Language: English speaking collector's jargon, based on Hindi.
Source: Egerton, 1880
The chilanum (or chilanam) is a graceful type of Indian dagger with a narrow grip. Its distinctive feature is the sculptural hilt that splits towards the pommel and towards the blade. The hilt is usually made of iron or steel, but other materials such as jade are encountered.
The name first appears in Lord Egerton's Oriental Arms and Armour describing a classic south Indian chilanum that is described as being from Vizianagaram. It is interesting to note that his entry of the name was followed by "(?)", as if he wasn't quite sure that this was, in fact, the dagger's proper name.1 In subsequent publications like Stone's Glossary the question mark disappears and today the name is part of the vernacular of antique arms collectors in the English speaking world.
In Hindi, chilanum means "to peel" but the name may have come from a different language or dialect. The correct transliteration is chilaanam (चिलानम).
The design may look like aesthetics went before functionality, but in fact, these daggers are really truly practical. The all-steel hilt hugs the hand reducing the chance of it to drop or slip, while the typical, all-steel construction makes for a sturdy and durable design.
A 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.2
The chilanum comes in two main variations. The differences are for a large part in the section between grip and blade, with the gable roof-like structure.
Main characteristics of type 1
- A hilt that is rather flat, with no discoid guard
- Hilt and blade tend to be of a one-piece construction
- Rather long, narrow blade
Main characteristics of type 2
- An additional discoid guard between hilt and blade
- The blade tends to be a separate piece of steel from the hilt
- Rather wide, flat blade
In addition, type 2 chilanum often have:
- Bud-shaped finials at some or all extremities of the hilt
- Pierced and / or beaded rims
- A so-called "closed hilt" with hand guard
Left: type 2 Right: type 1.
Its peak of popularity seems to have been in the 16th and 17th centuries, but production continued into the 19th century.
Ideally, we would like to put a time and place on the use of either type but this has proven difficult. Both types are seen in the Deccan around the same time.
Detail from the painting "The House of Bijapur", circa 1680. Metropolitan Museum accession number 1982.213.
The man depicted cleary wears a type 1 chilanum, quite like our example above. He is meant to depict an early Bijapur ruler, so the choice of dagger may refer to an earlier period than the painting's supposed date. All later rulers to the right of the painting wear a katar, suggesting that was a more recent fashion.
The Bikaner armory contains some of type 1 but a much larger number of type 2. These are thought to have been primarily taken at Bijapur in 1675, Golconda in 1687 and Adoni in 1689. Stefan from www.vikingsword.com was so kind as to post a comprehensive picture report of his visit to the the armory here.
A chilanum worn by Babur, compared to one from the Mandarin Mansion stock (right).
From: Bāburnāma (memoirs of Babur), circa 1589-1590.
The Ain-i-Akbari (Persian: آئینِ اکبری) or the "Administration of Akbar" of the 16th-century depicts three sheathed daggers with a chilanum-like shape which are called khapwa, jhanbwah and bank.
(Jhanbwah clearly refers to Jambiya, an Arabic name for a dagger.)
A page from the Ain-I-Akbari depicting the three daggers that remind strongly of chilanum.
1. khapwa, 2. jhanbwah (jambiya) and 3. bank.
A Deccan chilanum with left and right two daggers that are strongly related in style.
Without a clear definition of what a chilanum is, it remains a guess whether the others still classify as chilanum.
1. Lord Egerton of Tatton, Indian and Oriental Arms and Armour. Dover Publications; Revised edition, 2002. Page 116.
2. For Deccan chilanum captured at Ādoni, now at Junāgarh fort in Bīkaner, see: Elgood, Robert: Hindu arms and Ritual, Eburon Publishers, Delft. Pages 178. 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. And: Alexander, David: Islamic Arms and Armor in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Yale University Press, New Haven and London. Page 46.