Hanuman bichwa dagger | Mandarin Mansion

Hanuman bichwa dagger

An iconographic bichwa dagger with a brass openwork hilt with Hanuman

Introduction

Commonly called bichwa literally means "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. The name probably refers to the shape of the recurved blade usually found on these, that resembles the sting of a scorpion. Or, perhaps, is it because one can use it to "sting" while having one's hands free?

Bichwa with straight blades are very rare, and one wonders if they would still be regarded as a bichwa. But, with lack of a better term, I stick to that name because it ticks all the other boxes.

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.


This example

Overall length: 27.5 cm / 10.8 inch
Blade length: 16 cm / 7.5 inch
Blade thickness: middle 1.5 mm, near tip 1 mm
Blade width: forte 20 mm, middle 18 mm, near tip 12 mm
Weight without scabbard: 175 grams

Origin: South India
Materials: Brass, steel.
Dating: 18th century


Description

A rather unusual bichwa with a straight blade. The blade is rather springy which, along with the shape, leads me to believe it's probably a cut down European dagger or perhaps the point of a rapier blade. Such European imports feature commonly on Indian weapons, from swords to katar.

The cast openwork hilt prominently features 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. Above Hanuman 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. There is another kīrtimukha at the bottom, making the langet that holds the blade.

Hidden in the design are also several pairs of rather stylized parakeets, a possible Tamil reference to the contradictions between love and war that feature commonly in Tamil poetry. The handle suggests the dagger was made for somebody from the Shaivism branch of Hinduism that saw Shiva as the supreme being.

The blade is still rather sharp, while the handle is well-worn by much handling over the years. Some minor damage at the back of the loop, also rounded off showing it happened a long time ago, during the piece's working life, and was used a lot after.


Conclusion

A nice old South Indian dagger with iconographic hilt showcasing Hanuman. It represens the Shaivism branch of Hinduism that saw Shiva as the supreme being.

SOLD



Interested? Questions?
Contact peter@mandarinmansion.com

An iconographic bichwa dagger with a brass openwork hilt with Hanuman

An iconographic bichwa dagger with a brass openwork hilt with Hanuman

An iconographic bichwa dagger with a brass openwork hilt with Hanuman

An iconographic bichwa dagger with a brass openwork hilt with Hanuman

An iconographic bichwa dagger with a brass openwork hilt with Hanuman

An iconographic bichwa dagger with a brass openwork hilt with Hanuman

An iconographic bichwa dagger with a brass openwork hilt with Hanuman

An iconographic bichwa dagger with a brass openwork hilt with Hanuman

An iconographic bichwa dagger with a brass openwork hilt with Hanuman

An iconographic bichwa dagger with a brass openwork hilt with Hanuman

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