Indian Antique Hand Weapons: The Katar

The Katar is one of India’s oldest weapons, characterised by its H shape grip and triangular blade. The Katar was predominantly used in battle and by skilled assassins as a thrusting dagger due to its design – similar to the boxing method – the user would punch with the dagger in the hand with the aim of piercing chain mail and the opponent. Due to the build of the Katar, with its H shaped grip, the Katar also provided a great defence as the handle bars protected the wrist from getting cut. Katars could also be paired with other weapons, such as a Kard or Pesh Kabz and utilised for slashing; as many of them hard sharp edges. From becoming a predominantly functional weapon, during the Mughal reign of India (from the 1500s onwards), we see many hand weapons and elite Katars find ceremonial use and began to be decorated in gold and silver. These were often used as gifts or for worship.

Katars from the north

Mughal Katar from the north
North Indian Katar

The Mughal courts were known for having lavish Arms and Armour, and their Katars are no exception. Staying true to the typical katar design, they had H-shaped bars and a much more triangular blade; one that started as wide as the hilt and leads to an armour-piercing point. The hand bars were mostly anointed with gold or silver work. The blades would have a medial ridge to provide support for the thrusting. The blades were more likely to be Wootz or of higher quality steel than those blades found on south Indian punch daggers.

South Indian Katars

South Indian Katars are distinct in their appearance and follow a general design pattern. The hilts are wider and chiselled. The blades are long and slender, often cut down from European sword blades. So, the blades are mostly straight, slim and do not have a thick swollen armour-piercing tip; though they are sometimes fullered. Where the handle bars meet the blade, there are two langets, one on either side of the blade, that hold the blade in place. These langets are often decorated with silver work of chiselled with floral motifs. Punch daggers from the South are far less ornate than those found in the North and are very rarely decorated with gold or silver work. Their designs are simple and provide a very functional and imposing aesthetic, as opposed to the North India Katars, which look more decorative – made for ceremonial use or worship (though still practical).

The South Indian Katar Punch Dagger
The South Indian Katar Punch Dagger

‘Hooded Katars’

The South Indian 17th Century Hooded Katar
The Hooded Katar

Vijayanagara Hooded Katars originate from South India, late 16th – early 17th century. The Vijayanagara Empire originated in the South of India through small Hindu Kingdoms as a resistance to the Muslim invasions from the North. These types of Hooded Katars are seen in the statues at Seshagiri Rayar Mandapam and were the staple of the Empire. As the Vijayanagara Empire slowly declined in the 17th century, this style of Katar declined and punch daggers without the hood became prominent. The hood was often chiselled and finished with a Yali – a mythical creature that is part lion, elephant, and horse. In the south Indian tradition, the yali is seen as the protector, so it would serve a talismanic purpose for the user as it provided protection. In rare cases, the hooded katars were covered with gold work. These examples are extremely rare and make for a great investment (if they can be found on the market).

Bara Jamdadu

A Katar fitted with a very long blade to provide the function of a Pata is referred to as ‘Bara Jamdadu’ by Stone (p.93)1, both being Indic (Indo-Aryan) words, ‘bara’ being the word for ‘large’ and ‘Jamdadu’ probably a revision of the word ‘Jamdaar’ meaning Demons tooth. This seems to be a hybrid of the katar and the pata. The Pata is seen as a gauntlet sword that is strongly associated with the Marathas who call it dandpatta. The Pata is traditionally large and fitted with imported European blades. They were used both on foot with a shield and from horseback. The daggers were seen as thrusting. Katar’s were to used for a thrusting punch, and it could also be used for slashing. This hybrid of the Katar and Pata originated in the 16th century in the Vijaynagara Empire, Southern India, and combined both the practicality of the Pata and the Katar. While protecting the hand, via the hood, and providing a stable grip with the H shape, the blade provided the length for distance attacks. 

Bara Jamdadu Katar Hybrid Katar ‘Jamdaar’ meaning Demons tooth
Bara Jamdadu Katar


‘Scissor’ Katar

‘scissor katar’ or Jamdhar Sehlikaneh (lit. having three blades)
The infamous ‘scissor katar’ or Jamdhar Sehlikaneh

The infamous ‘scissor katar’ or Jamdhar Sehlikaneh (lit. having three blades) is a Katar that is bought into question many times, for one main reason; its purpose. The scissor katar works on a mechanism so that when the handlebars are squeezed together, the seemingly one blade opens to reveal another blade on the inside. In most cases these types of Katars were covered with silver of gold relief work – which leads one to believe they were decorative or served ceremonial use only. However, it can be argued that the purpose of the unusual mechanism is so that once the opponent has been pierced; the handlebars are squeezed to open the wound and, sometimes, inflict poison through the blade hidden inside. This could be practical, however, most katars made in this fashion are not built with the ability to pierce chainmail and the opponent; their blades were not sturdy or strong enough. These may have been built from the 19th/20th century for the tourist trade as they made great souvenirs.

Look after your Katars and Indian daggers with this helpful article on maintaining your collection. 

Further Reading:

Islamic Arms and Armour Collection: Antique weapons for sale

Seraphinite AcceleratorOptimized by Seraphinite Accelerator
Turns on site high speed to be attractive for people and search engines.