Islamic Wootz and Gold Katar


This superb katar probably comes to us from as far back as the 1700s and from within the borders of the great Mughal Empire of India’s north.

The wide blade was made from wootz steel, with swirling patterns of differing intensities still visible along its length. (Possible banding to the grains make me wonder if it once had a chevron pattern.) The blade has clearly been sharpened and polished many times over its three hundred years of existence and, when new, it would have had a more defined geography with crisply rendered fullers.

The hilt has extensive gold overlay covering its entirety, probably a later addition, and, while this shows small patches of age, it is in excellent condition. This gold shows six of Allah’s ninety-nine names, as described in the Quran, each set within a decorative panel:

  • Al-Basit

  • Al-Muqit

  • Al-Muin

  • Al-Jabbar

  • Al-Aleem

  • Al-Razag

These names enjoy various English spellings and each refers to Allah’s manifold powers: the Nourisher, the Omniscient, the Sustainer, and so on.

Growing amid these panels and over the hilt’s interior are meandering stems and flowers. These same flower forms can be seen, also rendered in gold, on a bladed Indian mace from the 1700s that resides in the National Museum in Delhi and is also illustrated in E Jaiwant Paul’s 2005 book Arms and Armour: Traditional Weapons of India (page 93). They can also be found on a silk sash in the textiles collection at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, “conforming to the Mughal style of the 18th century”.

While it’s rare to find Arabic script on an Indian katar, a comparable one was sold at Sotherby’s in 2009. That piece was not only similar in construction but also in decoration, this time having gold inlay and panels inscribed with a hadith.


Matthew FordeComment