Shields, Swords and Daggers

2009/07/22 at 9:44 pm | Posted in Shields and Swords | 8 Comments

Shields, Swords & Daggers

 

Shield (dhal)

‘The vast majority of medieval and later shields from India are of the same form; circular, sightly convex, and fitted with a central grip formed of two hand loops. They are held by four robust iron loops which are rivetted through the shield and secured by large bosses on the exterior. The two grips are held together in the left hand, rather than having the arm passed through them, so the shield can be moved around to block blows and missles dextrously and rapidly.  A fabric suspension loop was often attached to two of the loops so the shield could be slung over the shoulder when not in use. Most shields were of leather, either of buffalo hide or rhinocerous hide, or of steel’. (Royal Armouries, ‘An introduction to Indian Arms and Armour’)

Mughal shield of Buffalo hide, with steel bosses and decorative crescent overlaid with gold. Dated 1767/8. Lent by Her Majesty The Queen. Royal Armouries.

  

Reverse view of shield (dhal) made in Lahore about 1830-45, showing the lined interior with the central pad and the two hand grips retained by the loops on the inside of the four bosses. Royal Armouries.

‘This is an Indian shield of circular and convex form with four central bosses known as a dhal. It is made of Indian rhinoceros rawhide, which has been dried and lacquered, but not tanned. Rhinoceros hide was good for shield-making because it could take on a striking translucent quality, and was harder and more durable than buffalo leather.

This example has been painted with floral designs in red, black gold and white. It is a fine piece of weaponry and probably came from Sindh province in Pakistan, which was renowned for the quality of its shields in the 18th and 19th centuries. It would have belonged to a wealthy individual, perhaps an aristocrat’. Pitt Rivers Museum, Oxford.

  

‘The quintessential Indian round shield was known as a dhal. Made of steel or lacquered hide (as this one is), they have a convex shape. The handles are fastened by ring bolts, which are riveted to four bosses on the shield’s face. The large, smooth surface of the dhal gave Indian craftsmen an opportunity to indulge their passion for decoration. This example shows animal figures and floral designs painted in gold, white and black on a red ground.

The elaborately painted outer surface of this dhal places it in a style associated with the palace armouries of Rajasthan, and the Rajput dynasties. The Rajput rajahs were great patrons of the arts, and many of their fortified palaces contained the workshops and studios of painters, brassworkers, jewellers, and leatherworkers, each of whom contributed to the creation of a grand shield like this one. The Rajputs are a sub-caste of the Kshatriya (Warrior) caste, and historically developed a code of martial chivalry, which set them apart. Traditionally, only warriorhood and agriculture were considered honourable professions for a Rajput man. Even today, many of India’s soldiers are Rajputs. Rajput princes traditionally kept extensive armouries (silahkana) in their palaces, filled with rows and arrangements of elaborately decorated shields like this one’. Pitt Rivers Museum, Oxford.

  

Other examples  

 

Swords

There were probably various types of sword used at Plassey:

Talwar

 With the introduction of central Asian cavalry warfare into India from the 13th century onward, the Asian curved blade sword became the preferred choice throughout much of India. Called the talwar in India, shamshir in Persia, pulouar in Afghanistan. They developed a distinctive north Indian form of hilt with a disc pommel, itself with regional variations, though the Persian form of hilt with a pistol grip was popular in some areas such as Sind and Lucknow.

 

YouTube sequence from ‘Warrior Empire, the Mughals’, The History Channel

  

  

Left, double curved sword (sosun pata) from north India, early 19th century (Royal Armouries)

 

Right, talwar, 19th century (Royal Armouries)

 

 

 

 

talwar with a hilt decorated in fine gold koftgari with garden scenes, Mughal, 17th century (Royal Armouries)

 

 

 

 

 

 

                                                                        

This Indian talwar dates from the late 18th or early 19th century. It has an Indo-Muslim hilt but the red silk brocade on the pommel and scabbard and the brass fittings depicting game animals, suggest an origin among the Hindu Rajputs. For Rajput men, their talwar was more than just a sword; it was also the embodiment of their honour, commitment and agency.

It is not unusual to see this mix of cultures in a single weapon since the talwar became widely distributed in India during the Islamic period and gradually supplanted older forms of sword, especially among the elite. Indeed, the talwar’s influence did not stop at India’s borders. It was swords such as this that inspired the curved cavalry sabre used by the British Army from the 18th century onwards. Pitt Rivers Museum, Oxford.

  

 

Very impressive 18th century Northern Indian talwar with Afghan style scabbard. This type of sword was used extensively in India and Afghanistan for several centuries. Traditional silver plated iron hilt with “D”-guard and a sealed bowl type pommel. Well balanced curved blade seems to be designed specifically for cutting. The blade displays a beautiful gold Arab calligraphy. Complete with Afghan style wooden scabbard covered with leather. The scabbard has Afghan style iron furniture. Overall length: 33 inch. Blade length: 28 inch

  

     

 

 

  

 

 Indo-Persian tulwar sword with knuckle-guard, and with serrated, wavy serpent style blade. Complete with leather-covered wooden scabbard.  Solid steel hilt, mounted with a 2-3/4 inch diameter disc pommel overlaid with a 17-Point ‘flower’ star, which is topped with a 1-1/8 inch diameter x 7/8 inch high button – The hilt wears a Decorative, ‘crane-head’ tipped knuckle-guard – Base of hilt (below the quillons) is mounted with two, 2-1/8 inch long languets (one on each side of the blade), that served a dual purpose; (1) They helped to secure the sword in the scabbard. (2) A good swordsmen could often catch the opponent’s blade in one of the languets and with a quick twist of his wrist, either flip the sword out of the enemy’s hand, or break their blade – Measuring 35-1/2 inches long overall in the scabbard. Sword measuring 34-5/8 inches long (straight-line measurements),

 Khanda

The indigenous Indian sword was called a khanda. It had a straight double-edged blade, usually with a basket hilt with a solid guard protecting the hand.

Right, Mughal khanda, dated 1632-3 (Royal Armouries).

Left, khanda and scabbard from Rajasthan, early 19th century (Royal Armouries).

 

Firanghi

From the early 17th century a fashion for carrying swords with European rapier or broadsword blades, usually with old Indian basket hilts grew up. These swords were commonly called firanghi.

  

 firanghi, with an Indian basket hilt and a European broadsword blade and scabbard, 18th century (Royal Armouries).

 

Daggers

Katar

The katar, with its transverse grip, was unique to India, and was to be found across most of the sub-continent. It was fitted with a wide variety of blades, ranging from narrow wavy blades preferred in the south, to short, straight and broad blades in the north.

 Typically, katars were used in close range hand-to-hand combat, and were effective in piercing armour. The blade was often corrugated for additional strength. “Hooded katars” are katars with a shield extending over the back of the user’s hand. The handle sides were also used to block attacks, since all katars had an “H”-shaped handle. Because of the nature of the weapon, attacks were mainly direct thrusts that would easily pierce the enemies’ armor with a single but strong blow, possible because of the light weight and amazing attack speeds that could be achieved.  katars ceased to be in common use in the 19th century.

Khanjar 

The khanjar is the commonest type of dagger, found in a variety of forms across the Muslim world. It has a double-edged and double curved blade, and in India often has a reinforced point to give strength to enable the blade to be used against mail armour. Rock crystal, nephrite (jade) and other hardstones usually form the hilts of these daggers, and they are often carved in the form of animal’s heads,  and set with precious and semi-precious stones in gold.

 Pushqabz

Found only in the north was the pushqabz, a dagger with a single-edged blade, either straight or double-curved, with a T-shaped back and a long taper to the point, which was sometimes reinforced 

 

 

Misc images 

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