Join Date: Dec 2004
Location: College Park, MD
I can't wait to read LaRocca's book; it is "bound" to be the definitive work, at least for a time. I have seen it often stated that the division between Bhutanese and Tibetan swords is merely conventional or convenient. I have never believed it to be so, however. Typical examples with a Bhutanese provenance tend to be shorter, to have a waisted chain or wire (or shagreen) grip, nearly no guard (but a milled metal edge at the base of the hilt) the pierced "gubor" pommel (although I have one with a fluted nickel silver cap instead), and a tripartite scabbard with approximately the lower third covered by a long brass chape and the upper two thirds frequently covered by two contrasting colors of leather (or sometimes velvet). The scabbard throat often has a decorative brass piece. Earlier Bhutanese swords appear to have been thrust through belts as were Tibetan swords, but suspension from a ring at the back of the throat apparently became common by the end of the nineteenth century. There is evidence that Bhutanese swords were traded into Tibet, confusing things somewhat (and of course, Tibetan and Bhutanese swords and blades were traded into Assam and Arunachal Pradesh). The most overlap between forms of Tibetan and Bhutanese edged weapons seems to me to be in knives.
There is a good paper available on the web (search on "Patag: Symbol of Heroes"), which covers Bhutanese swords and is at once perhaps groundbreaking and, on the other hand, really frustrating because it does not provide sufficient references, dating, or comparison between examples.
I am really hoping that LaRocca can solve some dating issues and regional differences in Tibetan sword production. There seems to be a distinct, long, silver and coral decorated type (the scabbards, in particular) that is probably most characteristic of the east, "Khamdo," and perhaps centered on Derge as a production area. But while most (but certainly not all) Tibetan swords have the trilobate pommel, there are certainly other variations of pommels, scabbards and guards.