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ARTICULATED ‘BAGH NAKH’

Place of Origin: Sattara, India

Date: 18th Century

Overall Height: 185mm

Overall Width: 85mm

Reference: 454

Status: Available

Full Description:

This fascinating object is known as a bagh nakh – literally “leopard claw”. Where the vast majority of extant examples are comprised only of a single crossbar[1], ours represents one of just two known to have survived with this striking construction. It is exceptionally rare.

With respect to its functionality, too, this piece is exceptional. The shallow wrist-plate is attached with a looped bracket to secure the wearer’s hand firmly in place and thus provide the needed support to resist against impact. The main surface is comprised of seven hinged rectangular plates to ensure a close alignment with the contours of the wearer’s palm. A short, upturned spike is fitted to the underside of the weapon, so that damage is inflicted upon the wearer’s opponent whether they strike in an upward or downward motion.

Fitted at the end are four fingerplates which narrow before thickening into sharp curved claws, those at either end formed with a loop for the owner’s fingers and the entire group secured below with a thick rectangular crossbar which distributes the force of any strikes and so reduces the likelihood of fractures. The thumb is attached with a short, separate hinge at the side of the palm and fitted with a thicker securing loop than those at the main section.

Such weapons were usually worn concealed under a glove so as to bestow the owner with the element of surprise in an attack. The bagh nakh was famously used by Marathan leader Shivaji Bhonsale I (1630-1680) to kill the general Afzal Khan, who had come to meet with him under the pretence of a parley during a siege of the Maratha fort. Angered that the Mughals had desecrated a family temple, and suspicious that Khan may try to kill or arrest him, Shivaji wore armour under his clothes and armed himself with a bagh nakh and bichawa which he used to kill Khan[2].

The present example, made for the right hand, may possibly be the match for a left-handed claw preserved at the Feldman Family Museum (Museum No. 3288)[3] and published by Hales.[4] The only other potential match is the final remaining example of a bagh nakh of this construction published in the pioneering work by Lord Egerton.[5] The very claw used by Shivaji in the encounter described above was reputed to exist within the collections of the V&A (see Accession Number IS.33-1971), though the likelihood of this provenance is uncertain.[6] It could be the example presented here, however records held by the V&A and the fact that Lord Egerton’s was only a line drawing, is insufficient evidence to say that they are one and the same. The museum wrote off the Egerton example from their collections in year 1950[7].

Provenance

French art market

French private collection

Swiss private collection

UK art market

 

[2] Haig, Wolseley; Burn, Richard (1960) [first published 1937], The Cambridge History of India, Volume IV: The Mughal Period, Cambridge University Press

[3] https://feldmanmuseum.org/collection/exhibit/sharnirnyy-bagnakh-dlya-levoy-ruki

[4] See Robert Hales, Islamic and Oriental Arms and Armour: A Lifetime’s Passion. London, 2013, p.75, No.161.

[5] See W.A. Egerton, Description of Indian and Oriental Armour: Illustrated from the Collection Formerly in the India Office Now Exhibited at South Kensington and the Author’s Private Collection, London, 1896, p.115, pl.10, No. 477.

[7] Asian Department archives; personal communication with Susan Stronge - senior curator V&A museum.

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