Place of Origin: Deccan, Southern India
Date: 15th - 17th Century
Overall Length: 572mm (22 ½ inches)
Blade Length: 465mm (18 ¼ inches)
This alluring weapon is known as a chakravarti sword. Its unusual form is deeply imbued with both regal and religious symbolism, and as a work of art wonderfully embodies that sought-after merging of elegant form with a persuasive sense of history.
The archaic iron hilt retains large amounts of its original silvering and comprises sloping langets, spherical quillons, a centrally swollen grip, and the tri-spherical pommel which partly characterises such swords. A large cut panel of silvered steel fills the gap between the hilt and blade to reinforce the sword’s structure, secured in place by two bolts at the quillons and another two over the langets. This latter pair have been cut to convey stylised flowerheads whose dotted petals pleasingly match the sphere-and-disc motifs that are central to the sword’s symbolism.
The steel blade has been forged with a disc-shaped forte including a small semi-circular notch cut near to the hilt (possibly a later modification). Over the remaining course of its length, the blade tapers to a fine point, exhibiting a pronounced medial ridge and leaning gently to one side.
As alluded to above, the unusual forms and features of this exceedingly rare sword represent a complex network of symbols, for which Elgood (2004) provides the most thorough background and explanation. Firstly, the large, disc-shaped forte (or chakra forte) is connected closely with the ruling Rayas of the Vijayanagara Empire (circa 1336-1646 A.D.) in southern India, in that this disc shape may symbolise the sun or wheel of time (kalachakra), which as Elgood observes, “(…) would tie it to Vishnu, from whom the Rayas claimed descent, by association with his weapon the chakra known as Sudarsana.” For the kings of the Vijayanagara Empire, this chakra was, in turn, a powerful symbol of the right to rule. This would symbolically bestow the ruling Raya and owner of such a sword with the position of chakravarti, the title given to the ancient Indian concept of the Universal Ruler. The Sanskrit words chakra and vartin translate to “wheel” and “one who turns” respectively, meaning that he who became chakravarti would eternally spin the wheel of heaven (kalachakra, as above). Functioning in tandem with the powerful iconography of the chakra forte is the spherical tri-part pommel, which likely represents the Trimurti (trinity) of the gods Brahma, Vishnu and Siva, who embody the roles of creator, preserver and destroyer respectively.
Elgood concludes his detailed analysis as follows: “Are these swords symbols of kingly power? It seems probable.”
Linking such weapons as the present example to contemporary temple sculptures at Kanchipuram and Kumbakonam, as well as appearances of this weapon-type in the Laur-Chand manuscript, Elgood states that such swords must have been produced prior to 1610. A similar pair of swords are published in the Robert Hales collection, and another in The Hindu Warrior by Roy Elvis, though very few other examples are known. However, Elgood’s discussion of the subject provides illuminating comparanda from various periods of the Vijayanagara Empire.
Robert Elgood (2004), Hindu Arms & Ritual: Arms and Armour from India 1400-1865, Chicago, Chicago University Press, p.123, Fig. 11.24.
Robert Hales (2013), Islamic and Oriental Arms and Armour: A Lifetime’s Passion, London, p.71, No. 155.
 Robert Elgood (2004), Hindu Arms & Ritual: Arms and Armour from India 1400-1865, Chicago, Chicago University Press, p.111.
 Robert Hales (2013), Islamic and Oriental Arms and Armour: A Lifetime’s Passion, London, p.71, No. 154.
 Roy Elvis (2020), The Hindu Warrior, London, Olympia Auctions, p.92, Cat. No. C109.
 ibid, pp.109-126. Thus see figs. 11.1-24.