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Kali Sword

Place of Origin: INDIA

Date: 17th–18th Century

Overall Length: 840mm

Reference: 232

Status: Available

Full Description:

This 18th century straight sword (katti) has a hilt richly illustrated with golden flora. Long stems have been posed symmetrically, roaming from langet to quillon to pommel and enclosing small leaves and four-petalled flowers. A similar design can be viewed on an enamelled katar in the al-Sabah collection[1].

The sword’s grip leans at an angle to the blade, a characteristic lost on swords in the 19th century. It is an arrangement meant to increase the sword’s cutting capacity but, in this case, adds to the overall aesthetic qualities too. The blade is of a quite elegant form and made of pattern-welded Damascus steel, highly polished in the Indian fashion. A long, low yelman runs for a third of the blade’s length.

Two markings can be found on the blade. The first is a local interpretation of the name Genoa and intended to give an already high-quality weapon an Italian association at a time when imported European weapons were highly prized in India (especially those exported from northern Italy). This mark is positioned between two ‘eyelashes’, as is typical, and found on both sides of the blade.

The second marking is a neatly engraved yantra. Yantras are mystical and geometrical cosmograms or diagrams used to worship deities as an aid in meditation, and they come in a variety of shapes and sizes, predominantly consisting of triangles, squares, hexagons, circles and so on[2]. Much like the eyes on the ramdao[3] swords of Nepal and Bengal, the yantra on this sword signifies Kali’s ‘presence’. It is considered to be a ‘para-rupa’ (an “abstract translation of the deity-image”)[4]. Kali is a much known goddess, progressing from a folk deity to her debut in the Devi Mahatmya, and finally standing on her own with her later developed iconographies. Many images and yantras speak of her popularity in India and beyond, even in the contemporary period.

 

[1] S. Kaoukji, Precious Indian Weapons and other Princely Accoutrements (the al-Sabah Collection), Thames and Hudson Ltd, 2017, cat. no.8, pp.48–49.

[2] Primarily these deities are females or Devis. For further reading, see Madhu Khanna, Yantra—The Tantric Symbol of Cosmic Unity, 2003.

[4] See Madhu Khanna, The Kali Yantra: The Changing Iconography of Dakshina Kali in Bengal, in–Art, Icon and Architecture in South Asia—Essays in Honour of Dr Devangana Desai, edited by Anil Verghese & Anna Dallapiccola, 2015.


 

The reason behind the yantra’s inclusion is intriguing. It is likely that the sword’s patron was an ardent Devi worshipper but it is difficult to conclude whether the weapon itself was used as a sacrificial sword or for battle, or both. Either way, it has probably been included here to impart spiritual focus and guidance to the wielder.

The orientation of the yantra tells us something about how it was designed to be viewed, and perhaps meditated upon. At its centre is a small dot (or bindu) which represents the soul, surrounded by five equilateral triangles of ascending size and these are thought to represent the sheathes of human consciousness: the physical, the life force, the mental or emotional, wisdom, and bliss. The triangles are generally shown inverted on yantras and this refers to the regenerative power of the divine female. To view the yantra in the correct orientation this sword has to be held by the grip with the blade resting on the back of the other hand and the cutting edge away from the body. Translations of Kulachudamani Tantra[1] give instructions on how to meditate upon such symbols, of note ask the follower to meditate upon the Matrikas: "Worship the eight mothers Brahmi, Narayani, Maheshvari, Chamunda, Kaumari, Aparajita, Varahi and Narasimhi. (Also see item 27 of this catalogue.)

The blade is protected by the tulwar’s original scabbard, and made of wood, with much of its beautiful silk brocade covering still surviving.

My thanks to Vinit Vyas for his help with the Kali yantra.

 

[1] http://www.shivashakti.com/kaliyan.htm