Place of Origin: South India
Date: 17th to 18th Century
Overall Length: 1100mm
A large and impressive shamshir sword from the Mysore armoury*, South India.
The iron hilt of this sword is of large proportions, which is rare for an Indian sword as they usually have quite a small grip. A small grip is partially due to the physiology of the Indian race, but also due to the style of swordsmanship usually practised in India. The grip of our sword is wonderfully faceted and the arrow-shaped langets are pierced at the extremities. The attached quillons are flattened and short in length and have palmette-shaped tips, suggesting a local (South Indian) manufacture. This style can be traced back to 17th century Deccani hilts, and is found in a later stylised variation on 19th century South Indian brass hilts. Above the saucer-shaped pommel disc is a star-shaped finial cap surmounted by a bulbous button. The entire hilt is covered with thick gilt silver sheet which is worn in places.
The steel blade of heavy gauge displays a pattern of crucible steel (jawhar), that can be categorised as ‘Sham Wootz’ (named Sham after Bilad-al-Sham an ancient caliphate in Syria where Damascus was the capital). The characteristics of this steel are best described in the book that accompanied an exhibition at the King Faisal Centre for Research and Islamic studies in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, 1991 called Weapons of the Islamic World: Swords and Armour(1): “Beautiful wave-like patterns formed in well-cut, geometric designs and famous for the light, almost white colours; known for their smooth, rust-resistant blade, with soft, stippled surfaces and a generally light-grey colour.” The blade is marked in Kannada script with the armoury marking of the Mysore armoury which reads:
“Sri Krishna Hitha Num 20.”
Hitha possibly refers to the Hindu Lord Vishnu, Hetha being one of his 901 names. A sword with a similar inscription is published by Jens Nordlunde(2) (2016), p.246–247. The Nordlunde sword also bears the number 24 painted in white on the spine, which Nordlunde surmises was added by the former Austrian owner, Ferdinand Ritter von Hochstetter (1829–1884). The sword shown here is marked in the same way on the spine with the number 1 which is possibly a hint to the high esteem in which the sword was regarded when marked.
*The armoury, or Ayudhashala, of the Wodeyar royal family of Mysore is housed in the Mysore Palace, and according to Talwar3 was established by Chamaraja Wodear V in 1635 AD Krishna Wodeyar III (1799-1868) who was restored to the throne by the British after the defeat and death of Tipu Sultan (1759-1799), was responsible for taking a full inventory, and marking each item with serial numbers and labels. He used his own name Sri Krishna as a prefix to each marking. Talwar (3) states that in the last century (19th) there were said to be 1,300 items in the armoury, but at the time of publishing (1994) he says there were only 725 items.
(1) Weapons of the Islamic World: Swords & Armour, 1991.
(2) Nordlunde, A Passion for Indian Arms: A Private Collection, 2016.
(3) Talwar, Arms and Armoury of the Mysore Palace, 1994, p.23.