Forensic Fashion
(c) 2006-present R. Macaraeg


>Costume Studies
>>1674 Maratha silladar
Subjectsilladar, bargir cavalryman
Culture: Maratha
Setting: Maratha confederacy, central India 17-18thc

Context (Event Photos, Primary Sources, Secondary Sources, Field Notes)

* Doniger 2009 p545
"Even before Shivaji, the Maharashtrians had been a thorn in the Mughal side. In Ahmednagar (the center of power in Maharashtra), the leader of the opposition to the Mughals after 1600 was Malik Ambar, an Abyssinian who had been sold in Baghdad as a slave but became a brilliant military commander and administrator in the Ahmednagar sultanate, dealing equitably with both Hindus and Muslims. He trained mobile Mahrashtrian cavalry units and won many victories against Jahangir, until his death in 1626. The most effective cavalry in India belonged to Maharashtra and Mysore, both of which had ready access to the west coast ports and to trade, primarily in horses, from the gulf states."

* Dalrymple 2019 p27-28
"In the 1680s, after the Mughals conquered these two states [Bijapur and Golconda], Maratha guerrilla raiders under the leadership of Shivaji Bhonsle, a charismatic Maratha Hindu warlord, began launching attacks against the Mughal armies occupying the Deccan.  As one disapproving Mughal chronicler noted, 'most of the men in the Maratha army are unendowed with illustrious birth, and husbandmen, carpenters and shopkeepers abound among their soldiery'.  They were largely armed peasants; but they knew the country and they knew how to fight.
    "From the sparse uplands of the western Deccan, Shivaji led a prolonged and increasingly widespread peasant rebellion against the Mughals and their tax collectors.  The Maratha light cavalry, armed with spears, were remarkable for their extreme mobility and the ability to make sorties far behind Mughal lines.  They could cover fifty miles in a day because the cavalrymen carried neither baggage nor provisions and instead lived off the country: Shivaji's maxim was 'no plunder,' no pay'.  One Jacobean traveller, Dr John Fryer of the EIC, noted that the 'Naked, Starved Rascals' who made up Shivaji's army were armed with 'only lances and long swords two inches wide' and could not win battles in 'a pitched Field', but were supremely skilled at 'Surprising and Ransacking'.
    "According to Fryer, Shivaji's Marathas sensibly avoided pitched battles with the Mughal's army, opting instead to ravage the centres of Mughal power until the economy collapsed.  In 1663, Shivaji personally led a daring night raid on the palace of the Mughal headquarters in Pune, where he murdered the family of the Governor of the Deccan, Aurangzeb's uncle, Shaista Khan.  He also succeeded in cutting off the Governor's finger.  In 1664, Shivaji's peasant army raided the Mughal port of Surat, sacking its richly filled warehouses and extorting money from its many bankers.  He did the same in 1670, and by the Marathas' third visit in 1677 there was not even a hint of resistance."

* Paul 2005 p60
"The Maratha system of warfare, so successful in the seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries, deserves a mention.  It was Shivaji's genius that laid the foundations of the Maratha military reputation.  The heavy Mughal cavalry, fully protected by armour, and the large force of elephants with their towers full of armed men, were able to manoeuvre fairly easily in battles fought on the north and central Indian plains.  But on the rugged and hilly Deccan country, the shortcomings of the Mughal army were clearly visible against the lightly equipped and more mobile cavalry of the Marathas, who manoeuvred with lightning rapidity.
    "The cavalry consisted of two classes of men: the silladars, or gentlemen, who provided a horse at their own expense, and the bargirs who were supplied with a horse by the state. The cavalry was equipped with spear, sword and shield, with a proportion of them also carrying matchlocks."


* Paul 2005 p60
"Their dress consisted of tight breeches, a quilted coat, a sash round the waist which was used to gird on the sword, and a turban which was fastened by passing a fold of it under the chin.  The bhagwa jhanda or swallow tailed, deep-orange flag became their symbol."


* Richardson 2015 p24
"From the early 17th century a fashion for carrying swords with European rapier or broadsword blades, usually with old Indian basket hilts, grew up, and these swords were commonly called firanghi."

* Paul 2005 p56
"One Maratha sword which was very popular not only with the Marathas but also in the Bijapur and Ahmednagar Sultanates was the dhup.  It has a long, straight and broad blade.  The hilt is a padded basket hilt.  The use of internal padding in the hilt, and innovation from the Deccan, not only helped grip the sword better but also reduced the shock of blows.
    "The dhup is also called a sukhela and if the blade was of foreign origin the term firangi was added to it.  It generally had a foreign blade imported from Spain, Italy or Germany.  English blades were not in favour with the Marathas and their famous naval commander, Angrey is quoted as saying that English blades were only fit to cut butter.  These European blades were imported mainly in the seventeenth century, in the early years of Maratha military expansion, when the iron and steel was not upto [SIC] the required standard."

* Tarassuk/Blair 1979 p181
"firangi (also phirangifarangi; from feringi, 'Frank') An Indian word denoting 'a foreign thing,' in this case referring to a sword with a closed hilt and a straight, cut-and-thrust imported blade. These were mainly brought to India by the Portuguese, but local swordsmiths also imitated the European style. Some of the blades were fairly long, up to about 100 cm. (39 in.), and broadsword blades with shallow grooves were quite common.
    "Used mostly in the Mahratta empire, firangi blades were mounted in local style, the hilt being of steel with a round grip and a discoidal pommel topped by a slightly curved short spike. The long tang to which the blade was riveted ran out at the root of the blade into two upturned flange like quillons.
    "A firangi sword was sometimes fitted with a Hindu basket-type hilt, the grip being bound with velvet and the guards padded with the same material; it had large seatings and quillons, while the pommel was saucer-shaped with a curved spike projecting from its center.
    "The same type of sword but with a locally manufactured blade is called sukhela and dhup."

* Withers 2010 p95
"[The firangi] was a typical sword of the Hindu southern and central Indian Maharatta Empire (1674-1818).  The firangi had a narrow, straight blade, commonly made from imported European blades (the word 'firangi' literally means 'foreigner') and sometimes decorated with kofgari-worked inlaid gold or silver.  When it was fitted with a home-made blade, it was called a sukhela, and in the Deccan (comprising the south Indian plateau), a dhup.
​    "Like the khanda, the firangi blade is also reinforced along the blade edge, combined with a disc-shaped pommel terminating in a long spike used for a two-handed blow.  Kofgari or inlaid gold ornamentation frequently decorated the hilt.  The large,basket-type hilt is also padded and embroidered with silk or coloured velvet.  In the 17th and 18th centuries, the Maharattas of the Western Deccan relied heavily on imported European trade goods and especially sword blades.  The Maharattas' preference was for German and Italian blades, since they regarded English blades as very inferior."

* Stone 1934 p229
"FIRANGI, FARANG, PHIRANGI.  Literally the Portuguese, or foreigner.  A Mahratta cut-and-thrust, straight-bladed sword.  The blades were either imported from Europe by the Portuguese, or made in imitation of them.  Broadsword blades with either three or four shallow grooves were the most common, but rapier blades were also used.  The hilts were of the khanda type, with broad guards and finger guards, and disk pommels with curved spikes on them.  Most of the blades are of the 17th century, though some are of the 16th."


* Treasures from India 1997 p42 (describing a punch dagger with two blades, Central India[?] 18th century)
"Daggers of this general type [multiple, narrow cross-bars arranged closely together and projecting beyond the side-guards, one or more narrow, armour-piercing[?] blades with deeply-cut grooving] were presented by the 'Jagirdar of Alipura, Bundelkhand' to the Prince of Wales in 1875 or 1876, and are said to date from the 18th century."

* Stone 1934 p345
"KATAR DORLICANEH.  A katar with a forked blade."  [reference omitted]


* Richardson/Bennett 2015 p35
"Two concealed weapons associated with the Mahrattas are the bagh nakh and the bichwa.  The bagh nakh or tiger-claw is a set of steel claws mounted on a bar with a loop at either end for the index and little fingers.  The bichwa, or scorpion, is a short-bladed dagger with a loop grip for the fingers.  The principal claim to fame of these weapons is that both were used by the famous leader Sivaji, who ruled Maharashtra in Western India during the 17th century, to assassinate the Bijapur general Afzal Khan, an envoy of the Mughal emperor Aurangzeb."

* Paul 1995 p70
"The bichwa literally means a scorpion.  This dagger is originally a Maratha weapon, and has a short, two edged, double curved blade.  The hilt, which is padded towards its knuckles, is formed as a loop in which the hand is placed."

* Tarassuk/Blair 1979 p83
"bichwa  Although bichwa means 'the sting of a scorpion,' the shape of this dagger is based on the curve of a buffalo's horns, and the blades were, in fact, made of horn in the earliest examples. The more modern metal blade has retained the original double curve and is sometimes forked, often fluted, and always double-edged, and about 25 cm. (10 in.) long. The steel hilt is looped to form a grip and knuckle guard, and may carry silver embellishments with bosses on guard and pommel.
    "The bichwa is sometimes used in conjunction with a bagh-nakh, the bar joining the claws being attached to the grip. This combination makes a very nasty weapon indeed and has a reputation for having been the weapon used in treacherous assassinations."

* Stone 1934 p112
"BICH'HWA, BICHWA.  An Indian dagger with a doubly curved, double-edged blade and a loop hilt.  The shape is derived from that of the old horn daggers which had the curve of the buffalo horns from which they were made.  In spite of this the bich'hwa is generally said to be named for its resemblance to the sting of a scorpion (bichwa).  It has never been very highly regarded in India, possibly because one was used by Sivaji when he murdered Afzal Khan.  Bich'hwas are made both right- and left-handed, and sometimes have forked blades."

* Coe/Connolly/Harding/Harris/Larocca/Richardson/North/Spring/Wilkinson p196 (Frederick Wilkinson, "India and Southeast Asia" 186-203)
"The bichwa (meaning 'scorpion sting') which Sivaji used was a dagger with a recurved blade attached to one end of a more or less elliptical band which fitted round the hand rather like a knuckleduster."