Place of Origin: Rajasthan, India
Date: 19th Century
The subject of this katar is fascinating, the forte of the blade has a chiselled depiction of Gaja-Lakshmi, one of the most significant ‘Ashtalakshmi’ aspects of the Hindu goddess Lakshmi. ‘Ashtalakshmi’ are a group of eight Hindu goddesses, secondary manifestations of Shri-Lakshmi, who preside over eight sources of wealth. In this context, wealth would be strength, power and prosperity. She sits beneath two elephants who stand on the open-book shaped lower hilt, showering her with water from their trunks which extend and touch in the centre. As is typical the four-armed goddess holds lotus flowers in her upper two hands, and her lower hands subtly suggest the abhaya-mudra (fingers pointing up) and varada-mudra (fingers pointing down). She sits in two scrolling leaves which join, by means of a fleur-de-lis, to a cypress tree leaf which extends down the centre of the blade, forming a spine of a sunken central panel of dark wootz steel. The edges polished bright and extending to the armour piercing swollen point.
The elephants are particularly well formed, and although the goddess should take centre stage here, the exquisite three-dimensional modelling and contrasting steel and gold decoration provide an important focus which should not be overlooked. The elephant is considered one of the four Indian royal animals (the others being lion/tiger, the horse and the bull), and in the Vedas the symbol of royal splendour and the mount of gods and kings. The Sanskrit text Hastayurveda describes the importance of the elephant to the prosperity of the state:
“If they did not pay worship to the elephant, the king and the kingdom, the army and the elephants, would be doomed to perish, because a divinity would have been disregarded. Contrarywise, if due worship is paid to the elephant, they will thrive and prosper together with their wives and sons, the country, the army, and the elephants”.
The side bars are chiselled on the outer surfaces with a border and floral panels top and bottom, the swollen grip bars separated by ruby set ‘C’ scrolls. The entire hilt and blade forte thickly decorated with repeating and symmetrical floral patterns.
An attractive wooden scabbard covered with red silk velvet, pleasing faded and worn, with a pocket containing a small watered steel knife and agate hilt (cracked), a pair of steel tweezers decorated in gold, and lastly a small bone ear spoon.
A similar dagger in a private collection known to the author, has provenance to a Thakur (an Indian feudal title which can be compared to a Lord) from the state of Bikaneer, and is of similar format to the one shown here, albeit the subject matter is not Elephants, but Leogryph. The ‘C’ scrolls that separate the grip bars are usually attributed to Bundi, and from there we see Royal patronage for the production of beautiful katars. Finally, we have some evidence that a Katar with “C” scrolls was made in a place other than Bundi – Jaipur, for Maharaja Sawai Pratap Singh (1778-1803), see Elgood (2015) no.67, p.92.
In conclusion we cannot currently attribute this Katar to either of the princely states of Rajasthan, but we can say, it was made for Royal or Noble use. Object number two in this catalogue shows a Katar attributed to Royal patronage from Bundi which also uses elephant iconography albeit not in such a prominent way. It is a unique object which should be preserved and treasured by its new guardian.