Forensic Fashion
(c) 2006-present R. Macaraeg


>Costume Studies
>>1799 Sikh ghorchurra
Subjectghorchurra sardar armored cavalry
Culture: Sikh Punjabi
Setting: founding of the Sikh empire, Punjab early 19thc

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

* Singh/Rai 2008 p143
"[Ranjit Singh's] army consisted essentially of irregular cavalry -- the Ghorchurras, made up mostly from soldiers from the misls, called the Misldar Sowars.  Distinct from these two was a cavalry regiment called the Ghorchurras Khas, the first standing unit that Ranjit Singh formed as Maharaja, composed of leading Sardars and their kinsmen, eventually numbering up to 2000 men; together with a similar regiment formed later, it became known to admiring foreign visitors as 'the Maharaja's bodyguard' and was considered the elite of the Sikh army.
    "The men of the Misldar Sowar had been taken into the Sikh state's service after the capture of a fort or town or the death of a chief, a process that, in fact, went in for most of the Maharaja's life.  These men were paid by the state -- at first entirely in jagirs, since they looked on cash payment as the mark of mercenaries; only gradually did Ranjit Singh succeed in his desire to make cash payment the norm, thereby putting the force on a more regular footing.  These Ghorchurras came to constitute the bulk of Ranjit Singh's cavalry, their style continuing the traditions of the Dal Khalsa.  Not subject to overall discipline or wearing uniforms and resisting the introduction of European drill and methods to which they contemptuously referred to as 'harlots' dance', they retained their local character. "

* Heath/Perry 2005 p16-17
"The Fauj-i-sowari or 'cavalry army' was more popularly known as the Ghorchurra Fauj.  The term Ghorchurra meant simply 'horseman', and was widely employed in the Punjab to describe irregular cavalry in general.  In Khalsa administrative terms, however, it specifically denoted those irregular horsemen who received pay from the state, as distinct from those maintained by the feudal sardars.  In reality the two types differed but little in either organization or lack of discipline.
    "The Ghorchurras of the Fauj-i-sowari were subdivided into the Ghorchurra Khas (Royal Ghorchurras) and the Misldar Sowaran.  The former constituted a single regiment that eventually numbered some 1,600-2,000 men, made up predominantly of distinguished sardars and their kinsmen, and was the very first unit of standing troops that Ranjit Singh created.  It was subsequently joined by a second regiment called the Ardaly Khas (Royal Orderlies), which appears to have been of similar composition and size.  The Ghorchurra Khas and Ardaly Khas are frequently described as 'the Maharaja's bodyguard' by foreign visitors, who were much impressed by their colourful appearance and high spirits, and considered them 'the elite of the army', superior even to the French Legion."

* Edgerton 1995 p128
"The Ghurcharh'as and Ghurcharhkás, [were] cavalry clad in armour and carrying musquets ....  These were supported by territories which brought them in a revenue of 3,000 or 4,000 rupees a piece; their horses and entire equipments were their own property."

* Heath/Perry 2005 p46-47
"The Ghorchurras were proud, dashing, reckless, and skilled in the use of their lances and swords -- but were utterly wanting in discipline, and virtually uncontrollable on the battlefield.  Their readiness to engage in close combat meant that armour remained important despite the widespread adoption of firearms."  


* Singh/Rai 2008 p143
"Their charges were swift and deadly.  Near the enemy they would halt, load, fire their matchlocks and retire, repeating the operation several times."

* Edgerton 1995 p128
"'The Sikh irregular cavalry,' remarks the same writer [Masson], 'have a peculiar exercise at which they are very expert.  In action they advance upon their enemies until their matchlocks can take effect, discharge them, and then precipitately retreat to reload and repeat the same manoeuvre."


* Robinson 1967 p109 [PLAGIARIZED: Paul 1995 p96]
"The Sikhs used oval helmets so that their long hair could hang more easily at the back of the head.  Or if they wished to keep their hair in a bun on top of the head, they wore a helmet with a broad, raised crest shaped like a French 'Cap of Liberty' to house it."

* Singh/Rai 2008 p143
"They wore mail shirts and a belt from which hung a bag containing musket balls; some wore a steel helmet and bore a shield on their back."

* Edgerton 1995 p128
"Their uniform consisted of a velvet coat or gaberdine, over which most of them wore a shirt of mail.  Others had this shirt made to form part of the tunic.  A waist belt richly embroidered in gold, supported the powder horn covered with cloth of gold, as well as the Persian Katár [SIC], and the pistols which many of them carried.  Some wore a steel helmet inlaid with gold, and surmounted by the 'KhalgI' a black heron's plume.  Others wore a cap of steel worked like the cuirass in rings.  The left arm is often covered from the hand to the elbow, with a steel cuff inlaid with gold.  The round Sikh shield hangs at the back, and is fastened by straps across the chest.  A quiver at the right side, and a bow slung at the back complete the equipment."

Impact Weapons (Ax, Mace)



* Rawson 1968 p30
"[A]ll the sword forms known from the North-West, both from works of art and surviving examples, are versions of the Talwar. Although during the late eighteenth century the cities of the North-West passed under Sikh and Rajput rule, the sword made and used there remained the Talwar. In the ornament of the weapons, however, the craftsmen returned to Hindu motives for inspiration. For example at Lahore, whereas under the Mughals sword blades had been chiselled with rows of animal and human figures in Persian style, under the Sikhs the same type of chiselled work was carried on, but the figures were of Hindu origin, such as Avatars of Vishnu, or the Planetary Divinities. The lesser elements of design, however, remained fixed in the Islamic tradition."

* Sprague 2009 p183
"In the second Sikh War of 1848-49, the British noted that the Sikh cavalrymen were armed with sharp and well-made swords, described as having a 'broader back, thicker blade, and keener edge' than the British swords.  Warriors using these swords were 'in the habit of delivering the drawing cut, a most cutting kind of blow.'  Once cavalry had 'put into disorder masses of infantry,' the sword became the only viable weapon, because it became nearly impossible, in the midst of chaos, to reload one's firearm."



Daggers (Katar, Khanjar)