Join Date: Jul 2009
Tatyana, thanks for sharing your sword pics, I saw it for sale and was very tempted too. Denee, some great information you posted, thanks! My wife is Bhutanese and I've spent some time in Bhutan, picked up a few swords and knives here & there, old & new. From what I've seen over there, yes, traditional swords are still being made, although I have yet to see a new laminated blade like the old ones. These swords are still the badges of rank for government officials above a certain rank, and in the recent past, the numbers of officials allowed to wear such swords as badges (along with different colored scarves) have risen quite a bit.
There are still a lot of high-quality old swords in the possession of royalty (obviously!), nobility, old families, etc. These are very highly-regarded and are passed down to the next generation with much pride and reverence. Quite a few antique swords being carried today by high-ranking ministers from old families, nobility, etc. that have seen action during their great-grandfather's time as recently as late-19th century - and in many cases, the current owners know their swords' history, or atleast know that their relative carried this sword in action back in the day. I know about more than one high-ranked official today who is well-known as antique sword collectors. People with old swords and in need of funds know who to approach!
It is not uncommon to see old blades with their original hilt and scabbard, as well as old blades with newer hilts and scabbards and vice versa, older hilt and scabbards adorning newer blades. I've also seen quite a few swords like yours, Tatyana (have two myself) - decent hilt and scabbard with new-looking shiny blades. A number of government officials carry this type of newer traditional swords - including many lower-to-mid-ranking ones. This is not to say they might not have older swords, but many are presented these new swords, along with appropriate rank scarves when appointed to their offices.
Good point Denee brings about the worksmanship - the better quality older swords & fittings have a distinct worksmanship vs. even the top quality present-day worksmanship, and some of the present day worksmanship is pretty good!
You'll also see quite a few of these swords being sold in arts & handicraft stores in the capital Thimphu, as well as in other towns frequented by well-heeled tourists (and most tourists visiting Bhutan are the "well-heeled" type). Most look pretty decent at first glance - the hilt & scabbard - but you take them out and the blades are horrible - sometimes thin as cardboard, other times just a bar of steel, with crude hammer marks on them, etc. This is not to say all are disappointing, I've seen a few that are very well made and displayed with much pride. When I asked some shop-owners they said some of the fittings (hilt, scabbard, etc.) are made in Bhutan while others are made in nearby Kalimpong (in Darjeeling district of India), a town renowned for its Tibetan handicraft artisans, who make these swords/sword-parts based on Bhutanese designs - all specifically for the Bhutanese market. Incidentally, a number of these handicraft stores in Bhutan are run by Tibetan-Bhutanese, so them getting stuff made by fellow Tibetans outside Bhutan isn't such a surprise. Thankfully, I've not found these being advertised as antiques. It's also not uncommon to find decent quality older swords being sold in such stores - ones with nice laminated blades, etc. but the store-owners know the value of these swords and honestly, they're right up there in price with what you'll find in the West - infact in some cases, it may be more expensive to purchase an older sword in such stores in Bhutan than through a reputable seller in the West!!!
Sorry for the rambling, disjointed post - I'm just putting down stuff I picked up on while in Bhutan, as well as what I've read in books & online, particularly Phuntsho Rapten's article, "Patag the symbol of heroes" (which I'm sure most of you have read as well) - incidentally I've been meaning to pin down this individual and talk to him in detail, maybe someday in the future ...