A Deccan chilanum | Peter Dekker's Mandarin Mansion: Antique Arms & Armor

A Deccan chilanum

A fine Deccan Chilanum dagger with all-steel hilt

Introduction

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.


This example

Overall length: 40.2 cm / 15.8 inch
Blade length: 29 cm / 11.4 inch
Blade thickness: middle 2 mm, near tip 4 mm
Blade width: forte 45 mm, middle 32 mm, near tip 15 mm
Weight without scabbard: 504 grams

Origin: The Deccan, India
Materials: Iron, steel, silver, gold.
Dating: 17th century

Provenance: European antique market

Description

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 an sharp tip with a slight thickening. 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.


Conclusion

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 rubust yet with delicate details, all very well-preserved. Such early, representative examples of purely southern style are very hard to find on today's market.

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Interested? Questions?
Contact peter@mandarinmansion.com

A fine Deccan Chilanum dagger with characteristic all steel hilt. Of robust form with with fine flower bud finials.

A fine Deccan Chilanum dagger with characteristic all steel hilt. Of robust form with with fine flower bud finials.

A fine Deccan Chilanum dagger with characteristic all steel hilt. Of robust form with with fine flower bud finials.

A fine Deccan Chilanum dagger with characteristic all steel hilt. Of robust form with with fine flower bud finials.

A fine Deccan Chilanum dagger with characteristic all steel hilt. Of robust form with with fine flower bud finials.

A fine Deccan Chilanum dagger with characteristic all steel hilt. Of robust form with with fine flower bud finials.

A fine Deccan Chilanum dagger with characteristic all steel hilt. Of robust form with with fine flower bud finials.

A fine Deccan Chilanum dagger with characteristic all steel hilt. Of robust form with with fine flower bud finials.

A fine Deccan Chilanum dagger with characteristic all steel hilt. Of robust form with with fine flower bud finials.

A fine Deccan Chilanum dagger with characteristic all steel hilt. Of robust form with with fine flower bud finials.

A fine Deccan Chilanum dagger with characteristic all steel hilt. Of robust form with with fine flower bud finials.

A fine Deccan Chilanum dagger with characteristic all steel hilt. Of robust form with with fine flower bud finials.

A fine Deccan Chilanum dagger with characteristic all steel hilt. Of robust form with with fine flower bud finials.

A fine Deccan Chilanum dagger with characteristic all steel hilt. Of robust form with with fine flower bud finials.

A fine Deccan Chilanum dagger with characteristic all steel hilt. Of robust form with with fine flower bud finials.

A fine Deccan Chilanum dagger with characteristic all steel hilt. Of robust form with with fine flower bud finials.

A fine Deccan Chilanum dagger with characteristic all steel hilt. Of robust form with with fine flower bud finials.

A fine Deccan Chilanum dagger with characteristic all steel hilt. Of robust form with with fine flower bud finials.

A fine Deccan Chilanum dagger with characteristic all steel hilt. Of robust form with with fine flower bud finials.

A fine Deccan Chilanum dagger with characteristic all steel hilt. Of robust form with with fine flower bud finials.

A fine Deccan Chilanum dagger with characteristic all steel hilt. Of robust form with with fine flower bud finials.

A fine Deccan Chilanum dagger with characteristic all steel hilt. Of robust form with with fine flower bud finials.

A fine Deccan Chilanum dagger with characteristic all steel hilt. Of robust form with with fine flower bud finials.

A fine Deccan Chilanum dagger with characteristic all steel hilt. Of robust form with with fine flower bud finials.

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