the room with iron to safeguard their own lives from prying enemies. She complies with his request and goes into iron room. With sleight of hand, the prince locks the room from outside and orders his army to burn down the iron room. His soldiers pile firewood on and around the room and lit a fire. The princess inside the room starts to scream and moan supplicating people to rescue her. With increase in heat of fire, her screams become even louder. By the morning, the fire and screams die down. The prince opens the door and in the ashes of her body he found a ruby of the size of palm. There he had a realization that she had genuine love for him. That is why upon her death she left a gift in the shape of precious ruby.
The mythical creature of hargin contains multiple meaning and messages for the people who inhabit the mythical worldview and cultural milieu from which the tale stems. At first it defies the normal or human way of seeing everything in binary or dividing the world into the realm of nature and supernatural from human one. For binary mind, it is either good or evil.
In the case of hargin good and evil cohabit single body in which the good company turns the creature into good and evil company into evil. It is basically a metaphysics of mythology according to which we become what we feed. In shamanic cosmology the good and evil is within us. If our heart is fill with evil, then the evil forces arrive of darinigi (outside evil spirit in Shina) arrives from outside to make an abode within us. Likewise, fairies will perch upon the heart of that person who cleanse his soul of all things bad and filthy.
The character of hargin defies all the human construct by assimilating human, nature, and supernatural characteristics. After the immolation of hargin, the finding of large piece of ruby in her ashes connotes that the very essence of hargin is good and her love is as pure as ruby. However, human beings cannot see the goodness and preciousness of other creatures because their vision and perception are clouded and restricted by too much concern with everything human. According to humans, anything not human is inhuman. This attitude makes human cruel towards nature, animals and even to humans. To see goodness in other beings, we need to get rid of our perspective of good and evil. Hargin appears to be a creature that evolves from the base material of vermin but gradually she becomes a supernatural creature with irresistible qualities. Within the hierarchy of beings in shamanic cosmology, supernatural being, like fairies and goddesses, are the highest being because of purity in them. Seen in this context, hargin combines both the heavenly (davako) and base or evil spirits. She is an epitome of spiritual fight fought between two forces within one creature. Hence, hargin is a metaphor for human urge to transcend human limitations to become a supernatural being – diwaako.
In few respects, the creature of hargin resembles to the mythical nature of cobra (nagan or naagan) in Hindu mythology where cobra transforms reptilic kingdom in human in the kingdom. But before transforming into human or Ichchadhari Naag or Naagin a cobra spends 100 years of penance. Conversely, in hargin there is no conception of a prior existence. Hargin appears to be an evolved state of herself. Having said that the characteristics of nagan cannot be extrapolated in toto to explain the mythical creature of hargin as there is not much material available for thorough comparison and contrast. It appears to be separate from Hindu mythology.
Interestingly, like Shri Badat the theme of fire as redeemer also recurs in this tale. According to the popular folktale about the cannibal king Shri Badat, the people got rid of his evil by burning him in a pit of fire. Similarly, they get rid of hargin by literally incinerating her in a furnace. The persistent presence of fire in the folktales of Gilgit-Baltistan signifies the significance of fire in the overall cultural imagination. This may be attributed to presence of Zarathustrianism in Central Asia region including Gilgit-Baltistan. I will elaborate the cultural meanings, rituals and manifestations of fire in Gilgit-Baltistan in a separate chapter.