Rock Crystal Pesh-Kabz
Place of Origin: North India (lahore)
Date: 18th-19th Century
Overall: 420mm (16.5 inches)
This blade is forged from jawhar or fuladh steel—what is known in the West as wootz Damascus steel (or watered steel due to the attractive wave-like patterns). The dagger is categorised as a pesh-kabz due to the straight blade with reinforced cutting edge and T-section spine. The unusual hilt is fitted with rock crystal grips secured by gem-set metal pins and sandwiching a metal core. Both faces of the tang have miniature paintings on paper depicting the avatars of Vishnu. On one side (from left to right): Narasimha, man-lion, is shown gutting the demon Harnaakash; centrally, Vishnu himself can be seen rescuing an elephant called Gajendra; and thirdly, the boar incarnation Varaha kills a demon to protect the earth which he props up with his tusks.
On the handle’s other side there is a rare depiction of the horse-headed Hayagriva, the 18th avatar of Vishnu; in the centre, Matsya the fish avatar kills a demon; and lastly, we can see the churning of the ocean, with Vishnu depicted as Kurma the giant turtle.
The scenes are painted within gold arches, which are bordered by two panels of golden foliage on a green background. This pesh-kabz is coupled with its original leather-covered wooden scabbard, replete with an iron chape decorated with gold koftgari and an old paper armoury number.
In the 1880 work by Lord Egerton, as part of the catalogue of the arms in the Indian Museum (London), he describes a pesh-kabz of the exact type shown here: “hilt covered with rock crystal beneath which are seen native paintings of mythological subjects; the rivet heads attaching the crystal to the hilt are concealed by rubies. Lahore. (8528.-’51)” 1. The dagger mentioned by Egerton was transferred to the Victoria and Albert Museum in 1879 and is now in the Museum’s storerooms with the museum number of 3433(IS).
Further, a pesh-kabz with rock crystal grips and a painted tang in floral patterns is in the Al-Sabah collection, Kuwait, and published in the new book Precious Indian Weapons and other Princely Accoutrements by Salam Kaoukji (p.266, no.99).
1 Egerton, Indian and Oriental Armour, 1968, p.130, no.619.