The Anatomy of the Indian Tulwar Sword

The Indian sword anatomy is equally lethal yet decorative as it comes in many styles and forms with various types of decoration; silver, gold and rubies. Typically, most in the west will refer to the Indian Sword as simply a Tulwar (often spelt as Talwar sword or Tulvar sword). Tulwar in its simplistic form is used to describe a one-edged sword from the Indian subcontinent. This description originates from the Sanskrit word ‘Taravari’. The Tulwar could be utilised by either cavalry or infantry.

The Indian Tulwar Hilt

The hilt of the Tulwar has specific characteristics, which are shared amongst various types. The hilt of the Tulwar can be broken down as follows:

Components of the Indian Tulwar Sword

  1. Quillon: The quillon is the straight or slightly curved guard that extends from the hilt and is designed to protect the hand from an opponent’s sword. It is typically positioned perpendicular to the blade and may feature decorative embellishments.
  2. Quillon Block: The quillon block is a thick piece of metal that sits between the quillon and the blade, providing additional protection to the hand.
  3. Langet: The langet is a metal strip that runs parallel to the blade on one or both sides of the quillon block. It is often decorated with intricate designs and serves to reinforce the hilt.
  4. Knuckle Guard: The knuckle guard is a curved piece of metal that extends from the quillon block and is designed to protect the knuckles from impact. It may be decorated with additional embellishments, such as spikes or ornate designs.
  5. Grip: The grip is the part of the hilt that is held by the hand. It is typically made of wood, horn, or ivory, and may be wrapped in leather or other materials for added grip and comfort.
  6. Terminal: The terminal is the end of the grip, often featuring a decorative metal cap or pommel.
  7. Pommel: The pommel is a heavy metal or stone knob that sits at the end of the hilt opposite the blade. It serves to balance the weight of the sword and may also be used as a striking weapon in close combat.

For the most part, Tulwars will share this basic form for the hilt. However, depending on the region, there may be very slight differences. For example, some may not have the knuckle guard or have differently shaped quillons and langets. This type of hilt also had a practical function other than protecting the hand. The pommel spike would allow the user to strike an opponent in close-quarters combat where the blade was not usable. Since these were often spiked or rounded off, they had the potential to cause damage. Hilts (as you can see above) were often decorated or inlaid with gold or silver. This was primarily done for decorative purposes but also to prevent rust build upon the hilt. 

Personalised Hilt Designs

The hilt was a personal part of the Tulwar since they would often contain inscriptions inside the knuckle guard or under the pommel. These inscriptions were usually devotional or contained the name of the owner along with the date a sword was made. Inscriptions not only increase the value of the sword but also provide historical context and information, which would have otherwise never found light. From the example below, we see the following inscription:

Sri Baldevji Sahai – this is an invocation to Sri Baldevji, a deity who the owner would have invoked for protection on the battlefield. (Inscription 1)
RupSinghSangawat.Samvat1911–here we see the name of the owner along with the date the sword was made. Samvat 1911 equates to1855AD. In most cases, it was people of importance who had their names inscribed on the swords they owned. (Inscription 2)
RupSinghSangawat.Samvat1911–here we see the name of the owner along with the date the sword was made. Samvat 1911 equates to1855AD. In most cases, it was people of importance who had their names inscribed on the swords they owned. (Inscription 2)

This inscription clearly informs us of the owner and the date in which the sword was made. If we remove the inscription, this sword becomes simple and without historical value and context. The style of the hilt and the overlay design points this example towards Rajput/Rajasthan origins. The inscription ascertains this claim as the surname ‘Sangawat’ has Rajput origins. These connections are important for the purchaser but also the researcher as these details provide historical value as we can deduce whom it belonged to and their location.

Lucknow enamel Mughal Shamshir

Indian shamshir with Lucknow enamel hilt

Antique Arms and Armour



View Product

Components of the Indian Tulwar Sword

Regional ornamental hilt variations

Another detail to look at on the hilt is the overlay pattern and the form of the knuckle guard and quillons. For example, the Arms and Armour of Lahore are known for having a particular style of gold overlay; flowers and tendrils. There are further clear indications of a particular hilt is of Punjab manufacture: (1) the fat vase shape of the grip section, (2) the slightly forward angle of the quillons, (3) the knuckle guard that ends in a flower bud, (4) the floral style of gold koftgari and (5) an inscription in Punjabi (the Sikh Language). An example that contains all these is below. This particular example was sold at Czerny’s Auction in September 2019.

The Arts of the Sikh Kingdom by Susan Strong (1999) contains some excellent examples of koftgari (gold work) on Sikh Arms and Armour, particularly numbers 151, 159, 162 and 172. Tulwars from Rajasthan would usually have more squared langets, silver overlay, a flat grip section, an open knuckle guard and a Surajvanshi (sunburst) at the top of the pommel, along with a pommel spike.

Here we can see the Surajvanshi (sunburst) and the pommel spike. Compared to the Punjab example, which is rounded off, this one is more of a spike. This would also be used for striking and allow for further damage.

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit. Ut elit tellus, luctus nec ullamcorper mattis, pulvinar dapibus leo.

Notice the long and flat langet, along with the open guard. This type of silver overlay design is found on various swords that are linked with Rajasthan and the 19th century.

The pommel disk Surajvanshi (sun-burst) design is of Suryavansh origin. Suryavansh are of the Rajput dynasties and link their lineage to ‘Surya’ who is the Sun God. Suryavansha is mentioned in classical Indian texts like the Ramayana and Mahabharata.

The hilt and its design do vary based on locality. And the pursuit of linking design to a location is very difficult since there was a lot of importing, taking inspiration from other designs, and exporting. Though designs are often linked with regions and who owned them, we can narrow the hilt down to two types: One with a knuckle guard and one without. The other differences and detailing only really offers minute changes. The function itself stays the same. Whereas the knuckle guard is the only real changing factor as with it the hand is protected, whereas, without it, it is not. The other determining factor in how to identify a sword other than the handle is the style of the blade. The blade is what changes the ‘Tulwar’, to let’s say a Shamshir or Sirohi.

 Anatomy of a Sword

  1. Spine: The spine is the thickest part of the blade, running from the hilt to the tip. It provides strength and stability to the blade.
  2. Yelman: The yelman is the part of the blade where the spine starts to slope down towards the edge. It is typically wider than the rest of the blade and may be decorated with intricate designs.
  3. Edge: The edge is the sharpened part of the blade that is used to cut or slice. It runs along the length of the blade from the tip to the hilt.
  4. Ricasso: The ricasso is the unsharpened part of the blade that is located near the hilt. It provides a safe place for the user to place their hand while gripping the sword and may be used for additional leverage in certain types of strikes.
  5. Tip: The tip is the pointed end of the blade. It is typically narrow and sharp, and is used for thrusting and piercing attacks.

Overall, the various parts of an Indian sword blade work together to create a versatile and effective weapon that is well-suited for a wide range of combat techniques. The precise shape and design of the blade may vary depending on the specific type of sword and the intended use of the weapon, but these basic anatomical features are found on most Indian sword blades.

Styles of Swords

There are 10 types of Indian blades: the khanda, patissa, sosun pattah, katti, kirach, sirohi, tegha, Tulwar and golia or shamshir. Below we will discuss the three most popular/main types.

The Khanda

The word khanda has its origins in the Sanskrit khaḍga(खडग), from a root khaṇḍ meaning “to break, divide, cut, destroy”. The khanda is one of the oldest forms of the Indian swords, dating back as early as the 2nd century A.D. Traditionally, Khande are large, heavy, have double-edged blades – which widen towards the tip. The weight of the Khanda allows for heavy cuts. Often, the blades are reinforced on a single edge. It was during the 17th century when basket hilts were developed and added to the Khanda to allow for better manoeuvring and hand protection.

There is significant iconography of the Khanda within the religions of the world. In Dharmic religions, such as Hinduism, the Khanda is represented as wisdom cutting through the veil of ignorance. Hindu and Buddhist deities are often shown wielding or holding khanda swords in 18th/19th-century art. For the Sikhs, the Khanda holds a high place, as it was the weapon of choice in the Amrit ceremony (often referred to as Khanda-Ki-Pahul (nectar of the double-edged sword) and welded by the likes of Baba Deep Singh, the famous Sikh Saint-Soldier. Often the Patissa is linked with the Khanda as spine yelman tip edge ricasso they look very similar. The key difference is the width of the blade. The Patissa has a slimmer blade with a more triangular tip, whereas the Khanda is more rounded.

The Khanda

The Sirohi

Hendley attributes ‘Sirohi’ swords to the state of Sirohi, a southern state famous for creating swords of a high standard. He says “Rajputana, Rajasthan, or the land of the Rajputs, the sons of kings, should produce, and does produce, everything necessary for carrying on the art of war. Sirohi [southern Rajasthan], the small state in which is stated Mount Abu, the Mons Capitalium of Pliny, had been famed since the days of Herodotus [5th century BC] for its sword blades, and at the Jeypore Exhibition it retained its ancient reputation by carrying off the first prize for arms. This small state of the Deora Rajpurs supplies blades and spear points to all Rajputana, but every court employs its own armourers, some of whom have attained fame beyond their homes.” Pant however describes the Sirohi based on the blade’s architecture, which is slim and slightly curved, and of a very hard temper. Pant also states that this type of sword was favoured by the Rajputs.

The Sirohi


The blade is of a shamshir (Persian: شمشیر (type, which refers to a Persian or Iranian sword with a radical curve. The name is derived from the shamshīr, which means “lion’s claw or lions tale” in the Persian language – pointing towards the curve of the blade. These types of blades are normally used for slashing unarmored opponents either on foot or mounted; while the tip could be used for thrusting. In India, the term ‘Goliya’ (meaning circle) was used to describe these types of blades; referring to their curve.

Golia / Shamshir

Associated articles: How to look after your collection of antique arms and armour.

Further/Suggested readings:
• The Indian Sword by P.S. Rawson
• Indian Arms and Armour by G.N. Pant
• Handbook of Indian and Oriental Arms and Armour by Egerton
• On Damascus Steel by Leo Figiel
• Arms and Armour: Traditional weapons of India by E Jaiwent Paul.
• Islamic Weapons: Moghbir to Mughal by Anthony C Tirri


Antique Arms and Armour



View Product

You may also like

Ratu Udre Udre - Fiji's most prolific cannibal.
Joe Biden’s anecdotal mention of his uncle Bosie during WWII inter-twines with the rich…
This exploration highlights the remarkable evolution of communication technology, reflecting on the shifts in…
mirrors at Nicholas Wells Antiques. Discover the allure of reflection, history, and craftsmanship in…
vibrant festivities, traditional symbols of the Year of the Dragon, and elements of Chinese