Place of Origin: South India
Date: Early 17th Century
This elaborate South Indian katar push-dagger comes from a celebrated group of closely-related katars in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York—see Robert Elgood’s Hindu Arms and Ritual (1) for further examples. The steel hilt is fitted with an imported European estoc (or tuck) sword blade that is held firmly in place by twin, reinforcing plates of elegant design. The blade makes this a slightly more unusual variant as most others employed classical European rapier blades instead. Estocs were specialised weapons with long, stiff blades that were sharpened only at the point—this giving them an improved capacity to endure the great forces necessary to pierce an opponent’s armour.
While gripping the central, bulbous handles, the side bars—which both taper to graceful, cusped ends—would have given some protection to the user’s hand and wrist. The chiselled and pierced forms of decoration that these side bars present are what characterises this particular group. Facing left is a prancing yali with bulging eyes, and flame-lie eyebrows. His mouth gapes to better bare a set of razor sharp teeth. He proudly shows a fluted neck, pronounced breast and a body that looks spotted like that of a leopard’s. Upon a pair of identical fish he stands: a popular royal symbol in ancient South India. Below the fearsome yali, the side bars are decorated with a repeating pattern of trefoil sprigs, ending in a single inset panel that shows a deeply cut and chased bird, its beak pointing upwards and its wings out-stretched. The use of birds is also employed on the underside of the guard, where two opposing parrots perched between borders made of rows of flower garlands.
Provenance: Private European Collection
(1) Elgood, Hindu Arms and Ritual, 2004, p.15, fig.1.3, pp.152–161, figs.15.17–15.37.