Introduction The chilanum (or chil
40.2 cm / 15.8 inch
29 cm / 11.4 inch
middle 2 mm
near tip 4 mm
forte 45 mm
middle 32 mm
near tip 15 mm
The Deccan, South India
Iron, steel, silver, gold.
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Arguably one of the most beautiful forms of daggers, chilanum are functional works of art that have their origins in southern India. Despite their ornate appearance, the design is practical: they fit the hand very well in reverse grip, and the all-steel construction is strong and durable.
Examples with solid provenance are rare, but they are generally thought to have been used mainly in the 16th and 17th centuries. An important reference is the sizeable number of chilanum were captured by the armies of Maharaja Anup Singh of Bīkaner (ruled 1669-1698) at the battle of Ādoni in 1689, which subsequently wound up in the Bīkaner armory. Many remain on display at Junāgarh fort in Bīkaner today.1,2
Notes to introduction
1. For Deccan chilanum captured at Ādoni, now at Junāgarh fort in Bīkaner, see:
Elgood, Robert: Hindu arms and Ritual, Eburon Publishers, Delft. Pages 178.
2. On the exploits of Anup Singh and the battle of Ādoni, see:
Goetz, Herman: Art and Architecture of the Bikaner State, Bruno Cassirer, Oxford, 1950. Pages 46-47.
Alexander, David: Islamic Arms and Armor in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Yale University Press, New Haven and London. Page 46.
A very nice example of a chilanum dagger with characteristic all-steel hilt. It represents its typical elegant form with a main stem that splits to both sides, as if representing the seedling of a young plant. In the center of the grip is a ball that is worked with diagonal grooves. The handle is a work of art, robust in nature yet with graceful lines and some very fine details like the delicate lotus bud at the end of the knucklebow.
The lower side of the handle splits like the eaves of a gable roof, its center pierced by three teardrop-shaped openings and each "eave" terminating in a flower bud finial. It stands on a thick oval plate with pierced and beaded rims that serves as the guard. The eaves, bud finials and the oval guard are all hallmarks of Deccan workmanship. The blade is held between two langets, both langets and the guard still retain their thick silver overlay with thin fire gilding on top, giving it a nice silver-gold sheen.
The blade is of purely southern style, wide and thin and with eight narrow grooves meeting each other at the tip. Such a groove configuration was also very common on katar blades of the Vijayanagara empire.1 The blade ends in a sharp tip with a slight thickening. The blade is in very good condition for its age, with no edge damage of any consequence, and only minor pitting.
Despite the ornamental look, these were very practical weapons that fit very well in the hand. The split stem ensures a very firm grip. The knucklebow could be made so fine because it's not as much there for hand protection, as it is there to keep the dagger in the hand even when you open the hand; handy when getting into wrestling.
The chilanum is a work on of on its own, yet a highly practical fighting dagger. This is an outstanding example with characteristic early southern blade. It is large and robust yet with delicate details, all very well-preserved. Such early, representative examples of the purely southern style are hard to find on today's market.
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