Battlefield beauties

Katar, khukri, khanjar and khanda. There are blades aplenty in the armoury of Indian history. Psychiatrist, author, teacher and collector Ravinder Reddy brings out knives, maces and matchlocks from across the ages, and presents them, literally polished to the hilt in his book, Arms and Armour of India, Nepal and Sri Lanka. Reddy has collected pictures of these weapons, as well as paintings and other artwork associated with Indian arms, from museums and private collections from different parts of the world. Some of these are indeed rare, many of them are pieces of art themselves.

One of the pieces depicted is an axe from 17th century Deccan, with an exquisite blade shaped like the body of an antelope emerging from a tiger’s belly. Then, there are samples from Tipu Sultan’s collection, mostly matchlock guns, replete with tiger imagery. The daggers and shamsheers from the Mughal period are ornate works, with heavily decorated hilts, pommels and scabbards. Some of the weapons are inspired by animals. For instance, the bichwa is an indigenous dagger that resembles the scorpion’s tail. The chakkar used by Nihangs is inspired by Vishnu’s sudarshan chakra. The cloth lining of a shield from Rajasthan has the motif of a romantic couple. So much effort for a lining that only the user will see.

Reddy explains the symbolism of many weapons, which continue to be revered long after they have fallen to disuse. For instance, though ritual buffalo sacrifices are no longer part of the Durga Puja, the axes that were traditionally used continue to be revered in ceremonies.

The book is not just a collection of rare photographs and footnotes. It is a unique compilation of India’s martial past.


Author: Ravinder Reddy

Publisher: Hali Publications
Pages: 376