Place of Origin: North India
Date: 18th-19th century
A classical Tulwar sword from eighteenth or nineteenth century North India. The hilt of elegant form with a flat pommel disc with pierced and applied pommel cup and matching pommel tag. The bulbous quillons sit at the end of thin stalks. A sweeping knuckle guard with a drooping acorn shaped finial. The entire surface profusely decorated with gold koftgari in an unusually dense arrangement of five petalled flowers surrounded by four leaves and foliage in a geometric formation. All against a dark metal background, the gold precisely pin-prick chased to add further detail.
The wide blade of pattern-welded, or mechanical-damascus steel is light, wonderfully balanced and ideally suited for us on horseback. The forte is marked with unusual and fascinating markings. Indian blade markings are still a mystery to scholars and researchers; inscriptions and a small number of armoury markings can be deciphered or attributed to a maker or a workshop, but many cannot be categorised. Unfortunately, these markings fall in the latter group, but the physical representation of two snakes (naga) in dark silhouette with fork tongues protruding, gives us an insight into the thoughts and beliefs of the maker or owner.
Snakes in India are both worshipped and feared, home to several deadly and poisonous snakes, until recent times, death by snakebite was one of the most common causes of death. Hindus worship snakes in temples, on the day of ‘Naga-Panchami’ in the months of July or August, peasants fast and catch thousands of cobras, which are taken as guests of honour to the Shiva temple where they are treated with milk and showered with flowers. Shiva, who loves these cold blooded creatures, is very pleased, in return he blesses the barren with children, and protects the worshippers from snakebites. At the end of the festival, all of the slithering guests are released unharmed.
Snakes are often associated with both Vishnu and Shiva and several other divinities including Indra, who rides an elephant called Nagendra, the lord of the snakes, this is probably in reference to Indra’s control over the snake world. In the context shown here, they represent a destructive and deadly force, the same energy represented by Shiva the destroyer, who is often shown with snakes wrapped in his hair, around his neck, or arm. The naga is also the symbol of the eternal cycle of time and immortality, in a protective context the snake is often found on 19th century steel dhal shields from the Punjab, see Caravana (2010), no.39, p.114. Often shown as a protective canopy behind a god’s head, see bichawa dagger illustrated - Runjeet Singh catalogue, Arms and Armour of the East (2015), no.8, p.22-23, and interestingly as a hood on a shield shown as a line drawing by Egerton (1968), no.365, plate IX. Egerton identifies it as ‘Nag-p’hani dhal’ from Nepal.
There are also deeply struck concentric circle markings in a cross arrangement, are probably inspired by European blade markings which were often copied by Indian swordsmiths. If we believe the ‘old wives’, or ‘old dealer’ story, each dot signifies a ‘kill’, and therefore this blade has despatched eight foe.