Place of Origin: Karnataka (South India)
Date: 17th Century
Overall length: 310mm
Blade Length: 170mm
A 17th century South-Indian left-hand dagger known as a ‘Bichawa’, literally ‘scorpion sting’ due to the shape of the blade.
The bronze hilt, rich in its Hindu imagery, tells the story of how Daksha, Shiva’s father-in-law, offended Shiva by not inviting him to a sacrifice that Daksha had arranged to perform. Shiva’s wife, Sati Devi, attended un-invited and was so humiliated by her father she committed suicide by jumping into the sacrificial fire. Enraged by this, Shiva created Virabhadra by plucking and thrashing a matted lock of hair on the ground. He sent Virabhadra to punish Daskha, which he did by cutting of Daksha’s head in the battle. After Shiva was petitioned by the other gods he agreed to replace Daksha’s head, and because it could not be found, it was replaced with the head of a goat, or ram as it is seen here.
The bronze hilt is constructed in a tiered ‘trikula’ arrangement, a form of construction found in many South Indian temples. At the peak sits a prominent Nandi bull, elegantly modelled, with his front right leg tucked behind, and the front left leg resting on its own hoof. The tail and rear legs tucked to the right. The bulls’ majesty confirmed with the shelter from a hood of five cobra snakes; sat on a pedestal he is flanked by two small shiva lingums with petal arches, and a large shiva lingum shrine to his front.
The top tier of the knuckle guard has two crowned figures sitting astride another nandi bull, both with tall crowns, one holding a shield and the other a staff or other similar object; sheltered by seven snakes, with a perched parrot either side.
The middle tier has multi-armed Virabhadra standing in a wide stance, again with a tall crown, holding a sword in one hand an elongated shield in the other. The profile shows him holding two further objects, possibly a bow and staff. He can be seen wearing traditional wooden Paduka sandals, and a stylised garland. By studying other Virabhadra bronzes we can translate some of the stylised features in the hilt casting, particularly the garland that Virabhadra is shown wearing. Harle and Topsfield (p.52, no.63), illustrate a 16th/17th century bronze sculpture showing Virabhadra with a garland of skulls, and a large decapitated head between his legs.
The lowest tier of the hilt shows Daksha sitting in a lotus position. The profile of the knuckle guard is multi-lobed, and the rear of the hilt has a three headed cobra budding from a small lotus at the top, and a small Ganesh sitting beneath a pair of arches, with his trunk to his left and right palm held up.
The blade, is a later addition, but is of elegant form is double edged and forged from Indian ‘crystalline’ Damascus crucible steel, which has a tighter grain structure than ‘wootz’ steel.
A rare form of dagger which leaves much opportunity for study, the similarities with imagery found in South Indian temples is compelling and further research may lead to the discovery of the exact site of origin of this type of dagger.