Introduction

The talwar or talavāra (तलवार) is a curved, single-edged Indian sword. This style of blade was introduced from the north in the 16th century and soon gained popularity across the entire Indian subcontinent, supplanting most local blade styles.

Talwar blades are often relatively thick and wide and usually have a back bevel at the tip section. They can be simple laminated steel, elaborate pattern welded steel, or wootz. One of the most characteristic elements of the talwar is its all-metal hilt. It combines the langets and crossguards from Central Asian sabers of the Silk Road, adding to them the typical Indian disc pommel seen on earlier Indian sword types.

Blades are set into the hilts with lac or resin mixtures, forming a very strong bond. The hilts tend to be cramped, deliberately so, to confine the wrist and force an almost 90 degree angle from upper arm to blade. It reduces range, but is ideal for close distance draw cuts in which Indian fighters tended to excel. The disc pommel prevents slipping during a heavy draw cut. Talwar blades were ground very sharp and kept in soft wooden sheats to retain their edge.

 

A talwar glossary

The following glossary of terms comes from a combination of sources, the most important being Manik Rao; Shree Pratap Shastragan, 1942, and the Hindu dictionaries by Bahri (1989), Caturvedi (1970) and McGregor (1993). Manik Rao is heavily cited in Pant's Indian Arms and Armour of 1980. A book that has some use but is also largely inaccurate. Looking at Manik Rao's original drawings a number of things got lost in translation and so I've based myself primarily off Manik Rao's original work, cross checking with more recent dictionaries. Keep in mind that there are often several ways to write a single Hindi phonetic word, so variations of these are to be encountered.
 

A talwar glossary

1. Muṭhiya (मुठिया), hilt
2. Phala (फल) / pāna (पान), blade
3. Myāna, miyaan (म्यान), scabbard
4. Mōgarā (मोगरा) / mōgarī (मोगरी), "mallet"
5. Phal (फल्य), literally "flower"
6. Kaṭōrī (कटोरी), pommel. Literally; "bowl"
7. Kaṇṭhī (कंठी), literally "necklace."
8. Putalā (पुतला), grip. Literally "puppet, doll, idol, effigy"
9. Tholiya (ठोलिया) / ṭhōlā (ठोला), quillons
10. Chowk, cauk (चौक), guard block. Literally "square, crossing"
11. Naravā (नरवा), langet
12. Khanānā (खनाना), ricasso
13. Nala (नल) / nālī (नाली), groove. Literally; "conduit"
14. Dhār (धार), edge
15. Pēṭā (पेटा), "belly"
16. Pīpalā (पीपला), tip section. Also: metallic point of a sheath.
17. Ṭōṅka (टोंक), point
18. Bīṛā (बीड़ा), a thong holding the sword in its scabbard
 

What's in a name?

Names can often reveal interesting information about objects. In this case, the word mōgarā (मोगरा), meaning "mallet," is of interest because the spike is indeed thought to have been for enhancing the occasional pommel hit.

Another word that caught my interest is putalā (पुतला) for the grip. Literally "puppet, doll, idol, effigy," it alludes to the hilt being likened to a figure, reminiscent of keris hilts that have ancient Indian origins.

 

Other related terms

Āguā (आगुआ), pommel.
Paraja (परज), hilt of a sword.
Paratalā (परतला), sword-belt; bandolier.
Garaj / paraja (परज), knuckle guard

Janēū (जनेऊ), decorative lines on grip. Literally a type of sacred thread worn during a Hindu rite of passage.
Kangani (कंगनी), literally "bracelet" a beaded rim just under the mōgarā on some hilts.
Mēkhalā (मेखला), belt, girdle, sword-belt.
Raunaqa (रौनक़), lustre; watering of a sword.
Sikalī (सिकली), act of cleansing and polishing.
Sikalīgara (सिकलीगर) a burnisher.

 

The talwar hilt

In my opinion one of the most beautiful and characteristic sword hilts out there. Usually made of several pieces of forged iron, braised together. Softer metals, such as brass, silver, or other alloys, were sometimes used. Decoration usually consists of gold or silver inlay, overlay, engraving, or gilding or a combination of any of these. The most elaborately decorated hilts will have enamel decoration and/or gemstones in them. 

The different parts of the hilt according to Manik Rao, writing in 1942, are as follows:

Manik Rao talwar hilt terms

 

1. Mōgarā (मोगरा), "mallet"
2. Kangani (कंगणी), cornice
3. Phul (फुल), literally "full"
4. Kaṭōrī (कटोरी), pommel. Literally; "bowl"
5. Kaṇṭhī (कंठी), literally "necklace"
6. Putalā (पुतला), grip. Literally "puppet, doll, idol, effigy"
7. Janēū (जनेऊ), decorative lines on grip. Literally a sacred thread worn during a Hindu rite of passage
8. Garaj / paraja (परज), knuckle guard

9., 10. Tholiya (ठोलिया) / ṭhōlā (ठोला), quillons
11. Naravā (नरवा), langet
12. Chowk, cauk (चौक), guard block. Literally "square, crossing"
 

Other related terms

Āguā (आगुआ), pommel.
Paraja (परज), hilt of a sword.
Paratalā (परतला), sword-belt; bandolier.
Kangani (कंगनी), literally "bracelet" a beaded rim just under the mōgarā on some hilts.
Mēkhalā (मेखला), belt, girdle, sword-belt.
Raunaqa (रौनक़), lustre; watering of a sword.
Sikalī (सिकली), act of cleansing and polishing.
Sikalīgara (सिकलीगर) a burnisher.

 

Talwar hilts come in many different styles, some attributable to specific periods or regions. I will elaborate on this more in a next article.

 

References
G.N. Pant; Indian Arms and Armour. Volume II. Diamond Offset Press, New Delhi. 1980. Pages 29-30.
Manik Rao; Shree Pratap Shastragan. 1942. (On the Royal Armory of Lakshmi Vilas Palace, Vadodara, Gujarat, India.)
Hindu dictionaries by Bahri (1989), Caturvedi (1970) and McGregor (1993).

 

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