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Dangerous Beauty: the Katar (Push Dagger)

January 1, 2022
Manuscript Gallery, Shangri La

The hunt was a key display of Mughal royal power: showcasing the strength and bravery of the emperor through his martial skill. As the empire grew secure and military campaigns were led by the emperor’s professional proxies, many of whom were princes from the vassal Rajput courts, the hunt remained an important exhibition of battlefield prowess. 

The tools of the hunt are significant visual reminders of this activity. One important example, indigenous to South Asia, is the katar - or push dagger. This deadly weapon is grasped at the crosspieces in the clenched fist, and used to stab prey (human or animal) at exceptionally close quarters.

Royal members of the Mughal and Rajput courts were expected to use the katar in the hunts for powerful animals such as crocodiles or tigers, displaying the courage required to battle fearsome quarry in close quarters.

Although often sheathed in a diamond-crusted holder, and tucked into a fine silk or leather belt for court dress, the katar was more than mere decoration - it was worn only by those qualified to use it. Known as “the tongue of death”, the dagger and its wearer were held in high regard and afforded sober respect.

Learn more about the artwork in this exhibition here.

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