Nair (Nayar) Sword
Place of Origin: Kerala, South India
Date: 14th-18th Century
Robert Elgood, the only person to make serious attempts to study South Indian arms (see Hindu Arms and Ritual 2004) suggests that a comparative blade (no.8.14, p.83) in the Government Museum, Chennai relates to swords from the Chalukyan dynasty that ruled large parts of South and Central India between the sixth and twelfth centuries. They both are unusually striated and of early manufacture, Elgood dates the Chennai sword to the fourteenth- or early fifteenth-century, the blade on the example shown here could be as early as that, but the bronze hand guard and blade straps are probably 18th century.
The hand guard is made up of four identical bronze discs, each with seven concentric circles, almost certainly inspired by the seven Chakras of the human body. This would give the warrior a spiritual advantage in the belief that the sword would receive his energy and completing the cycle by circulating the energy back through his seven chakras.
A triangular blade strap and a smaller load bearing triangular strut sit on the hand-guard and connect to the blade, all deeply chased with stylised floral patterns and South Indian scrolls.
This sword type is shown in a seventh century South Indian temple sculpture (see Elgood 2004, no.8.13, p.83) and is understood to have remained in military use until the 16th century, when it becomes a ritual item, hence the sometimes incorrect ‘Temple Sword’ provenance given to these swords. A further sword for comparison and good provenance is in the Metropolitan Museum, New York, no.36.25.1583. The original collection index card (George Cameron Stone) reads: ‘Sabre from Malabar. Curved blade 23in long with elaborate reinforcing pieces on each side covered with silver bosses. Hilt steel, horn, wood and brass rattles in the pommel.’ Oldman/Stone Collection.
The sword is missing the grip and pommel, but the quality, importance and beauty warrant publication and inclusion here.