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9. South Indian Vijayanagara Era Katar Circa 1600

( ID: ic1258 )

Overall length: 52 cm

Blade length: 36 cm

Blade width at the forte: 6 cm

Price on request

A fine example of an early form of Indian dagger, this classic hooded katar originates in the Vijayanagar Empire, circa 16th c. The word katar and originates in the Tamil speaking lands of south India, where it is known by the Tamil kaţţāri and is also known as a kuttuvāḷ which means "stabbing blade". This was adapted into Sanskrit as kaţāra or kaţārī. Due to the schwa deletion in Indo-Aryan languages, however, the word often came to be rendered as "katar" in modern Hindi and by extension in colonial transliterations.

The dagger’s inner guard cusped form is derivative of South Indian temple and vernacular architecture specifically of the Vijayanagar period where cusped arches are found framing all manner of deities and temple donors carved in stone. These cusped profiles were then found on later architecture as well, particularly in the palaces of the rulers of Shimoga and Bangalore, where their ceremonial audience halls had arches with cusped profiles, all carved in timber, with sloped tile roofs (Michell 1995). All of these designs were an “imperial style reserved for buildings connected with the king, court, and army.” Elgood (2004) further notes that this form of cusped framing can be found in four-lobed, cusped arches framing mandapas (porch-like structure in the ornate gateway and leading to the temple) at Srirangam and Vellore. These cusps appear to not have been a local vernacular feature of South Indian Hindu temples and were influenced by Muslim architecture, and adopted into South Indian temples and other architectural forms from the Muslim Shi’a Sultanate of Bijapur (Michell 1985 in Elgood 2004).

A nearly identical example with a four-lobed, cusped guard is chiseled in stone at the Seshagirirayar Mandapa, where it is held in the hands of a warrior who stabs the thigh of a rearing tiger as it attacks a warrior on a horse. While further supporting the Shimoga architectural attribution, Nordlunde (2013) illustrates a hero stone, or stele, from Shimoga where a katar of early form is found in the waist belt of a warrior.

The distinguishing feature of this katar, which can be contrasted with a nearly identical, though less decorated, example in the Metropolitan Museum from the George Cameron Stone collection (Acc. Nr. 36.25.905), is the tri-lobed cusped arch and the blade formed ensuite with the forte. Most other katars of this form have a blade that is secured through a mounting bracket at the base where the bracket is formed en suite with the remainder of the hilt. In this example, the blade fits directly to the hilt and is carved with a decorative floral design at the base, which is derivative of the carved flowers on the sidebars. The curved hilt guard is of exceptionally fine design retaining much of the original carved fretting, indicative of south Indian workmanship and found on other objects in our catalog (see Cat. Nr. 17, Aṅkuśa circa 1700). Note the fine chiseled linear design along the central rib, a detail which would normally have been ground away through over cleaning. Further distinguishing this example are two decorative and figural aspects, rarely found on katars of this form.

First, the sidebars, normally plain on most other extant examples, are chiseled with finely detailed floral stands fitting into the enlarged cusp at the base of the grip and the smaller cusp near the forte of the blade. Another example (Acc. Nr. 36.25.904 published in Elgood 2005) at the Metropolitan Museum, which has one of the finest collection of katars, shows similar chiseling along the sidebars and also retains all of its original silver gilt. Second, and what speaks to what may be a transitional feature, the grip bars for this dagger are of the form that are found on katars of the succeeding period when the hooded guard fell out of favor and the classic katar design is found. Normally, the grip bars of these 16th century hooded daggers are two large lobed spheres (see obverse of Metropolitan Museum Acc. Nr. 36.25.905 and example illustrated in Nordlunde 2013), while the grip bars of this example feature a significantly more complex and reticulated form of grip associated with later Tanjore katars of the 17th century.

The Metropolitan Museum features a number of these later katars (see Metropolitan Museum Acc. Nr. 36.25.906, 36.25.907, and 36.25.948), but the grip bars of our example are significantly more complex than those noted above (see India section chapter heading image). Not only two chiseled spindles form the basis of the grip, pulling from the spheroid design of the earlier type of grip but are then joined by two reticulated spindle forms with a horizontal spindle in between the larger area of the two main grips. These are then further decorated with two protrusions attached in between the grips, and with brass floral spacers on the outside of the grip for additional decoration, three remaining.

Finally, the blade is of the classic Vijayanagar form with six chiseled fullers each meeting at sharp points in a direct horizontal plane with the edges of the blade. The blade features a thickened armor piercing tip, which, likewise, retains its original profile. Overall, the piece is covered with a thin layer of clear lacquer, which has served to protect it over the many centuries of its existence.


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

Nordlunde (2013) How Old is the Katar?, Arms & Armour, 10:1

Michell, G. (1995). Architecture and Art of Southern India. Cambridge University Press.

Photo #1 of 9. South Indian Vijayanagara Era Katar  Circa 1600
Photo #2 of 9. South Indian Vijayanagara Era Katar  Circa 1600
Photo #3 of 9. South Indian Vijayanagara Era Katar  Circa 1600