A Fine Wootz Pesh Kabz
Origin: India (North India)
Dating: 18/19th century
Materials: Ivory, Wootz, Wood, Velvet, Silver and Brass
A fine quality Indian Pesh Kabz with well defined Wootz and Watered characteristics, along with an inventory marking.
THIS EXAMPLEThe large hilt features a thick two piece ivory grip section, where the grip strap, bolsters and ferules are covered in silver. The ivory is smooth with no faults, cracks or damages. The ivory slabs show a good colour and age patination.
The Pesh kabz has a beautiful and slender blade, with a contrasting wootz steel which contains playful swirls and various shaded of light and dark grey. The swirls are very vivid and purposefully made.
The fine Pesh Kabz is accompanied by its crimson red silk velvet covered sheath with two chapes. The silk velvet was a very sought after material for covering a scabbard since it was labour intensive in pre-industrial India. Along the back is a single gold trim. Thus making this scabbard of high quality and fitting for such a quality Kard. The top chape is showcasing finely watered steel and pierced around the top with a procession of birds. Attached to the fine watered chape is an intact bronze lanyard indicating the Kard has been kept in super condition by the previous owners. The second chape is of typical design, long, pierced and with a round finial - but a later addition. The gilding on the second chape is worn but provides a naturally preserved historical presence to it. The scabbard follows conventional fitting design whereby almost half the hilt os covered when the Kard is in the scabbard. A very minor hole (very small) on the side of the scabbard (not significant).
Similar examples of ivory-hilted pesh kabz and khyber daggers can be found in most international museums' collections. The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York has a particularly rich collection, please see accession numbers 36.25.708a, b; 64.303.1; 36.25.814a, b; and 36.25.1043a, b.
At the forte of the blade there in an 'inventory marking'. It could be read as the following:
This would date it to approx. 1705 using the current calendar format. The Hindu calendar is based on the moon's movement around the earth and as such, it differentiates from the Gregorian calendar, mostly used in the West. The Vikram Samvat, also known as Bikram Sambat or Vikrami calendar, is the historical Hindu calendar used in the Indian subcontinent and Nepal and it starts approximately from 57 BC. Another calendar now in use, the Saka Samvat, starts instead from 78 AD. Thus, if the '117' mark was to stand for a date, it would be a very early one, and it would not match the stylistic features of this dagger and its dating to the 18th - 19th century.
As many of these pesh kabz daggers were actually produced in Iran and Afghanistan, perhaps the date follows the hijri format (Arabic calendar), and it could be read as either 117 or 117 AH (corresponding respectively to 1705 or 1756). This time period would match our date attribution, but it is unlikely that an Islamic bladesmith would write the numeral in Hindi rather than Arabic or Farsi and miss out the first or last numeral.
An alternative interpretation to the inscription is that it could be in Punjabi and can read as the following:
This translated to '1 One Creator'
This phrase has a strong connection with the corpus of religious writings considered the pillar of Sikh belief. Indeed, the Ik Onkar is used as the incipit of the Mul Mantar, the opening verse of the Guru Granth Sahib, the first composition of Guru Nanak. This explanation seems much more likely than the Hindi date, and it would then indicate that the dagger was once a dear possession of a Sikh believer.