Strange Weapons of Ancient India

Updated on February 12, 2018
Dakk profile image

Guilherme Radaeli is a brazillian lawyer, writer and blogger born in state of São Paulo, Brazil.

Across the world, the human drive for creation has always been accompanied by our almost inherent belligerent tendencies. Conflict is something that has existed in every human culture and society.

A lot can be learned by studying a certain culture's weapons. The characteristics of a civilization's weapons usually reflect its level of complexity.

As such, it is no wonder that a culture as that of Ancient India would spawn weapons that match its richness and complexity, if rather unusual looking for the average western observer.

Read on to learn more about three highly exquisite and unusual weapons used in ancient India, up until the modern age.

Katar

Depicted: The "katar", the Indian punch knife weapon
Depicted: The "katar", the Indian punch knife weapon | Source

While the concept of "punch daggers" (knives in which the grip and the grip are perpendicular to eachother) is not unique to India, none of those concepts or design were as widespread and rich as the Indian katar.

The Katar's main characteristic is the H-shaped grip, which creates a sturdy handhold and places the blade above the user's first. The first known samples of such weapons come from the time of the Vijayanagara Empire, altough there is evidence pointing to the use of katars before that time.

The more ancient katars used the design depicted above, with a leaf shaped blade carefully crafted so that the tip of the blade became thicker than the other parts. The reasoning behind this was to not only make the weapon more sturdy, but also make it useful in breaking chain or scale mail armor. In combat, the weapon would be thrust into the mail of an opponent with great force, easily forcing it through mail armor by breaking its links.

An ornamental katar displaying the more recent and popular design.
An ornamental katar displaying the more recent and popular design. | Source

The H design of the katar's grip allowed the lower ends to be strapped on a user's arm for extra stability. Medieval katars also sometimes came with leaf or shell shaped handguards or even gauntlets that covered the hand and the forearm for extra protection, although this design fell into disuse later, probably due to the fact that katars would later be reduced to status symbols or ceremonial objects, being only used in duels and demonstrations rather than actual conflict.

The katar would become a status symbol among the upper class of Indian society, often being carried by princes and other noblemen as proof of their status, and not just for personal protection. The katar also became popular with the Sikh people, who have a proud warrior culture and often use them in their martial demonstrations.

It is said that some Rajputs (members of patrilineal clans from India and Pakistan) would even hunt tigers using only katars, as proof of their strength and courage.

Usage

The katar's design allowed its used to stab opponents by using punching moves, which allowed them to put a lot more power into the thrust in comparison to stabbing with a normal dagger. A lot more energy would be concentrated into the point, creating a powerful and deadly blow.

While the weapon was clearly designed for stabbing moves, it could also be used for slashing, although this was not recommended. A katar's short reach meant its used would have to get very close to an opponent to injure him, and so its techniques were designed to deliver quick, deadly blows, as the katar user would be in a disadvantage against an enemy using a longer, heavier weapon. The katar user also had to be agile, as the weapon's design favored quick, efficient blows and did not allow for many mistakes, although the katar's sturdiness allowed for parries.

Katars were often used with a small buckler shield, allowing its user to deflect an attack and close in for the kill. Katar fighting styles varied greatly, with one of them adopting the use of two katars, one in each hand. Other styles even had the warrior to both hold a katar and a dagger in a single hand, which was made possible due to the small size and effectiveness of the grip katar's grip.

The Pata Sword

An ornamental Pata Sword made of damascus steel
An ornamental Pata Sword made of damascus steel | Source

Considered an evolution of the katar, the pata or dandpatta consists of a high quality steel blade protruding from a steel gauntlet, protecting the user's hand and forearm.

The pata is not a terribly ancient weapon, as its appearance and craftsmanship indicates. It was created during the time of the Mughal Empire which dominated a large part of the Indian subcontinent up until the middle 1800s.

Patas were used mostly by professional warriors, such as those of the Maratha caste, who were trained to dual wield them, although it isn't clear if patas were ever dual wielded in real combat. Pata swords were considered specially effective against cavalry, being used to harm the horse or stab the rider. They were also used by cavalry due to their relatively long reach, used in stabbing motions.

Patas were used in conjunction javelins or axes, and as such were only used by specially skilled warriors. There is a lot of folklore surrounding these weapons, and it is said that a Maratha warrior would allow himself to become encircled, and would then use the Pata to great effectiveness against multiple enemies.

Usage

While the pata is described as being mostly a stabbing weapon, there are many accounts of it being used as a slashing weapon. One of the generals of the founder of the Marathan Empire, the Emperor Shivaji, is said to have wielded the weapon with both hands during the Battle of Sinhagad, before one of his hands was cut off by the Rajput Udaybhan Singh Rathod.

In another account, during the Battle of Pratapgad, when Afzal Khan's bodyguard Sayyed Banda attacked Shivaji with swords, Emperor Shivaji's bodyguard Jiva Mahala fatally struck him down, cutting off one of Sayyed Banda's hands with a dandpatta. Akbar also used a pata during the siege of Gujarat.

The Urumi Whip Sword

A pair of Urumis being used in a demonstration in Sri Lanka
A pair of Urumis being used in a demonstration in Sri Lanka | Source

Perhaps the strangest of them all, the urumi is a weapon that looks both spectacular and terrifying to onlookers. Consisting of a grip with handguards, very much similar to other weapons of Indian origin, and several flexible blades made thin, edged high quality steel, the urumi is treated like a whip, and is often dual wielded.

Despite its exotic design, the urumi is probably the oldest weapon among the three presented in this hub. It is though to have been used during the Mauryan Empire around 300 BCE. The name "urumi" is of Keralan origin, a region in southern India, although it was also commonly called "chuttuval", a name formed from the Keralan words for "coiling" and "sword".

An urumi can consist of a single or multiple flexible blades. Some Sri Lankan variations can have up to 32 blades, altough the common variations show about 4 or 6 blades. It is often dual wielded, altough it is almost always used alongside with a shield during demonstrations, due to the danger the weapon poses to other demonstrators.

Usage

The urumi is treated like a whip or flail. It is considered the hardest weapon to master in Indian martial arts, since improper use of such a weapon can easily cause self injury. As such, its use is taught last, or at least after the warrior in training masters the use of the whip.

Urumis are usually held in a coiled position when not being used in combat, being uncoiled when it needs to be used. While urumis are usually heavier than most swords, due to the fact it is a "soft" weapon (like a whip), once it starts to move, the wielder makes use of centrifugal force, maintaining the weapon constantly moving. This way, it does not take much strength to deliver strong blows, and allows the wielder to ward off enemies by spinning the blades.

Due to the weapon's long reach, the Urumi is regarded as specially useful against multiple enemies. The sharp edges of the blades can easily cause multiple deep cutting wounds with each blow, and carry enough power to damage anything short of plate armor.

Comments

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    • cmoneyspinner1tf profile image

      Treathyl FOX 

      11 months ago from Austin, Texas

      This HUB is interesting and scary! Sometimes I wish when it came to making weapons that mankind didn't have any imagination. The kinds of weapons men have invented over the years, from ancient times to the present day, you have to think: “How could living with each other have been so difficult that people even had the mind to invent such weapons?' Is there no way we could not have figured out how to live in peace instead of thinking of how to invent weapons of destruction?

    • Dakk profile imageAUTHOR

      Guilherme Radaeli 

      2 years ago from São Paulo - Brazil

      Thanks a lot! I'm planning to do one on ancient greek weapons, but I need more materials first. Let me knows if you guys are interested.

    • Fesdizen profile image

      Amir Faisal 

      2 years ago from Banda Aceh

      Wow, this article is very interesting

    • Linnea Lewis profile image

      Linnea Lewis 

      2 years ago from South Carolina, USA

      I love reading about weapons and this is very fascinating to me. Loved it!

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