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Presentation 19th C. Indian Islamic Mughal Knife or Dagger خنجر

( ID: id831 )

A superb, 19th century Indian dagger, this piece features a handle of refined banded agate, carved in a shape echoing 17th century Mughal design.  The quality of the agate reflects the choice materials sourced by Mughal stoneworkers.  The scabbard exudes a royal sentiment with gold metal work and a brilliant pink color.  

Forged for presentation to a Raj or notable individual, the piece echoes a time of British rule in the sub-continent.  The handle, remounted in the 19th Century in gilded copper fittings and a wootz blade, embodies a rich tradition of Indian craftsmanship. Two plates forged together, the blade consists of crystalline wootz on one side and plain steel on the other.  The blade extends 9 inches, while the entire piece is 15 inches long.

Developed originally in India, wootz steel technology features a system of isolating micro carbides within a matrix of tempered martensite.  The ancient metalwork specialist Herbert Maryon of the British Museum in London described the metal technique as: “the undulations of the steel resemble a net across running water … [the pattern] waved like watered silk… it was mottled like the grains of yellow sand.”    With roots in the Tamil Nudu region of the sub-continent, the technology was considered the most effective in the world for maximizing armor piercing potential.  The indigenous Indian population presented the invading armies of Alexander the Great with tribute ingots of wootz around 300 B.C.  From there, the process was refined over time throughout the world in Damascus, Syria; continental Europe; and later Great Britain, where the process underpinned the Industrial Revolution that began in the 18th century.  The Rajahs of India submitted tulwars, shamshirs, khanjars, in addition to other ancient swords and daggers manufactured with wootz to the International Exhibition of 1851 and 1862, whereby the pieces become coveted for the quality of their steel.

In addition to edged weapons wootz steel was used in the manufacture of many types of metalwork as well, including armor sets such as char ainas (or Four mirror), bazubands made with dark Persian Khorassan wootz are noted from the period of the Safavid Empire and throughout the Qajar period. Furthermore, axes or tabars and tabarzins, in addition to caligraphy scissors were made from wootz steel.

At this time in history, the United Kingdom established a presence in India when the British military, backed financially by the East India Company won the Battle of Plassey in 1757.  As a result, the British East India Company ultimately monopolized the trade in the region.  By the mid-19th century, Great Britain dominated most of the sub-continent, including contemporary Pakistan and Bangladesh.

-  Sharada Srinivasan; Srinivasa Ranganathan (2004). India's Legendary Wootz Steel: An Advanced Material of the Ancient World. National Institute of Advanced Studies. OCLC 82439861.

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