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Interesting and Ancient Indian Weapons

Guilherme Radaeli is a lawyer, writer and blogger born in the state of São Paulo, Brazil. Part-time techie and overall mad lad.

Read on to learn about 3 fascinating ancient Indian weapons.

Read on to learn about 3 fascinating ancient Indian weapons.

Ancient India's Creative Weaponry

Across the world and throughout history, the human drive to create has always been accompanied by our almost inherently belligerent tendencies. Conflict is something that has existed in every human culture and society.

A lot can be learned by studying a specific culture's weapons. The characteristics of a civilization's weapons usually reflect its level of complexity, among other things.

As such, it is no wonder that a culture such as Ancient India's would spawn weapons that match its richness and complexity, despite their rather unusual aesthetic 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.

3 Strange and Ancient Weapons of India

  1. The Katar
  2. The Pata Sword
  3. The Urumi Whip Sword
Depicted: The "katar", the Indian punch knife weapon

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

1. The Katar

While the concept of "punch daggers" (knives in which the grip and the blade are perpendicular) is not unique to India, no punch dagger concept or design was 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 fist. The first known samples of such weapons come from the time of the Vijayanagara Empire, although 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 blade's tip became thicker than the other parts. The reasoning behind this was to make the weapon more sturdy and 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.

The H-design of the katar's grip allowed the lower ends to be strapped to 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 additional 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, only being used in duals 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.

Katar Usage

The katar's design made it suitable for stabbing opponents by using punching moves, which allowed the wielder to put much more power into the thrust than with a normal dagger. A lot more energy could 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 user would have to get very close to an opponent to injure him, thus its techniques were designed to deliver quick, deadly blows, as the katar user would be at 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 the 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 both hold a katar and a dagger in a single hand, which was made possible due to the small size and effectiveness of the katar's grip.

An ornamental Pata Sword made of damascus steel

An ornamental Pata Sword made of damascus steel

2. The Pata Sword

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.

As its appearance and craftsmanship indicate, the pata is not a very ancient weapon. It was created during the Mughal Empire, which dominated a large part of the Indian subcontinent up until the middle 1800s.

Patas were primarily used 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 actual combat. Pata swords were considered especially effective against cavalry and were used to harm the horse or stab the rider. Cavalry also used them due to their relatively long reach, used in stabbing motions.

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

Pata Sword Usage

While the pata is often described as mostly a stabbing weapon, there are many accounts of it being used as a slashing weapon as well. Emperor Shivaji, the founder of the Marathan Empire, had a general who 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 of 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.

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

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

3. The Urumi Whip Sword

Perhaps the strangest of the three weapons discussed is the urumi whip sword. This weapon looks both spectacular and terrifying. Consisting of a grip with handguards (similarly to other weapons of Indian origin) and several flexible blades made of 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 article. It is thought to have been used as early as 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 flexible blade or multiple flexible blades. Some Sri Lankan variations can have up to 32 blades, although the common variations show about 4 or 6 blades. It is often dual-wielded, although it is almost always used alongside a shield during demonstrations due to the danger the weapon poses to other demonstrators.

Urumi Whip Sword 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 result in 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, because it is a "soft" weapon (like a whip), once it starts to move, the wielder uses centrifugal force, maintaining a constant motion of the weapon. 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 especially useful against multiple enemies. The blades' sharp edges can easily cause multiple deep cutting wounds with each blow and carry enough power to damage anything short of plate armor.

Sources and Further Reading

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2015 Guilherme Radaeli

Comments

Shivaji on August 09, 2018:

Maratha Emperor's hand was never cut off by any Rajput. In fact Maharaja Shivaji was so great that even Vietnam learned the guerrilla warfare by studying Maratha history. You don't hear such tales about Rajput rulers. In fact Rajputs preferred marriage alliances with Muslim rulers or at times they were defeated so badly that their women committed mass 'johar' or 'mass suicide' by jumping in fire....

Treathyl FOX from Austin, Texas on August 18, 2017:

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?

Guilherme Radaeli (author) from São Paulo - Brazil on June 17, 2016:

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.

Amir Faisal from Banda Aceh on January 18, 2016:

Wow, this article is very interesting

Lin from USA on November 16, 2015:

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