An exceptional Indian diamond, emerald, beryl and ruby inlaid enamelled silver and gold shamshir
North India, Rajasthan, 19th century
L. 104 cm
Private Collection, Denmark
Private Collection, United Kingdom
This sword of exceptional quality has a blade of watered steel in the distinctive forty-step or kirk narduban pattern. It has two cartouches inlaid with nasta’liq inscriptions in gold, the first reading ‘aml Asad Allah, the second bandih-yi vilayat-i Shah ‘Abbas (‘Abbas, slave of the king of holiness).
The maker’s inscription refers to the most famous swordsmith of the 17th century, ‘Asad Allah of Isfahan, after whom very many blades are inscribed to suggest that their quality was equivalent to that of the master’s blades, and the quality of the blade present most certainly reaches the work of the master.
The hilt is cast in silver, with the head of a makara forming the pommel and the quillon terminals, and that of a lion forming the terminals of the langets. The whole is cast with a pattern of scrolling foliage forming cloisons filled with turquoise enamel laid over a hatched ground to provide a textured pattern. The foliate decoration is set in kundun style with emeralds, forming the blossoms on the foliage, with three rosettes formed of a central emerald surrounded by small diamonds running down the centre. Behind the head of the makara that forms the pommel are two large diamonds. The eyes of each animal are created with rubies, as are the ears of the lions, while the makaras have ruby tongues, each hinged to move up and down.
Makara are mythological creatures composed of elements of the elephant, crocodile, boar, fish and peacock, which frequently appear in Hindu and Buddhist temple iconography as vehicles for the goddesses of the Ganges and Narmada rivers, and of the sea god Varuna. They are the protectors of thresholds and gateways, responsible for guarding throne rooms and temple entrances.***
A comparable but later makara hilt in blued steel is in the armoury of the Rathores at Jodhpur and has a similar blade with the same inscription.
Robert Elgood, Rajput Arms and Armour, Niyogi Books, New Delhi, 2017, p. 366 (ill.)