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Old 4th March 2019, 01:51 AM   #1
Nihl
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Default Significance of Beaded Edges/Borders on South Indian Weapons?

Hi all,

One big feature that I've noticed is present on a lot of south Indian arms and armor is a "beaded edge" that usually trails along the rim of the object. While my library is far from complete, all of the "classics" that I've read fail to actually describe the importance or the reason why this aesthetic element is included. Having recently caught up on my Elgood, unless I missed something, I can say for sure that even he doesn't explain the existence of this feature, aside from doing what every other author has done in stating that it designates an item as being south Indian.

When I turned to do a bit of internet research, what I was able to find was a connection with the beaded edge and south Indian architecture, however this link seems to be flimsy at best as - for the life of me - I am unable to find any examples of south Indian buildings with beaded edges on them. Plenty of examples of round-ish symbols or leaves lined up in a row, or feet from figures standing shoulder-to-shoulder, but no standalone beaded rims. I am aware that architecture is one of the bigger influences on hilt motifs, however, again, for the life of me I cannot find any examples of an architectural link between the two.

My only personal theory for this would that it might be somehow related to the importance of a string of pearls under a chhatri (umbrella/parasol) - something that could be represented as a vertical line of beads/circles - but as far as I'm aware the inclusion of a chhatri was mostly done on north Indian weapons, and wasn't incorporated into south Indian designs as much.

Again, I still have quite a bit of reading to do, so if some author somewhere has already explained the motif, I'd be very grateful in knowing who did so & in what publication. Otherwise, I can't find any explanation as to it's importance or why it is included so prominently in many south Indian arms. The pictures included are all examples of beaded edges on Indian weapons.
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Old 4th March 2019, 01:16 PM   #2
Jens Nordlunde
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Hi Nihl,
I cant, unfortunately, tell you much about the beads, other than they were used a lot in South India, and seems later to have been used in other places as well. If you have A Passion for Indian Arms you should check the pages below.
The pata detail you show is indeed South Indian (p. 347-349) 16th to early 17th century. Do yu see the peacocks or hamsa's on top of the gauntlet?

The katar below (p. 173-174) Tanjore 16th to early 17th century.
The tulwar (p. 213-215) Rajasthan late 18th to early 19th century, with an etched mark on the blade from the Kishangarh armoury.


Robert Elgood: Rajput Arms & Armour, The Rathores & Their Armoury at Jodhpur Fort. Vol. II, p. 344-345. A tulwar hilt with beards on the disc, the quillons and on the langets. Hilt late 19th century.


Other bearded weapons can be seen in different books, but I have yet to see an explanation why they were bearded.
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Old 4th March 2019, 02:52 PM   #3
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Let me first plead ignorance on knowledge of this area. However I do not think smiths of yesteryear are much different than smiths of today. I think it's the cool factor and the smiths way of showing their skill.
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Old 4th March 2019, 03:13 PM   #4
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Nihl, this is an ancient non-vedic tradition most likely Tamil in origin when cows, warhorses, elefants and people were decorated with flower or bell garlands. These were not only ornaments for the fests, weddings and so. The tradition was rooted in religious and mystical views and closely related to military traditions and weapons accordingly.

Million thanks for such theme.
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Old 4th March 2019, 03:36 PM   #5
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Marcenary, this is a very week explanation, and it does not help much.
There are a lot of katars and other weapons from South India without these beads. Had it really been such a deep religious thing with them, I am sure we would have seen this kind of decoration far more often.


Mross, you may have a point, but I think there is more to it than that. It could be a fashion, which later moved more to the north. It seems as if Bundi, Kotah and Sind used it as well in later centuries, but as far as I know it did not move more north than to the states just north of Deccan.
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Old 4th March 2019, 04:06 PM   #6
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Jens Nordlunde
Marcenary, this is a very week explanation, and it does not help much.
There are a lot of katars and other weapons from South India without these beads. Had it really been such a deep religious thing with them, I am sure we would have seen this kind of decoration far more often.

Of course. As well as not all cows in India are decorated with flower garlands.
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Old 4th March 2019, 04:56 PM   #7
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I think the use of beaded decoration both aesthetically and traditionally is indeed related to much deeper religious orientation. While such decoration used occasionally on sword hilts as seen on some hussar sabre hilts (Esterhazy unit of cavalry 1740s and other versions) in Europe, these appear to have been indirectly related to the Rosary bead theme. The use of engraved dots on blades termed "Paternoster' were also related to religious imbuement.

In this case, these beaded edges seem likely to recall the prayer beads used in Muslim Faith termed I believe Misbaha or Tasbih, and while origins are unclear in this use, the concept itself of use of beads may have had Buddhist origin.
In Islam, I believe the beads in varied combination numerically may represent the 99 Names of Allah. In some cases there may be 33 for example, and counted three times each etc.

Clearly the use of beads in decoration often may be used numerically to represent key or auspiciously significant numbers, and are often seen by those uninitiated in that particular context may regard them as aesthetically applied.

In these cases, often beads themselves gained a keenly auspicious value and were indeed used is important occasions and ceremonies is that sense in the manner suggested, which would indeed include weddings etc.

There have been many books and references attending to the use of beads in the symbolism created and used in civilization into prehistory. This is as brief as we might explain the plausible use here.
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Old 4th March 2019, 10:30 PM   #8
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Elgood’s entire first Indian book was about the connection between weapons and rituals. With multiple religious consultants working with him there is no way a feature that wide-spread would have escaped his investigative clutches.

I am with Jens and mross: just a pretty embellishment. In a way, this is a parallel development of European and Caucasian real and false filigrees.

India is a country filled with mysteries and hidden meanings. Because of that, we may be lured into futile searches for mysteries where there are none.

Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.
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Old 5th March 2019, 01:57 AM   #9
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It's often seemed to me that Indian decorative sensibilities tend toward what some in the West might consider over-embellishment. "Nothing exceeds like excess" might be the motto.

An Afghan rug merchant of my acquaintance tended to refer to this trend as "Kutchi". I don't know if his reference holds any more than simple anecdotal comment, however.

I find it part and parcel of the aesthetics of the region. While it is not universal - not everyone can afford the price of embellishment - it is certainly not uncommon.
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Old 5th March 2019, 03:51 AM   #10
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Good point!
Al Sabah collection of Indian arms is the ultimabte example of “bling”. Somehow, the word Kutchi reminds me of Kitschy:-)
Elgood writes about sacral motives of overdecorating weapons with immoderate amounts of gold and gems. My guess that behind that pious facade was a garish dollop of showmanship and bragging.

Compared to it, beaded edges of steel handles are an example of modesty.

Persian Shah Ismail sent Sultan Selim a lavishly decorated sword right before the Battle of Chaldiran. One potential motive was to show his superiority (weapons were normally gifted by a sovereign to his servant). Another explanation was a supercilious snark that Turks fight like overjewelled women. Selim disabused Ismail of that notion the very next day:-)
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Old 5th March 2019, 09:10 AM   #11
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Quote:
Originally Posted by ariel
Elgood’s entire first Indian book was about the connection between weapons and rituals. With multiple religious consultants working with him there is no way a feature that wide-spread would have escaped his investigative clutches.


I read the Bible. There is nothing about dinosaurs, Antarctica or the Earth’s magnetic field. Although there were consultants ... do not compare with anyone.
Why? Because the Bible was written about something else. Also the book you talked about it is written about something else: about weapons in the ritual (and then only one chapter). Above I'm talking about the ritual in weapons . This is another animal (like the difference between a palm squirrel and a fox).

Quote:
I am with Jens and mross: just a pretty embellishment.

Just an embellishment. Just India. Just another culture. Just three thousand years. Nothing complicated.

Quote:
India is a country filled with mysteries and hidden meanings.

A typical point of view of the 17-19th century. Where all western knowledge about the weapons of India and its culture got stuck.

Quote:
Because of that, we may be lured into futile searches for mysteries where there are none

All cats are grey in the dark

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Old 5th March 2019, 10:48 AM   #12
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Well, if you are so convinced in the veracity of your hypothesis, continue your quest. You will have to find documentary evidence supporting it. I am sure there are many Sanskrit texts not yet meticulously read for a mention of this minor decorative detail even by professional Indian philologists. When you find it please let us know. I for one will be very interested. Good luck!

And BTW, there are tons of discussion points about ritual in weapons in Elgood’s book.
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Old 5th March 2019, 11:15 AM   #13
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Quote:
Originally Posted by ariel
Well, if you are so convinced in the veracity of your hypothesis, continue your quest. You will have to find documentary evidence supporting it. I am sure there are many Sanskrit texts not yet meticulously read for a mention of this minor decorative detail even by professional Indian philologists. When you find it please let us know. I for one will be very interested. Good luck!

Thank you, but let me say. The traditional culture works in different way. Although in the texts there are indications which artistic expressive means should be used in certain cases, but this concerns, as a rule, fundamental forms.
You are absolutely right when you say that such a decoration are just an embellishment. You answer the question "What is it?". In my case I, as it should be in studies in the field of traditional cultures, try to answer the question "Why is it so?"
Yes, it is an embellishment. Beginning from the 15-16th centuries in India almost everything already becoming just an embellishment. But it is still possible to trace its origin, because in traditional culture nothing disappears without a trace, but is reborn and finds new forms of existence.

Quote:
And BTW, there are tons of discussion points about ritual in weapons in Elgood’s book

I fully agree and really appreciate such books. They allow us to find answers to questions. Questions and answers that are not in these books.
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Old 5th March 2019, 01:31 PM   #14
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There are other books showing this beaded edges. Like Mortal Beauty, 2015. Page 208. Here it says Central India17th to 18th century.
Robert Elgood: Arms & Armour at the Jaipur Court, 2015. Page 87. Katar late 19th century. Page 128. Tulwar probably Kotah or Bundi 18th or early 19th century. Here Elgood writes: "Katars with a grip with a single knop, the design presumably acquired form the Deccan, were popular in Kotah/Bundi in the mid eighteenth century. Sword hilts with beaded edging can be seen in Kotah/Bundi paintings between 1760-1866 But do not appear in other Rajput miniatures."
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Old 5th March 2019, 03:46 PM   #15
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Indian jewellery has examples of this beaded technique in the South Indian Jhumkas ...ear rings styles..
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Old 5th March 2019, 04:59 PM   #16
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These are remarkably important views guys, and all brilliantly presented, bringing to mind so many questions as we look further into this topic.

Here I would point out that Robert Elgood's book, "Hindu Arms & Ritual" is a fantastic reference which in my view (and use) just keeps giving. Its content addresses so many angles and deep corners of the field of Indian arms study that each topic that comes up has detail in areas I have not yet scoured. It is a powerful encyclopedic reference that is not meant to be read through in the manner of a novel or textbook.
As the title decribes, it is about Hindu arms AND ritual. While one chapter is titled to ritual, that aspect permeates throughout the book.

The Bible is a reverently held book of Faith, just as many such religious volumes, and not intended as an empirically studied reference.


I think it is generally agreed that not every instance of decoration has deep meaning or symbolism. It is also well understood that in any form of artistic material there will be license, over embellishment, and reflection of other influences in degree.

I agree that in the study of cultures, and in our case their arms, it is not just a matter of 'what is it'......and I heartily and emphatically agree......the WHY IS IT SO is exactly the way we should investigate these kinds of topics.
This was the true magic of Elgood's book, it reached into trying to explain the 'why' in so many aspects of the intricate symbolism in Hindu arms. This same perspective often reached far beyond the Hindu boundaries, as in so many cases the syncretic transcendance of this symbolism and that of other Faiths became known in material culture of each other.


In India, the creation of innovative arms as well as the decoration and over embellishment were commonly the case with weapons as armourers vied for the favor of their patrons. As with investigation of all arms' decoration, each must be looked at for its own merits and evaluated in accord with others with similarities in the same manner. Very true, sometimes it may well be a case of 'bling bling' but looking for sources of the influences is the objective.
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Old 5th March 2019, 05:47 PM   #17
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Ibrahiim al Balooshi
Indian jewellery has examples of this beaded technique in the South Indian Jhumkas ...ear rings styles..

Thank you very much.
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Old 5th March 2019, 08:33 PM   #18
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Well just to make things more interesting, here is a photo of Buster's remake of the King Tut dagger. Note the bead work on the handle.
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Old 5th March 2019, 11:33 PM   #19
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It is important to distinguish between granular gold work, an ancient goldsmithing technique that in arms and armor is most prominently found on high quality Saudi saifs of the 19th and 20th century, and the beaded edges found on Indian arms.

The granular decorative element found in gold is un-related, in execution and placement on the arm itself, to the chiseling of iron of beaded borders, except in so far as both are decorative elements.
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Old 6th March 2019, 01:13 AM   #20
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Decided to waste 5 minutes of my life to plowing the net. I Googled "rapier filigree"
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Old 6th March 2019, 01:38 AM   #21
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Wow I didn't expect the discussion to pick up so quickly! Thanks to all for replying/contributing!

Just my 2 cents on the discussion so far, I largely agree with Jim's point about it being in effect a religious-auspicious kind of decoration. From what I recall in both Elgood & the Al Sabah Collection, the topic of one thing or another being an auspicious symbol comes up too many times to count, so it certainly wouldn't surprise me if that is ultimately the case for beaded edges as well. Perhaps someone with more knowledge (and time) than I have could cross-reference the amount of "beads" on these weapons, either in segments or as a whole, and see if they correspond with any important numbers. Without any proof though, I think it would be inappropriate to just call it a day based on any single speculation.

From what I can remember in Elgood (Hindu A&R), there was still mostly a focus on the rituals themselves, the mythology surrounding those rituals, and then some tidbits here and there on how weapons are related to the aforementioned mythology and rituals. This isn't at all meant to downplay how important and useful the text is, but it is meant to say that I can't remember much iconography being explained other than the rather obvious "plants & animals can all be linked to a deity or tale of some sort". That said, I do remember (I think from a later Elgood publication) it being mentioned that beads and bells and so on were tied to the legs of animals in order to drive off evil spirits, something related to Mercenary's first post, so that could be another solid clue. Still though I find it hard to believe that immobile beads or "solid" bells would do as much good as their more lively attached-to-limbs counterparts.
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Old 6th March 2019, 02:13 AM   #22
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Ariels search online has given way to perhaps a key word which might give us some perspective to Nihls original question. …...FILAGREE!

Apparently this word, which well describes the 'beaded' edges he is inquiring about in South Indian weapon decoration. It seems that filigree (from Lat. filum=thread; granum=grain...beads to Italian , filgrana). ...was prevalent in Italian, French and Portuguese metalwork from c.1660-late 19th c.

Perhaps this attractive fashion was adopted from these European sources through trade, as well known in India in these times. It is well known of course that European influences in arms was well established in India.

Clearly the use of beadwork has been present widely and through history, but here we are looking into its use in Southern India. Nihl prudently looked toward architectural inspirations as is clearly often the case with Indian hilts, but this particular feature does not seem apparent thus far.

While the inspiration for auspicious themes may often recall beads in various religious and traditional occasions in many parts of India, including of course Southern......perhaps the well known adoption of European influences might be considered. Thus Ariels 'wasted' time finding filigree laden rapiers and other swords maybe not so wasted after all.
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Old 6th March 2019, 03:36 AM   #23
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Perhaps.
But I am willing to give Indian metalworkers more credit. After all, filigree is such a simple embellishment, that they could have “invented” it on their own. Filigree was used in the Ottoman realm, the Balkans, Caucasus, South Arabian and Western Europe.
There are even more astonishing examples of parallel development. I think I have shown here Central European Bauernwehr ( Cord) and Afghani Khyber ( Selaawa). The former is 15-16 century, the latter is known since the 19th. Their blades are identical, even though neither group knew about the existence of the other.
We just do not need to invent Vedic sacral roots to explain such a trivial detail of embellishment.
And if we decide to go for broke, we just need to Google “ filigree jewelry” : tons of them on the net from all over the world.
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Old 6th March 2019, 02:30 PM   #24
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Mercenary
... I, as it should be in studies in the field of traditional cultures, try to answer the question "Why is it so?"


Well, any study of anything is an open field to ask a variety of questions and the beauty of research that we do not know beforehand which one is going to be more productive. Questions cannot be wrong or stupid. It is the methodology applied and the final answer that are. Therefore, " as it should be" is just a declarative statement devoid of any academic meaning.

You asked your question believing it to be answerable and important. Well and good. Now it is up to you to employ relevant methodology and prove the correctness and value of your answer.

With best wishes.

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Old 6th March 2019, 02:42 PM   #25
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I think we lost Nihl somewhere along the road:-).
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Old 6th March 2019, 03:39 PM   #26
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It seems to me that one might consider "fashion" in considering the motive forces behind Indian ornamentation.

Tastes change, people emulate those with higher status, and signaling status is hardwired into the primate experience.

Once upon a time, these were part of the English trousse:[IMG]http://[/IMG]

Not, perhaps, containing any higher significance than status display.
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Old 6th March 2019, 04:03 PM   #27
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And more European rapiers, all 15-18 centuries. All have filigrees exactly coincident with Indian locations.
And I am still not sure whether Indian examples are of a parallel development or just imitations of foreign examples. If we can find Indian examples firmly dated to before Vasco da Gama, the latter might be excluded.
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Old 6th March 2019, 04:36 PM   #28
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Very good points Ariel, one on the matter of methodology in finding support for theories, however I think we all have different ideas and concepts in how we go about it. I know that my own methods don't necessarily coincide with those of others nor follow any precise empirical dictum faithfully.

Well noted as well in that this filigree (beaded) decoration does not need to be firmly associated with any particular Vedic belief or tradition, and may have developed independently within the Indian subcontinent. To determine whether its development was of Indian origin rather than outside influences, finding exemplars pre European contact would be compelling.

However, using this concept may not offer evidence toward conclusion as outside factors such as the 'wild card' of the ever present and often ambiguous element of trade, whether direct or networked, might have influenced such design.

I think this is why Nihl was searching through early architecture, particularly temples and other iconography to discover such pre European presence.

As Bob has well noted, fashion was I think a key factor also, and while this type of decoration is indeed very simple, it is distinct enough to be placed with design in mind and more so than casually. In the manner of how influenced and impressed the Indians were by European arts, that does elevate this design to a status oriented styling.
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Old 6th March 2019, 04:49 PM   #29
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It is interesting to see designs unrelated to Indian work and more than 3000 years of Hinduism in that region must be considered first. parallel developments in unrelated tribal groups are not to be confused with linked developments...
I look to two or three areas where designs could drift from one artisan subject to another... and have suggested the field of jewellery..where Hindu style goes back thousands of years... the other area must be in weapons since that is the focus of the thread. the beaded edge is certainly no stranger to Omani weapons in the Omani Khanjar where it is often presented.
back to weapons and please see http://mandarinmansion.com/large-in...-damascus-blade for a beaded hilt which surely echos the threads aim ...

See also a pair of Omani ankle bangles with beaded edges delineating and defining the intended pattern.
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Old 6th March 2019, 07:10 PM   #30
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Ibrahiim al Balooshi
It is interesting to see designs unrelated to Indian work and more than 3000 years of Hinduism in that region must be considered first. parallel developments in unrelated tribal groups are not to be confused with linked developments...
I look to two or three areas where designs could drift from one artisan subject to another... and have suggested the field of jewellery..where Hindu style goes back thousands of years... the other area must be in weapons since that is the focus of the thread. the beaded edge is certainly no stranger to Omani weapons in the Omani Khanjar where it is often presented.
back to weapons and please see http://mandarinmansion.com/large-in...-damascus-blade for a beaded hilt which surely echos the threads aim ...

See also a pair of Omani ankle bangles with beaded edges delineating and defining the intended pattern.



Excellent!! Here we have even Omani use of the decoration, and we know there was profound trade through the Red Sea and India via Arab traders. In reading more on beaded decoration, it seems of course that this kind of decoration extends far into prehistory, so it would be hard to confine its origins and use to any one area or cultural sphere.

I think the key objective here is to try to discover if any particular symbolism could be attributed to use of beaded decoration in South India. While it would be extremely unlikely to place such subjective value with confidence, looking into the possibilities is intriguing in better understanding of the culture(s) involved.
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