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Old 21st November 2019, 07:12 PM   #1
ariel
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Default The so-called " cobra swords"

On pp. 109-10 and 121, 123 Elgood shows peculiar S. Indian swords with disk-like widening of the blade by the handle.
They are popularly called " cobra swords" by the Westerners, even though they have nothing to do with the snake: the widened disk is a representation of Chakra, a weapon of Shiva.
Also, I am showing a S. Indian katar with identical feaure, confirming the S. Indian origin.
However, similar blades are found in the NW India, the so-called Pahari Kingdoms, established by the Hindu Rajputs escaping Muslim control over them.
Many of them carry typical Afghani Pulwar handles, and are usually defined as Indo-Afghani swords. However, some carry very "Indian" handles, without cup-like pommels and down-turned quillons and some have a mix of both features.

Any idea re. several questions:
1. Can the S. Indian and NW Indian examples be separated based on the configuration of their handles?

2. Could some of S. Indian examples have replacement handles, ? Among the examples I show there are " pulwar", " tulwar" and likely "Deccani" ones?
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Old 22nd November 2019, 09:38 AM   #2
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Thanks for the post
If i ever saw one of these for sale I would have put it down as a lord of the rings fantasy item.
The Katar looks terribly heavy to be practical but nice looking all the same
Regards
Ken
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Old 22nd November 2019, 03:22 PM   #3
Jens Nordlunde
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In Hindu Arms and Ritual Robert Elgood seem to think that a sword of this kind, with an Afghan hilt is a marriage.
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Old 22nd November 2019, 03:43 PM   #4
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Jens,
That would suggest that Rajput " kings" who moved to Himachal Pradesh just made their swords look more local and the term " Indo-Afghani swords" might be a misnomer. This is supported ( albeit weakly) by the variety of handles used. Sword handles in India were replaced like worn shoes.
The possibility #2 mentioned earlier seems quite likely.
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Old 22nd November 2019, 04:33 PM   #5
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Ariel,
What shall I say? The best answer is, I dont know. I have seen these swords in pictures, and the one on exhibition in Copenhagen, at The David Collection in 1982, but I have never researched these swords, as I have never owned one.


Quote. That would suggest that Rajput " kings" who moved to Himachal Pradesh just made their swords look more local and the term " Indo-Afghani swords" might be a misnomer. Unquote.


Which time era do you refer to?
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Old 22nd November 2019, 05:34 PM   #6
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Very interesting topic!

What strikes me at these swords is the unmistakenly Indian construction of the blade (with chiseled central ridge and reinforced edges).
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Old 22nd November 2019, 08:56 PM   #7
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Marius,
You are absolutely correct: the blades are unmistakeably S. Indian.
This strengthens the argument that the handles were a later modification.
So, should we stop calling them Indo-Afghani?
Probably not: the modifications on many of them were of Afghani styles. By the same logic, Persian and purely Indian blades are in fact “( Something)- Afghani”, we just need to look separately on different components of a given sword.
I may show some swords that, in my estimation are purely Afghani based on both handle and blade.

Handles are simple: pulwar-like are unmistakeable.

Can we start describing features of a genuinely Afghani blade?

Let’s open the floodgates! Go on!
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Old 22nd November 2019, 10:12 PM   #8
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Jens,

Rajputs started emigrating to the peri - Himalayan hills around 12 century. This process became more and more active by the 16-17 century when a Gurkha kingdom was established.
I think the Afghani pulwar fully matured from the Deccani/ N. Indian cup-like form into a full “ pulwar one” not earlier than 17-18 century.
If we combine the calendars, my guess the “ Indian-Afghani” swords came into existence not earlier than that.

Just a guess.
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Old 23rd November 2019, 10:16 AM   #9
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Quote:
Originally Posted by ariel
I may show some swords that, in my estimation are purely Afghani based on both handle and blade.
Let’s open the floodgates! Go on!


Buttin mentionned one and called it Afghan short sword...
I believe in statistics when you have many cobra swords with Afghan hilts well...

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Old 23rd November 2019, 01:40 PM   #10
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It is very easy to attach a word “Afghani” to a bladed weapon when it has typical “pulwar” handle.

But if Elgood is right and there was a “ marriage of convenience” we may need to sit down and start thinking anew.
Look at the series of pics shown by me: there are examples of Tulwar handle, modified basket handle ( Deccan?), unquestionable Pulwar and a modified Pulwar with downturned quillons but with an original S. Indian pommel.

With this variety of handles how certain are we in our blanket definition as “ Indo-Afghani”?
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Old 23rd November 2019, 02:49 PM   #11
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What is this?
Is it a Nepalese kukri?
Is it an Indian tulwar?
Is it Nepalo-Indian?
Is it Indo-Nepalese?
I simply believe it is a "kukri with a tulwar hilt."
Simple and clear.
And the same logic applies for the "cobra swords" in question.
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Old 23rd November 2019, 02:55 PM   #12
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It is indeed a "khukuri with a tulwar hilt". It has a cho (aka kaudi).
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Old 23rd November 2019, 03:21 PM   #13
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Quote:
Originally Posted by mariusgmioc
What is this?
Is it a Nepalese kukri?
Is it an Indian tulwar?
Is it Nepalo-Indian?
Is it Indo-Nepalese?
I simply believe it is a "kukri with a tulwar hilt."
Simple and clear.
And the same logic applies for the "cobra swords" in question.


VERY well noted Marius!
The 'name game' has been played for literally decades here in attempts to neatly pigeon hole and concisely categorize weapons which are obviously hybrids of influences and forms. In many if not most cases these are often related to similar uses in published material using 'collectors' terms from early accounts describing weapons, which in turn resulted from various transliterations and misunderstandings of local colloquial terms.

In the very theme of this discussion, the 'cobra' term applied to the distinctive enlarged forte at the root of these blades is a 'western' appellation suggesting a nagan symbolism in the sword type.

We know however that the typically disc shape is most probably representing the chakra, and these originate in the Hindu Pantheon with symbolism regarding Vishnu. That this symbolic feature is just that, and has no pragmatic purpose in the blade function can be seen for example with the khanda pictured with undulating blade and the 'chakra' toward the tip of the serrated blade.

In this case, it might be argued that the position in this case would serve as a weight to add impetus to a slashing blow, such as with the yelman on sabers, but the strong symbolic nature of the feature seems otherwise paramount.

The fact that there was considerable Afghan influence in the Deccan which led to the considerable cultural exchanges between these disparate regions can be explained by the Pathan communities such as Kurnool, Cuddapah and Savanur situated in Deccani areas.
It has often been suggested that the elements of the paluoar hilt are from Deccani influences, but that too is of course contested despite the compelling similarities in comparisons.

The blades on these 'cobra' swords are also a talking point here beyond the 'chakra', with the deeply chiseled channels often seen. Look at the blades on the Afghan military swords of latter 19th c. which have what seems similar deep channels recalling 'atavistically' early Vijayanagara blades.
The hilts of course are interestingly combined features of what recalls British military bayonets in styling, combined with the 'swan neck' type hilts of many northwest guards on tulwars . These open piercing of the bars on the knuckleguard are also seen on paluoar hilts in many cases.

Also the image of the addorsed zoomorphic figures hilt is of course the same as on one of these 'cobra swords'.

Of course hilts and blades were remounted often incongruently as blades were typically mounted with locally favored hilts. So then how do we regard a 'blade' such as this apparently Hindu styled one, fashioned with an Afghan style hilt (paluoar) and situated in Deccani regions?

Do we regard it as a Deccani sword? after all the paluoar is thought to have Deccani origins or is it Afghan, as these hilts are typically regarded as prolifically present in Afghanistan?

In my thinking, the use of descriptive terms is more useful in classification of a weapon, than catchy ethnic hyphenation or arbitrary classification which mat be misleading, and 'collectors terms' should be footnotes. For the sake of discussions however, the use of well worn collectors terms is of course probably most prudent.
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Old 23rd November 2019, 03:51 PM   #14
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Marius is right, this is the only way to describe it, and this goes for a number of other weapons as well.


Ariel, the first sword you show seem to have a lotus decoration on the hilt, and the lines would represent water. The strange thing is, that the pommmeel also seem to be a lotus flower together with the missing quillons- this I have never seen such a pommel before.


Jim, I just read your post and yes, we have had this name game several times, but we never seem to learn:-(.
You write "Afghan influence in the Deccan", but it could also have been Deccan influence in Afghanistan. See one of Ariel's latest posts.
In Robert's book Hindu Arms and Ritual he shows a sword from Vijayanagara from the 15th century with a chakra (chapter 11), so this sword type is very old, although later the hilts were often replaced.
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Old 23rd November 2019, 03:55 PM   #15
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Jens Nordlunde
Marius is right, this is the only way to describe it, and this goes for a number of other weapons as well.


Ariel, the first sword you show seem to have a lotus decoration on the hilt, and the lines would represent water. The strange thing is, that the pommmeel also seem to be a lotus flower together with the missing quillons- this I have never seen such a pommel before.


Jim, I just read your post and yes, we have had this name game several times, but we never seem to learn:-(.
You write "Afghan influence in the Deccan", but it could also have been Deccan influence in Afghanistan. See one of Ariel's latest posts.
In Robert's book Hindu Arms and Ritual he shows a sword from Vijayanagara from the 15th century with a chakra (chapter 11), so this sword type is very old, although later the hilts were often replaced.



Hi Jens
We crossed posts, and we are in complete accord. As we have often discussed, which direction the influence was generated remains unclear, but the connection between the styling in comparison is compelling.
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Old 23rd November 2019, 04:59 PM   #16
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I am in complete agreement: descriptive approach is the only one we have at our disposal. A pity we do not know the original name of the S. Indian sword with the " chakra" blade :-((

I am with Jens: the influence went from South to North. Afghanis just adopted it, and very cleverly, to boot. Again, pity we do not have Afghani swords before 16 century; then we could have argued that they introduced it to the South, before the images of cup-like pommels there. Thus, arguing the North-to-South direction is a pure speculation.
I have an Afghani sword with a cup-like pommel but no lid ( likely, it was not there to start with. One can recall somewhat similar pommels from Hamza Nama and later tulwar pommels from NW India.

Jens mentioned to me the issue of Kukri: virtually identical blades were present among very early Southern swords ( see Rawson).
And, as a matter of fact, the earliest image of kukri is in the portrait of Dravya Shah ( 16 century)on the battlefield, and this kukri is still stored in the National Museum in Nepal. I used to have both pics but lost them.
But what the heck! Afghanis made kukris in the 20th century. If it works, use it.
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Old 23rd November 2019, 06:00 PM   #17
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Very true Ariel.
Actually I agree that the paluoar influence likely went from Deccan into Afghan regions. What I meant by Afghan influences in Deccan was regarding the small Pathan principalities there such as Kurnool. The point being that certainly there was an exchange of blades and hilt forms.
Well noted on the kukris, produced in the Afghan factory at Mashin Khana.
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Old 24th November 2019, 01:34 AM   #18
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Jim,
Afghani kukris are very modern copying: we can’t even call it “influence” or
“Exchange of ideas”. Plain violation of copyrights:-))))

But Jens’ comment opens a whole can of worms: is it possible that Kukri was brought to Nepal by Hindu Rajputs around 16 century? Indeed, we ( I definitely) know of no evidence that it was present there earlier.
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Old 24th November 2019, 02:01 PM   #19
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Ariel, since you mentioned it yourself.
In Hindu Arms and Ritual Robert Elgood, in chapter 8, shows a Gana (arms bearer for the great gods). It is from a cave temple and said to be from the 7th century. The relief shows a Gana holding a very kukri like knife.
In the same chapter he shows forward curved swords from the 15th and 17th century.
Is the Aydha Katthi a reminiscence of these blades? The Sosan Pattah is likely to be.
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Old 24th November 2019, 04:17 PM   #20
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In the original post, it was asked, (1) if southern and northwest examples of these distinctive 'chakra disc' type blades could be separated by the hilts mounted on them.
(2) it was asked if the South Indian examples could have 'replacement' hilts.

If I am understanding correctly, the objective is to determine the regional place of origin of these blades as a type, and if they indeed became used as far north as Afghanistan, given the oft appearance of the paluoar hilts on them.

It seems to me that the incorporation of the disc is agreed to be a religiously inspired element from the Hindu 'chakra', and that it is indeed placed symbolically is further indicated in the unusual placement toward tip instead of forte of the blade on the khanda illustrated.

The blades seem to be typically deeply fullered or channeled in the manner of earlier Vijayanagara types, and with the chakra feature added.

These factors considered lead me to believe the origins of this style of blade to be effectively a southern convention, and that the use of the disc element may have evolved from similar blade 'widenings' of perhaps earlier forms.
It is clear that there have been atavistic adoptions of diverse blade forms from iconographic sources in southern India for some time, and as well noted by Jens, these styles often, if not typically moved northward in the regions of the subcontinent.

Whatever the case, it would be difficult to try to assess the regional provenance of an example with this type blade simply by the hilt it bears given the obvious disparity of the hilts seen on them. That being the case is directly in line with question (2), the replacement of handles on these type blades, which is well known in India with the propensity for refurbishing weapons.
It is well established that blades were a widely traded and exchanged commodity, whose often long working lives in many cases resulted in rehilting with favored local styles and upgraded fashions.

In the case of the paluoar hilted versions, it seems these were likely to have been syncretically joined in regions of the Deccan and northward as suggested in Elgood in accord with the Pathan element from Afghanistan.
As far as I have known, these distinctive blades are not known in Afghanistan regionally, while obviously the paluoar hilt style found its way southerly into the Pathan enclaves described.

In the cases of these type blades with tulwar; khanda or other hilts, including the curious case of the katar, it would appear mounting again to local favor.
If I recall, it seems that the katar with this feature was even suggested at some point for possible origin of the blade style, unsure on that one.
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Old 24th November 2019, 04:43 PM   #21
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BTW, I could never fully understand why Aydha Katti carries “ Arab influence”. That is repeatedly mentioned in various sources ( Elgood included) but no specific feature is convincingly mentioned.
Deccani Sailaba is in fact a Sousson Patta. And ( I climb on a very thin phonetic limb) the real Afghani name for Khyber knife is “ selavah”. Are we talking about an imperfect homonym or was there a real connection between these two short, single edged chopping weapons? Did the Afghanis adopt it but simplified its construction? After all they have acquired all of their bladed weapons ( and their names, to boot) either from India or from Persia and the sophistication of their bladesmithing was grossly inferior to both. They were utilitarians, not inventors and not decorators.
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Old 24th November 2019, 08:18 PM   #22
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Transliteration between languages is odd at times, I have a 'Salawar Yataghan' (well, it is indeed slightly recurved) which was so named for me a few years back by one of our prestigious forum members as the more correct name for the item sometimes also called a 'Khyber knife' by us ferengi who do not know better.
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Old 29th November 2019, 09:18 AM   #23
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The very first sword in the series shown by me, has a very " Hindu" pommel: unopened lotus flower. The next one has a peculiar handle: downturned quillons ( Persian/Afghani style) with the same Hindu lotus pommel.

This is perhaps the strongest hint of a transition from Hindu to Afghani style.
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Old 29th November 2019, 01:42 PM   #24
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Quote:
Originally Posted by ariel
The very first sword in the series shown by me, has a very " Hindu" pommel: unopened lotus flower. The next one has a peculiar handle: downturned quillons ( Persian/Afghani style) with the same Hindu lotus pommel.

This is perhaps the strongest hint of a transition from Hindu to Afghani style.



Well noted Ariel, this does well illustrate a kind of syncretic transition from south to north reflected in the combining of these elements. The koftgari designs in the hilt are mindful of Persian/Mughal shikargah themes while the lotus character does seem Hindu oriented as you point out.
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Old 10th December 2019, 02:41 PM   #25
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I quote from https://www.pinterest.jp/worldantiq...ra-sword/Pahari sword (cobra sword), this type of sword is generally referred to as Indo-Afghan, describing the mixed Indian and Afghan elements, characterized by the Afghan style handle and Indian straight, double edged, fullered blade bulged at the ricasso, with armor-piercing tip and expanded forte, symmetrical grip". Unquote. ~ and a few pictures on that website to compare below.
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Old 23rd December 2019, 01:50 PM   #26
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Quote:
Originally Posted by mariusgmioc
What is this?
Is it a Nepalese kukri?
Is it an Indian tulwar?
Is it Nepalo-Indian?
Is it Indo-Nepalese?
I simply believe it is a "kukri with a tulwar hilt."
Simple and clear.
And the same logic applies for the "cobra swords" in question.


I'm just going to call that a Kukwar, lol.
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