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History of the Curved Sword or the "Talwar": Gift of the Hindus

Updated on December 9, 2017


Weapons are part and parcel of human life. They have existed since the dawn of civilization. The most ancient civilizations have been traced to the Indian sub-continent and the oldest religion is Hinduism, which also traces its pedigree to ancient times. In fact, at a time when men on other continents were still leading a primitive life, the Hindu religion brought in refinement and an advanced lifestyle. Hinduism brought in concepts of god and omnipotent power. It also created a warrior class which came to be classified as the Kshatriya. These warriors wielded weapons and the first personal weapons were the sword and spear.

The oldest scripture is the epic Mahabharata. This is a voluminous account of a period in the history of North India and possible was written anytime between 4500-5000BC. That makes it an account of a very ancient period. The Mahabharata is an account of an intrigue and a game for power between two powerful clans of the period called the Kauravas and the Pandavas. It is an interesting tale and culminates with a massive battle between the two clans and their supporters at Kurukshetra.

Kurukshetra is now a small town in the Indian state of Haryana. It is about 150 km north of Delhi. The Mahabharata describes the battle and the weaponry used in some detail. It classifies the weapons used and the first mention of a sword as a personal weapon of war finds mention in the Mahabharata.The use of a sword as a weapon of war is recorded for the first time in the history of weaponry in the battle at Kurukshetra.the sword was made of the iron and its invention and use points to an advanced state of civilization in that period.

The ancient Hindu warriors brought in the concept of the curved sword. The curved sword also called the "Talwar" or " Tulwar" is a tribute to Hindu ingenuity. The ancient Hindus opted to have a curved sword, This sword was aerodynamic and has a low drag -coefficient compared to the straight sword. In a way, its more lethal and remained the mainstay of soldiers weapon for almost 7000 years.

British Indian army cavalry sword
British Indian army cavalry sword
Gurkhas Khukhri
Gurkhas Khukhri

The Curved Sword

The curved sword was unknown to the world and later the Arabs learned about it and incorporated it as part of their weaponry. Alexander came face to face with the curved sword in the battle of Hydespes in 326 BC when he faced the Hindu King Raja Porus. Porus put in a grand show with his elephants and halted the march of Alexander. Even Greek historians who accompanied Alexander concede that this was his toughest battle. Alexander learned two things from this battle. The first was the use of the elephant as a weapon for a mass charge and the second was the curved sword. He straightaway took many of the curved swords to Baghdad as well as established a corps of elephants. He was certainly impressed with the curved sword and as a shrewd military thinker realized its quality as a personal weapon of war.

The curved sword in India went through many avatars and spanned the development of many personal weapons. Notable among them is the curved dagger or Katar and a massive double edge sword called the Khanda. The Khukhri of the Gurkhas is a derivative of the Katar. The British who came to India were suitably impressed with the curved sword and incorporated it as a weapon for their cavalry and gave it the name Saber. The famous charge of the Light Brigade in the Crimean war was with curved swords.

The Indian curved sword was a lethal weapon. It had a cutting edge on only one side but was lighter than other swords. It was the weapon of the cavalry as well as the foot soldier who matched with a small shield which was tied to the left arm. Horse cavalry also carried the curved sword into battle with the shield tied on the left arm.the shield associated with the curved sword was smaller in size and was generally tied to the forearm.

Scientists have studied the craftsmanship behind Indian swords. A study of a curved sword called the Shamseer was carried out by a team led by Eliza Barzagli of the Institute for Complex Systems and the University of Florence in Italy. The sword was first subjected to a metallographic test to ascertain its composition.It was established that the steel used is quite pure and had a high carbon content. This points to a high state in the development of metallurgy in the manufacture of the swords.

The Indian sword is a marvel of engineering at a time when people never knew the mechanics of drag and allied matters. It has a scientific base and no wonder that later the Arabs and the British adopted it as part of their weaponry.

Hindu warrior with sword
Hindu warrior with sword
The Shamshir
The Shamshir

Last Word

Swords as military weapons are now obsolete. The last use was in the First World War. The British Indian army initially had the curved sword in its cavalry regiments like the Skinners horse, but now they are used only for ceremonial purposes. Swords however remain and many are still manufactured by ancient craftsmen in India. The reason is that the sword has a religious connotation among the Sikhs and Rajputs.In all Sikh gurudwaras, a Tulwar will have pride of place along with the Granth Sahib.Many Westerners come down to India to buy Indian swords. The only other comparable sword is the Japanese sword which developed independently.

The Tulwar was a much superior weapon to comparable swords like the European sword as it incorporated latest dynamics. It is a tribute to ancient craftsmen who fashioned swords for warriors from ancient times.


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    • emge profile imageAUTHOR

      MG Singh emge 

      4 years ago from Singapore

      Thank you Lawrence. Cheers!

    • lawrence01 profile image

      Lawrence Hebb 

      4 years ago from Hamilton, New Zealand


      I knew some about the Ancient swords but not just how far back into History the curved sword goes.

      Fascinating article



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