Commonly called bichwa, but also bicchwa or bichhwa literally means "scorpion". The name probably refers to the shape of the blade that resembles the sting of a scorpion. The bichwa consists of a loop handle that fits around the palm of the hand, enabling the wielder to use the hand without the dropping the dagger, for example when engaging in wrestling.
Egerton quotes a source stating it was said to have been worn by common people in Mysore and Hyderabad, concealed within the sleeve within a sheath. 1 Elgood states the shape of the dagger is meant to replicate the form of one of Vishnu's weapons, the noose. He also mentions an ivory statuette of a seventeenth-century Madurai ruler with an ornate bichwa that seems to indicate they were accepted in the highest circles, and not only for commoners.2
Notes to introduction
1. Lord Egerton of Tatton: Indian and Oriental Arms and Armour. Dover Publications; Revised edition, 2002. Page 116.
2. Robert Elgood; Hindu arms and Ritual, Eburon Academic Publishers, Delft, 2004. Page 237. The statuette is located in the Prince of Wales Museum of Western India, Mumbai, accession number 66.4.
Overall length: 28.3 cm / 11.1 inch
Blade length: 19.8 cm / 7.5 inch
Blade thickness: middle 3.5 mm, near tip 2.5 mm
Blade width: forte 22 mm, middle 19 mm, near tip 15 mm
Weight without scabbard: 208 grams
Origin: South India
Materials: Bronze, copper, steel.
Dating: 18th century
An interesting bichwa dagger with cast bronze iconographic hilt resembling Hindu temple architecture.
The apex of the hilt shows two bird bodies, now missing their heads. Going down is a kīrtimukha or "face of glory", an all-devouring monster that was created from Shiva's third eye. It frequently features in hindu temple architecture.
Further down is Hanuman, an avatar of Shiva who in the epic saga of the Ramayana helped Rama (an avatar of Vishnu) fight Ravana who had kidnapped Rama's wife Sita. The last figure, with sword and shield, is probably Virabadhra, a fearsome avatar of Shiva. Virabadhra was brought to life out of one of Shiva's hairs in order to fight Dkasha, who insulted Shiva's consort -his own daughter - and caused her to self-immolate. In his rage, Virabadhra wounded many gods and caused them to flee from him. The handle suggests the dagger was made for somebody from the Shaivism branch of Hinduism that saw Shiva as the supreme being.
Detail of the sword carried by the last icon.
Such swords were commonly used in south Indian warfare up to the sixteenth century,
but remained in depictions of icons to somewhat later, up to the eighteenth century.1
There is some damage to the handle, with the heads of the birds missing, Hanuman's arm missing, and the sides of the handle are shaped with a series of protrusions, some of which have broken. One of the two langets is made of copper, contrasting with the bronze of the hilt, and is possibly an old repair.
The blade is of typical recurved form, the direction of the curve suggests this bichwa was made for right handed use, as a primary weapon. The blade is of a beautiful and extremely fine grained pattern welded "damascus" steel with an inserted hardened edge. This was an elaborate construction method that relied on forging a billet with many contrasting layers of steel, and exposing underlying layers by filing recesses in the billet and hammering it flat again. It is executed with great precision, resulting in many fine layers.
A rather rare and interesting form of bichwa dagger with an iconographic handle and a blade of very fine pattern welded steel. The handle is full of references to Shiva "the destroyer", representing the Shaivism branch of Hinduism that saw Shiva as the supreme being.
Notes to description
2. For a detailed description of these swords with tentative dating, see: Robert Elgood; Hindu arms and Ritual, Eburon Academic Publishers, Delft, 2004. Pages 84-85.