Pata (gauntlet sword)

1550

This uniquely Indian form of sword combined weapon and armor. The pata was gripped by the crossbar inside the hilt, with the blade extending as a projection of the forearm.

As European traders came to India in the 1500s and 1600s, they brought swords from the blademaking centers in Spain, Italy, and Germany. The blades of these swords were much admired in India, and some were fitted into Indian-made hilts. English swords were less respected: one Indian admiral of the 1600s remarked that English blades were “only fit to cut butter.”

These two pieces are exquisite examples of the decorative styles of northern and southern India. The gilded pata is decorated using the characteristic "koftgari" technique of Mughal northern India, which was heavily influenced by the cultural traditions of Persia. The gold and silver inlay is incised with fine decorative details visible only under the closest scrutiny. The south Indian pata has minimal surface decoration, relying instead on the sculptural form of the metal itself for visual effect.

Description

Possibly shortened European straight double-edge blade of flat cross-section, tapering sharply to point. On both faces, long reinforcing plates with 3 engraved lines near edges, riveted to blade with 3 rivets; the back side of the lower 2 rivets have decorative brass washers. Gauntlet hilt recurving towards blade in large-toothed dragonhead terminal. Gauntlet is almost triangular in shape with strong central ridge. "H"-shaped grip within side bars extends beyond dragonhead, with scalloped edges & small knob terminals. 2 cross-bars swollen at centers. Star-shaped rivets hold crossbars to side bars. There are traces of incised decoration overall on the hilt.

Curator's Comments

The crossbar grip of the pata reveals its origin in the jamadhar. As traders from Portugal, the Netherlands, and England came to India in the 1500s and 1600s, they brought fine-bladed swords from Europe’s blademaking centers in Spain, Italy, and Germany. The blades of these swords were much admired in India, and some were cut down to be fitted to jamadhars. English swords were less respected: one Indian admiral of the 1600s remarked that English blades were “only fit to cut butter.” The adaptation of these long European blades seems to have led to the development of this long-bladed version of the jamadhar. Like the jamadhar, the pata was gripped by the crossbar in the hilt, with the blade extending in the same line as the forearm. The Maratha leader Shivaji, shown here wearing a pata, was reputed to have a sword with a blade from Genoa (Italy); he named the weapon after the goddess Bhavani. The illustration suggests that this weapon may have been a pata. Both the jamadhar and pata were often used in pairs, one in each hand, and experts gave displays of their prowess with two patas. [India Exhibition] From Robert Elgood (private corr., 2005): Hilt Southern India: blade probably imported from Europe. This form of hilt was for many years attributed to Thanjavur (Tanjore), owing to the survival of much of the Tanjore Armoury where a number were found. The East India Company seized the armoury in 1855 and a part of it was placed in the newly formed Madras Museum. Other objects were bought privately and many were subsequently acquired by the noted American collector George Stone who published some in his A Glossary of the Construction, Decoration and Use of Arms and Armour in all Countries at all Times in 1934. On his death these were given to the Metropolitan Museum, N.Y. The dominant Hindu dynasty in south India in the late medieval period ruled from Vijayanagara in the southern Deccan until a confederation of Deccani Muslim states defeated and sacked the capital in 1565. The stricken state was dependent on the support of approximately 200 regional governors or nayaks. These gradually established independent states as the power of Vijayanagara waned, the principal ones being Tanjore, Gingi, Madurai in the Tamil country and Mysore and Ikkeri in Karnataka. The new rulers used the iconography and ritual of Vijayanagara to usurp and reflect Imperial authority. The Tanjore dynasty was the main supporter of Vijayanagara post 1565, being related by marriage, and the objects in the Tanjore Armoury reflect the designs of Vijayanagara. Similar katars can be found across southern India in armouries or displayed on 16th century temple sculpture, for example at Vellore and Srirangam or in paintings such as the Setupati mural at Ramnad, attributed to 1720. The rise to prominence of the Marathas in the 1660s and 1670s and their seizure of the state of Tanjore in 1676 resulted in the spread of these arms across Hindu India whilst their robustness and the conservatism of Indian warfare ensured that remained in use for a very long time. Katars of this type were commonly used in pairs, one in each hand. The hilts are usually thickly gilt or silvered, providing the Hindu user with ritual protection against polluting contact with iron or steel. Locally produced early blades have many fine longitudinal raised ridges between the broad chamfered edges, a design copied on late versions. An alternative blade commonly found on these daggers is European, dateable examples being either 16th or 17th century cut down sword blades, the result of trade or war with the Portuguese, Dutch and English who were establishing themselves in India. These European blades, generally Spanish, Italian or German, appear to have been highly esteemed and were sometimes locally copied. It seems likely that the availability of long European sword blades in the early seventeenth century resulted in the evolution of the south Indian katar into the pata or gauntlet sword. The details of construction and form are very similar in early examples. Like these katars, the pata was also used one in each hand and experts gave displays of their prowess with two patas.

Bibliography

See Pant 2.62 on the pata; cf. 163 ff. on the style of hilt.

See the illustration of a pata in use Egerton 26.

On Shivaji's sword and European blades, see Rawson 1968: 45-46.

Stone 1934: 484-86.

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