Linked to the forthcoming Splendours of the Subcontinent exhibition opening later this year at Cartwright Hall, this blog post has been written by Simon D Metcalf, The Queen’s Armourer with the Royal Collection Trust and focuses on a dagger shortly to be seen in the exhibition.
The Katar or punch dagger is a famous and unique type of dagger from India. Its characteristic construction and style make it easily recognisable as one of the traditional daggers from the subcontinent.
Rather than having a handle or grip like most other knives and daggers, the katar consists of a broad tapering two edge blade, often with a thickened armour piercing tip, connected to a hilt comprising of two long side bars joined to the blade and to each other by a parallel crossbar or crossbars. The katar is held by the hand forming a fist around the crossbar, making the punch of the fist a deadly offensive weapon.
Three very different katars are to be exhibited as part of Splendours of the Subcontinent, two have featured in the post combination weapons the third (11487) is a fine example of a South Indian katar which has an additional shell guard to further protect the hand. The steel blade is finely forged with multiple thin fullers (grooves) and ribs which echo the design of blades made in the bronze age, showing how this traditional style of dagger has its origins in the ancient past of India. The guard has been decorated with three diamond encrusted feathers, the Prince of Wales crest, and on the scabbard the motto of the Order of the Star of India ‘Heaven’s Light our Guide’ to mark its presentation to the Prince by H.H the Maharaja of Vizianagram.
In preparation for the new exhibition Splendours of the Subcontinent the objects have been undergoing conservation to ensure they are in the best possible condition for display. As well as being beautifully ornate and richly decorated with gold, enamel and gemstones, many of the gifts given to the Prince of Wales during his tour of India have surprising hidden functions.
The gold walking stick, decorated with a makara (a mythological sea creature) head conceals its true function with its decoration – it is also a gun. When dismantled for cleaning the mechanics of the gun can be seen; the tip conceals a ramrod, the stick unscrews from the head to reveal a barrel and percussion mechanism, and the head contains a spring loaded hammer and pop out trigger.
Also undergoing conservation ahead of Splendours of the Subcontinent are two punch daggers, also known as katars. The first, possibly presented to the Prince of Wales by Ram Singh, Maharao of Bundi has two tiny flintlock pistols on the sides of the grip, making it multifunctional as a dagger and a gun. The second katar also has more to it than first meets the eye – when the cross-bar is squeezed the blade splits into three separate sections.
During conservation both punch daggers have been carefully dismantled, cleaned with a solvent to remove grease and dirt, and had any corrosion removed by careful mechanical cleaning The gold has been very lightly polished before being coated with a protective microcrystalline wax.