An exceptional Gold Tulwar

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Origin: North India (Lahore)

Date: Late 18th century/ Early 19th century

Length: 95cm

Materials: Gold, Wootz Steel, Wood and Velvet

 

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Description

A truly magnificent North Indian Tulwar of exceptional quality. A Darbari Tulwar (courtier sword) from Lahore.

THE TULWAR

Typically, most in the west will refer to the Indian Sword as simply a Tulwar (often spelled as Talwar or Tulvar). 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 talwar or talvār (Hindi) is the archetypical saber of India. These were used both as weapons and status symbols. The ones used for status were distinguished through their design, use of gold work and other ornamental additions.

THIS EXAMPLE

The hilt is of a traditional form, without the knuckle guard. 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 and (3) the floral style of gold koftgari. The hilt is adorned with inlaid gold which is in the form of flowers and tendrils. The gold design extends to the pommel disk and rounded pommel. The gold is in pristine condition and is 100% preserved on the hilt. Inlaid gold is much rarer to find as it was a lengthy process. First the craftsman would etch into the steel in a fine manner, then insert the gold into the etched pattern and bring it to surface level. This was a lengthy process so it only found itself on finer pieces – whereas overlaid gold was simpler and done over the hilt. The hilt is of Hakim shāhī form. Hakim probably refers to Hakim Khan Sur. Shāhī  (شاهي), meaning “royal”. Such hilts were popular among others in Lahore.

The blade is constructed of Wootz steel. The form is dark with prominent crystallised swirls to form a tight structure. The blade is showing signs of a rare variation of wootz, referred to as Mohammed’s ladder (or kirk narduban). This form of wootz was extremely rare and often found their way to India from Persia. Tradition states that Mohammed’s Ladder was used in battle arms as the use of a weapon with such a wootz pattern would ensure entry to heaven and successful victory in the battlefield. The name itself, ‘Mohammed’s Ladder’, is given to this type of blade since the linear distortions in the shape of a ‘ladder’ pass through the wootz to form ‘steps’. These steps represent the Prophets ascension to heaven (parts of which are known as “Mi’raj”, an Arabic word that literally means “ladder”.). This type of wootz made these Arms very high value and sought after; in most cases these were imported from Persia. The wootz has a mirror like finish throughout which gives it a far more prominent look. The blade is protruded on the active edge, leading to a sharp edge with practical function.

This tulwar is accompanied by its original wooden scabbard, which has been wrapped in a regal dark purple velvet and finished with a gold trim along the centre. The scabbard is finished of with a gold washed chape which is etched with a floral pattern and expertly chiselled to give off the design of a flower wrapping itself around the bottom of the scabbard. The craftsmanship is extremely fine and this is present throughout but really emphasised through the finer details.

This particular Tulwar was clearly used as a status symbol by an individual of high stature. The fine craftsmanship truly speaks for itself.

INSCRIPTION 

The blade finds itself stamped in various places with Urdu writing. This type of language is something that would often be associated with the court of Ranjit Singh, the ruler of the Sikh Empire. Again, the gold is inlaid on the blade as you can see the words chiselled into the blade where the gold is absent.

At the forte of the blade, the inscription, according to Rachel, reads:

First line looks like:
در قلعه نو گهر
“In the fortified house”

Second line looks like:
بی ہوا تھا صبح
“In the morning” or “it was morning”

It has also been suggested that it could read:

در قلعه توکهار بر هواتهان. which loosely translates to ‘made in the fort of Tehran’. Tehran is the capital of Iran (Persia) where high quality Wootz blades were produced and later exported.

On that same side of the blade, the cartouche at the centre reads:

‘Rabbi’ meaning ‘My Lord’, followed by ‘Pururavas’ (Sanksrit पुरूरवस्, Purūravas), who was a mythological king, the first of the the chandravamsha. A clear homage to the Chandravansh, the Lunar Dynasty of the Kshatriya warrior clans.

On the reverse, the larger cartouche has writing in two places – one which is faded, yet the other is preserved. This reads:

‘Mir Jaan’ meaning ‘Chiefs most loved’. This would be a reference to the owner and his love for this sword.

Along the side of the blade there is a lengthy inscription which is partially lost in some places due to the age of the sword. Again, the gold here is inlaid. This inscription is most likely a prayer. Yet to be deciphered.

COMPARABLE EXAMPLES

There is a Zulfiqar sword at the Worcester Art Museum which has similar Koftgari work, with the cartouche at the centre and the lengthy poem on the edge.

The hilt on this example is comparable to many examples found in the Royal Collection Trust that are attributed to Lahore. See RCIN 37952RCIN 37638RCIN 38132 and RCIN 38107.

Tulwars of similar quality are exhibited at the Wallace Collection, inventory number: OA1442OA1454OA1449and OA1802. A Tulwar with a similar hilt and koftgari at the forte was sold by Mandarin Mansion Antiques, a seller who is known for selling high end fine collectible Arms and Armour.

CONCLUSION

Overall a extremely fine and rare example of a Gold tulwar of exceptional quality. This example clearly shows its regal and royal stature and is amongst the finest tulwars we have handled and seen on the current market. Given the fine quality of this example, it is very easily classified as a ‘museum quality’ item. Tulwars of this perfect quality are seldom seen on the open market and primarily reserved for museums or private collections.

The following professionals were consulted for the translation of the inscription. 

Rachel Parikh – Calderwood Curatorial Fellow of South Asian Art at Harvard Art Museums. Catalogue Specialist for the Wallace Collection in London. Previously Andrew W. Mellon Postdoctoral Curatorial and Collections Specialist Fellow (2014-2016) with the Department of Arms and Armor at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.

Dr. Peyvand Firouzeh, Lecturer in Islamic Art, Department of History of Art, TheUniversity of Sydney

Dr. Yael Rice, Assistant Professor of Art, History of Art, and of Asian Languages and
Civilizations, Amherst College

Dr. Pasha M. Khan, Associate Professor and Chair in Urdu Language and Culture, McGill

Financing is available on request via Art Money.


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