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ZOOMORPHIC TULWAR

Place of Origin: SOUTHERN INDIA

Date: 17th / 18th Century

Overall: 1000mm (39 ½ inches)

Reference: 285

Status: Available

Full Description:

This brass talwar hilt is interesting not only for the human and zoomorphic forms that comprise its decoration, but also for the Polish blade with which it has been paired.

The hilt’s langets appear as long-faced makara (imposing sea creatures from Hindu mythology) with scales picked out in closely cut detail behind them, as well as on the grip where the mythical creature is depicted to have the body of a fish. The quillons have been stylised as grimacing tigers’ heads, a motif that recurs as the finial of the recurved knuckle guard. The hilt’s unusual decoration makes its origins difficult to place, but its similarities to other South Indian weapon-types, such as the famed Tipu Sultan swords, would suggest this example originates from the same region.[1]

The blade is single-edged until the final third of its length and is cut with two fullers: the first fuller deeper and extending along the back edge, whilst another at the centre is broader and shallower. Etched decoration includes six-pointed stars and both a crescent moon and radiant sun with human visages. Above these, a striped snake curls its way along the greater part of the blade’s length, its triangular tongue hissing outwards just near to the tip. The blade comes with an unusual black leather scabbard, carved with triangular geometric designs where the locket would be fixed, and fitted with a cross-hatched brown leather chape.

European blades were often imported to India and there fitted with hilts in order to equip newly raised forces or to serve as enviable trophies – such swords were generally known as ‘firangi’ (derived from the Arabic term ‘al-faranji’ used to describe Western Europeans). We can be sure of this blade’s Polish origins due to its decoration and form, making this a rare union of hilt and blade, since imported swords usually came from manufacturing towns such as Solingen (Germany).[2]

 

[1] ) See, for example, swords published in Robert Elgood, Hindu Arms and Ritual: Arms and Armour from India 1400-1865, Eburon Academic Publishers, Delft (Netherlands), pp. 109-126.

[2] Navina Hajat Haidar & Marika Sardar, eds., Sultans of the South: Arts of India’s Deccan Courts, 1323-1687, published by the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 2011, p. 224.