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STEEL DHAL

Place of Origin: PUNJAB, INDIA

Date: 19th Century

Overall Diameter: 420mm (16 ½ inches)

Reference: 332

Status: Reserved

Full Description:

This 19th century Indian shield originates from Punjab, the centre of the Sikh community in India. The middle of its steel surface is adorned in gold koftgari with a four-sectioned arrangement of stylised lotuses that intersect at the centre. Gold leaved vines with flowerheads spread out over the rest of the circular central panel, as well as four domed bosses whose bases have been pierced and lobed in a pattern which replicates the sunburst pattern often found on Indian shields. The centre of each boss is further decorated with a silver lotus flower in bloom amidst gilt foliage, this middle arrangement bordered by a scrolling pattern that resembles carefully interwoven thread.

The overlapping head and tail-end of a gold-flecked snake form the circular frame of this central scene, the serpent’s body flanked on either side by an openwork arrangement en suite with that which surrounds the four shield bosses and which lines the edge of the shield. The outer band then depicts a captivating procession of antelopes, leopards, and other animals in various phases of hunt or flight, each figure having been cast and engraved individually before being riveted to the surface of the shield. Further leaved vines and flowerheads in gold weave between the animals and their endless chase.

The reverse of the shield is covered with a 19th-century material known as ‘mushru’, a fabric of woven silk and cotton. It has been dyed and sewn to convey a pattern of larger red and grey stripes separated by thin bands of yellow and decorated throughout with an assortment of floral and geometric patterns. All four bosses are backed with iron rings, and the original cord handles also survive, although they are slightly frayed.

We can place this shield’s origins in Punjab partly on account of a trio of similar examples – exhibiting animal hunts and similarly cut geometric borders – which are preserved at Sandringham House as part of the Royal Collections (RCIN 37467; 37597; 37635),[1] and which were presented to King Edward VII (then Prince of Wales) by Kharak Singh, Raja of Kapurthala, during his tour of India in 1875-76.[2]

The koftgari on this shield is also comparable to work that came from Sialkot (now in northern Pakistan), such as can be seen in a katar exhibited by Runjeet Singh in Arts des Guerriers d’Orient – Paris 2018, Cat No. 1, p. 6.


[2] For the original catalogue notes and image of this example in situ, see: W. Grigg & Sons, Arms and Armour at Sandringham: The Indian Collection presented by the Princes, Chiefs and Nobles of India in 1875-1876, W. Grigg & Sons (London publishers), 1910.