This particular Tulwar hilted Shamshir, attributed to the late 18th/early 19th century is from the Anthony C. Tirri Collection. Tirri was a very prominent collector of Islamic Arms and Armour and published extensively on the subject. This Shamshir has been published in his book ‘Islamic Weapons – Maghrib to Moghul’ (2004) and is featured in full on page 205, Fig. 141A and the hilt is shown on page 328, Fig. 249C. His collection was formed over 35 years and represented arms and armour that were actually utilised in battle throughout Asia, and his research represents this. Tirri’s collection and research has been compared to the likes of George Cameron Stone and Dr Leo S Figiel, making Tirri’s collection one of the most extensive in this field. Items from Tirris collection have found their place in high-end private collections, such as that of ‘The Caravana Collection‘.

THE HILT

The hilt is of traditional form, complete with a knuckle guard. The hilt is layered with fine gold koftgari in a floral and tendril pattern, accompanied with geometrical borders. The gold design is consistent throughout the entirety of the hilt. The floral and tendril design is reminiscent of the Mughal empire, but similar floral gold work also became popular within Lahore and is commonly associated with the Arms and Armour of Punjab. The gold is thick, bright and well-preserved. For the most part, the gold is all intact and well preserved, there is only loss on the top of the pommel disk, which is due to age. The pommel features a rounded top, often used for striking . The pommel disk features a fine Surajvanshi (sun-burst) design. There are clear indications that this 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 and (4) the floral style of gold koftgari. In this example, the hilt is of the 19th century, whereas the blade is an earlier example. It was common for blades and hilts to be changed and kept based on their quality. Though, it should be noted that this type of Hilt was popular amongst the Mughal Royals and made in South India, Delhi. The sword of Aurangzeb exhibits a similar style hilt in form and shape. Another similar style hilt is on a Lahore tulwar, kept at the V&A.

THE BLADE 

Tirri refers to this example as a ‘Shamshir-e-Tulwar’ as the blade is of Persian origins, yet mounted on an Indian Hilt. In India, this would simply be referred to as a Tulwar or Shamshir. 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. The blade features a ricasso, which is a blunt section of blade just below the guard. The blade itself has a sharp single edge. The blade does look to have undergone a professional clean. So it has been well taken care of by the previous owner. The blade is in very good condition given its age.

INSCRIPTION 

Near the forte of the blade, is an inscription in gold damascened work. The letters/numbers are a ‘code’ which are neatly placed within a gold border with a floral finish. Our team was unable to decipher the entire text, as codes on swords were only meant for the maker/owner, so it is therefore impossible to decipher it. We were able to translate the one word found at the beginning: س which translated to ‘Seer‘. In Arabic this translates to ‘wizard’ or ‘fortune teller’. So it is appropriate that the code that follows is possibly some form of Talismanic magic phrase, which would provide the owner with protection or good health. It is likely that the owner of the blade had consulted a ‘fortune teller’ or learned person to get a ‘spell’ (or verse from the Quran) to protect them in battle. As the hilt is of a North Indian style, yet the inscription is arabic, its most likely that the blade was removed from its original hilt (or the original hilt was no longer remaining) and later mounted onto this hilt. This would not be unexpected and was done many times. If this was the case, it indicates that this blade could be of importance. 

We also consulted Rachel Parikh (Assistant Curator at Worcester Art Museum, Historian of South Asian and Islamic Art, PhD, Specialist in Arms and Armour) who has the following comments on the inscription:

‘I am not entirely convinced these are purely Abjad letters. The presence of the vowel diacritic mark (Number 2) already suggests that, if this was Abjad, it is an impure [unusual] form. I do not know what the numeric value of this mark is, and try doing some research into it to no avail (the vowel mark acts as an “a”, so if it is above a letter, let’s say, the letter “r”, it turns it into “ra”)… The presence of the Arabic number ٢ and the upside down orientation of و (Number 6) makes me believe that this is another divination alpha-numeric system, known as ‘ilmal-huruf (“science of letters”). It operates in the same way as the Abjad letters, in that the numeric values assigned to Arabic letters are added up to provide total values for words in, or passages from, the Qur’an.

Number

 

Letter/Name/Transliteration

 

Abjad Value *

 

1

 

س/sīn/s

 

60 or 300 (depending on what Abjad order is used)

 

2

 

(vowel diacritic mark)

 

?

 

3

 

٢ (Arabic number “2”)

 

N/A

 

4

 

خ/khe or kha/kh

 

 

600

 

5

 

و/waw/w,u

 

 

6

 

6

 

و/waw/w,u (?)

 

 

6

 

7

 

 

أ/’alif/ā

 

1

 

8

 

ب /ba/b

 

2

 

Total (Number 1 as 60, not including Number 6) = 669

Total (Number 1 as 60, including Number 6) = 675

Total (Number 1 as 300, not including Number 6) = 909

Total (Number 1 as 300, including Number 6) = 915

‘Popular total numeric values for both Abjad (pure and impure), as well as ‘ilm al-huruf, are 786 for the Bismillāh (bismillāh al-Rahmān al-Rahīm, “In the name of Allah, the Most Merciful, the Most Compassionate”) from a letter-by-letter cumulative value of 2+60+40+1+30+30+5+1+30+200+8+40+50+1+30+200+8+10+40 = 786; and 66 for “Allah”, from a letter-by-letter cumulative value of 1+30+30+5.’

Most other cumulative values still remain a mystery and up for debate. The inclusion here of the reorientation of letters and numbers suggests that it infers other meanings/secret messages that only the owner of the sword would understand. These pious phrases are intended to protect their owner from harm and danger and would have been tailored to the individual that carried this sword. The sword would have also been worn with the inscription facing the owner (so on the inside, despite it being in its scabbard). Talismanic inscriptions in the Islamic world were usually placed where the owner could read, see, or touch it – it was always kept close to the body in some form since it is a means of protection.

It is also possible that the inscription is using Islamic ‘magical symbols’ which are believed to contain powers of healing, knowledge, etc (see the article at The Met Museum for a brief overview). This makes the dagger inscription very talismanic and these symbols were located in specific places so the owner could touch or see them for ‘good luck’ in battle. 

The coded inscription could indicate that owner would have been one of high status or importance, most likely to be a Mughal noble. There are only a handful of blades with such a code; one with a very similar code was present on the personal sword of Aurangzeb. In most cases, this type of inscription was specific to the owner or a very close associate. This ‘code’ makes this shamshir-e-tulwar all the more interesting.

CONDITION 

The Shamshir is accompanied by its original wooden sheath, wrapped in a crimson-red fabric. The top of the sheath features a steel locket, adorned with gold koftgari that matches the elegant gold work on the hilt. The fabric at the rear over the scabbard has been torn in the center – a natural split caused due to age. This has been professionally secured with an adhesive to maintain the historical and original features of the scabbard.

Given the age of this Tulwar, it is in good condition. The gold damascened work on the hilt is well preserved and 85% intact, with loss to the gold on the disk pommel. Finding a tulwar with its original scabbard is scarce – our example has its scabbard preserved in good condition with age-related wear and a gold damascened locket in good condition. The blade is sharp and practical, of strong build and weight. The blade seems to have undergone professional cleaning in the past.

CONCLUSION 

Overall, a good 18th/19th-century shamshir with an excellent gold koftgari hilt. Included with your purchase of the Gold Shamshir is a copy of the Islamic Weapons – Maghrib to Moghul, which has become a collectors book, sought after by Arms and Armour collectors. It complements the sword and its origins. A rare chance to own a high quality shamshir from a prominent collectors collection.

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A Mughal Nobleman's Gold overlaid Shamshir from the Tirri Collection

Stock Number: 21247

Origin: India (Delhi or North India)
Date: Blade 18th century / Hilt 19th century
Length: 95cm
Materials: Gold, Steel, Wood and Cotton
Provenance: From the collection of Anthony C Tirri

£7,500

Group

Out of stock

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