ILLUSTRATIONS OF ARMS AND ARMOUR
Place of Origin: Awadh (Oudh), Northern India
Date: 18th Century
Dimensions: Each 318 x 210mm (12 ½ x 8 ¼ inches)
This fine pair of illustrations depicts a broad and fascinating range of Indian arms and armour in bright colours and charming detail within red-painted borders.
Among the curiosities depicted, on the left panel of the first illustration, is a depiction of a brown peṭī kamarī kasavā kī – a kind of cuirass or cummerbund “of tightness”. Further down is a ghoḍā pāṣar (“horse armour”) with recurved shaffron and decorative trappings, together with a brilliant hasrī pāṣar (“elephant armour”) which shows much of the same detailing, though its shaffron furthermore depicts the mysterious face of a moustachioed man in profile. Next to a blue ḍhāl (“shield”), at the bottom of this panel, is an unusual object which so far remains unidentified and is labelled a bichuvā, or “scorpion”. The greater part of the opposite panel then depicts a range of bladed weapons as well as bows and quivers, including a gīlol: a bow with two “teeth” which would fire small pebbles or clay pellets here painted grey.
Within the left-hand panel of the second illustration, amidst a group of red-painted edged weapons, is a simply painted chakra (“quoit”), an iron ring both worn over a turban to defend the wearer from enemy attacks and used also as a deadly throwing weapon. There follows a column of different hafted weapons, including a lohāṃgī, a club attached with a series of pointed metal ridges (the word roughly translates to “stick with an iron end”). At the base of the panel is a bahmna, a wooden pole attached with a metal casing at its end – likely a bahn, or “rocket”.
Amongst the fine pieces of the right-hand panel is a striking gauntlet-weapon here given the name paṃjo ji rako, which translates approximately to “gripping claw”. A trio of armour-pieces are then depicted further down, including a bakathar, the Persian word for an armoured coat made of mail and plate. Lastly, a sar par with seven steel blades and red base is shown at the bottom: sar (or sir) translates to “head”, whilst par means “to rip”, thus bestowing this formidable object the equally formidable meaning “head ripper”.
This pair of paintings is exceptionally rare and few precise comparanda are known. However, a page of the Gentil Album preserved in the Victoria & Albert Museum (Accession Number IS.25:34-1980) is particularly useful here. The album comprises fifty-eight paintings depicting a variety of themes from 18th-century India, and is so-called after the French infantry colonel Jean-Baptiste-Joseph Gentil (1726-1799) who commissioned the collection. This example from the Gentil Album and our own illustrations depict many of the same objects, including a claw-type weapon, the “head ripper”, and armours for a man, horse, and elephant, as well as the scarce ‘bahn’-rocket (this providing further evidence to the theory that the region of Awadh was an important centre for the manufacture of such weapons). Another important painted work for comparison is shown within the Nujum Al-Ulum manuscript (Bijapur, c.1570) preserved in the Chester Beatty Library, Dublin, and partly published in Robert Elgood, Hindu Arms and Ritual (2004).
We thank Kamala Lucas for her translation of the captions within these illustrations.
 As in the description of Cat. No. 5, see Nidhin G. Olikara (forthcoming), “Changing Timelines: On the discovery of a fine 18th-century Maratha Rocket and its implication on the evolution and use of Rockets.