A kirach sword with zoomorphic hilt




North india


18th century (sword), 19th century (scabbard)


Forging, chiseling, piercing, inlaying


Steel, gold


Overall length (without scabbard) 847 mm; blade length 696 mm; scabbard length 710 mm

The slightly forward-curved, single-edged blade is made of plain steel with a ricasso and a false edge. There are one long fuller and two short fullers on each side of the blade. The forte of the blade is inlaid in the tahneshan technique with a gold stylized sun on the obverse side. The steel hilt has short rounded quillons and a pommel in the form of a head of a young antelope nilgai, or blue bull. In addition, the grip is pierced with two narrow decorative channels, known as motipada. They contain freely moving steel balls. The wooden scabbard is covered with dark blue velvet.

COMMENT. Kirach is a type of Indian sword with an almost straight, single-edged blade, which is slightly curved forward at the final quarter of its length. Unlike the sosun pattah style blades, it is not expanding towards the tip. The kirach blade was commonly forged with a false edge and was often fitted with longitudinal metal plates to increase its strength and rigidity. The term "kirach" (or kirich, kirch) has probably evolved from the Turkish word kılıç, which means "sword" or "sabre". The sword was used most often by the Marathas, but it was found in other parts of India as well. Traditionally, the Marathas preferred the Hindu basket hilt, whereas the Mughal examples have Indo-Muslim or zoomorphic hilts.

This sword represents a rare and unusual example of kirach with zoomorphic hilt. It repeats the elegant form of nilgai-headed jade hilts of the Moghul dress khanjars that became popular in North India during the reign of Emperor Shah Jahan (r. 1627-58). Like the horse-headed hilts, they were commonly carved from jade and were served as an indicator of the highest position at the Mughal court. According to Stuart Cary Welch, such daggers were worn by the princes Dara Shikoh and Shah Shuja, the sons of Shah Jahan (Welch, S.C. India: Art and Culture, 1300-1900. – New York, 1985. – P. 257-258). One of nilgai-hilted khanjars was formerly in the Stuart Cary Welch collection (see Sotheby’s: The Stuart Cary Welch Collection, Part I: Arts of the Islamic World. London, 6 April 2011: [Auction Catalogue]. – London, 2011. – Lot 106). Two more examples can be seen today in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York (inv. no. 1985.58, see Alexander, D.G., Pyhrr, S.W., Kwiatkowski, W. Islamic Arms and Armor in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. – New York, 2015. – P. 212-213, no. 83) and in the al-Sabah Collection in Kuwait (inv. no. LNS81HS, see Keene, M., Kaoukji, S. Treasury of the World: Jeweled Arts of India in the Age of the Mughals. The Al-Sabah Collection. Kuwait National Museum. – London, 2001. – P. 104, no. 8.26). The hilts with nilgai-head pommels were less common than the horse-headed hilts and probably were more prestigious.

literature: 1) Czerny’s. Auction 28: The Spring Sale of Fine Antique Arms & Armour: 21st of March, 2010, Sarzana: [Auction Catalogue]. – Sarzana: Czerny’s International Auction House, 2010. – Lot 820; 2) Сиваченко Е. Сталь и Золото: Восточное оружие из собрания Feldman Family Museum = Steel and Gold: Eastern Weapons from the Feldman Family Museum Collection. – Киев, 2019. – С. 378-379, №144.