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17. Important South Indian Mysore Palace Ankus Elephant Goad Axe, circa 18th C.

( ID: ic1266 )

Overall length: 61 cm

Overall width: 30.5 cm

Axe head length: 15.25 cm

Axe head width: 10.14 cm

Aṅkuśa length: 15.25 cm

Aṅkuśa width: 15.25 cm

Weight: 2.7lbs

Price on request

An object that represents an important tradition in south Indian ironwork, this combination aṅkuśa, axe, and spear falls into an well-known tradition of combination arms going back to the 17th and 18th centuries during the Nayaka period. With a surfeit of yāli head designs in the south Indian style and mounted with an aṅkuśa, this monumental Indian arm has a likely royal origin in south India, circa 18th C. The aṅkuśa, a sharpened goad with a pointed hook, was the main tool for managing an elephant. It normally would consist of a simple hook, sometimes sharpened but not necessarily, attached to a handle of different lengths with short lengths for the mahout who would sit astride the head of the elephant and longer poles for those carried on foot. The hook is inserted into the elephant’s sensitive skin, either lightly or more deeply, to cause pain and induce the elephant to behave in a certain manner. In South India, the aṅkuśa is a symbol of royalty while in Hinduism, it is also one of the eight auspicious objects known as Astamangala and an attribute of many Hindu gods, including Ganesha (Elgood 2005). As a type of weapon and royal object, the aṅkuśa is mentioned in the Dhanurveda- saṃhitā, which contains a list of no less than 117 weapons and, as an upaveda, is associated with the Ṛgveda. The Dhanurveda-saṃhitā contains instructions on warfare, archery, and ancient Indian martial arts and dates to the 2nd-3rd millennium BCE.

The aṅkuśa was then known throughout ancient and pre-modern Indian history, in both north and south India, and also found in other cultures in southeast Asia, most notably Burma, Thailand, and Indonesia. The yāli forms found on this object, five comprehensively, are representations of a mythological creature found in south Indian sculpture and decorative arts (though rarely in painting) and is often portrayed as part lion, part elephant, and part horse or sometimes as a leogryph (part lion and part griffin) with some bird-like features (Dallapiccola 2004). The yālis on this object, especially the large example at the terminus of the aṅkuśa, have clear bird-like features in the cusped, upper torso, which then forms the base of the aṅkuśa. The only object of this comprehensive form to our knowledge; it follows the design of an axe in the Roy Elvis Collection, U.K. (2018 forthcoming), which has an identical axe head with less-chiseled decoration and a near identical and distinctive handle, but without the aṅkuśa or the spearhead. Looking at the components separately and then comprehensively leads to a determination of style and form.

The miniature spearhead at the apex of this object has a distinctive form known as a sang. An ancient form we feature in our catalog (Cat. Nr. 16), the exact type of spearhead circa 1600 from Tanjore, which this form is based upon. However, the style of decoration along the ribbed central section is derivative of a chain link chiseled form that is found on 18th and 19th centuries south Indian yāli-headed dagger blades, the finest of which is in a private U.S. collection (unpublished) and others of lesser quality in Europe and the U.K. The cross section of the miniature spear blade follows the form of the yāli daggers mentioned but also has ancient antecedents, most vividly seen on the blade of a 16th century yāli-headed bichwa in the Metropolitan Museum (Acc. Nr. 2014.190). Other fine aṅkuśa referenced herein also display similarly-shaped spearheads, though none so closely approximate the early straight sang form as on ours with the double chiseled yāli heads.

The axe head follows a form rarely found but which has corollaries in the near identical example mentioned above, in the Roy Elvis collection (2018), but also in an axe head in the Metropolitan Museum (George Stone Collection Acc. Nr. 36.25.1800, and mounted with a brass hand guard with a yāli head terminus and featuring a similar hemispherical cross guard, noted as typically Mysore, and indicating a cross-century decorative leitmotif in south Indian arms. Overall, this combination aṅkuśa speaks to a unified sense of design and form.

The use of multiple yāli heads, the axe head emanating from the yāli head, and the presence of an aṅkuśa indicate that the object was likely associated with some royal personage in the Mysore Court of the early 18th century.


Private collection, Switzerland


Dallapiccola, A. (2004). Dictionary of Hindu Lore and Legend. Thames and Hudson: London

Elgood, R. (2005) Hindu Arms and Ritual: Arms and Armour from India 1400-1865. Eburon Publishers, Delft.

Elvis, R. (2018 ) Arms and Armour of the Hindu Warrior, The Roy Elvis Collection. Forthcoming

Ricketts, H. and Missillier, P. (1988). Splendeur des Armes Orientales. ACTE-EXPO; Paris

Stone, G. C. (1934). A Glossary of the Construction, Decoration and Use of Arms and Armor in All Countries and in All Times, Together with Some Closely Related Subject. The Southworth Press, Portland, Maine

Photo #1 of 17. Important South Indian Mysore Palace Ankus Elephant Goad Axe, circa 18th C.
Photo #2 of 17. Important South Indian Mysore Palace Ankus Elephant Goad Axe, circa 18th C.