Thursday, 12 February 2015

Wootz steel - Tipu Sultan's old special swords - metellargical wonder

Mysore Tipu
Please refer to my  article titled ''Mysore Tipu Sultan's Famous Sword''appeared in Navrang - Tuesday - December 02, 2014.

Mysore Tipu Sultan's famous sword made of wootz
Wootz is an Anglicized version of the Kannada word ukku, Telugu hukku and Tamil and Malayalam urukku – meaning hardened steel. It was light weight and very strong.

Impressed by the superior quality of India's wootz steel,Michael Faraday, the legendary scientist and discoverer of electricity and electromagnetism, spent four years studying the properties of this special steel (1818-22).

The swords and armor making cottage industries  died after the arrival of the British in India and imports of iron and steel from England displaced the high quality indigenous steel  made by skilled people in India. The Indian artisans' skills in several fields, indigenous technology and workmanship all disappeared after the advent of the British rule.

An interesting recent news on Wootz steel titled ''Study sheds light on old Indian sword''by Press Trust International New Agency appeared through India's national news paper 'The Hindu' dated February 12, 2015 drew my attention.This news item
brings out the salient features of this unique and special Indian steel extensively used in 18th and early part of 19th century and unfortunately the special foundry procedures, etc sank into oblivion and never preserved for posterity. In this
context, the  great Plato's view on 'The Republic' comes to my mind, ''But there is a world below in which either we or our posterity will suffer for our unjust deeds.''

The research study was jointly done by the  scientists and conservationists from Italy and the UK on a single edged sword known as ''shamsheer'' made in India from the Wallace collection, London. Indian rulers, especially Tipu used this kind of sword widely in wars.

The evaluation was made on this old Indian sword and its component in wootz steel without damaging to artifacts by following two methods: one old classical metallurgical method to ascertain the chemical composition and further microscopic examination and the other being a non-destructive technique 'neutron diffraction' carried out by the Rutherford-Appleton Lab in the UK to throw light on the quality of processes and the unique techniques behind  the forging and materials involved in its making. Eliza Barzagli of University of Florence, Italy  who led the study observed, ''Ancient objects are scarce,and the most interesting ones are usually in an excellent  state of of conservation.''
The detailed research on the Indian sword concluded that the Indian steel is pure.The high carbon content of one percent  shows it is made of wootz steel, commonly made in southern Indian the early centuries. The high grade ore used, is believed to have mined in present day Telangana, Andhra Pradesh.

In central Asia and in India, in particular, superior quality steel was  historically used in late 18th  and early 19th centuries to make high quality sword, daggers, etc besides other useful prestige objects.

The above study also confirms the superiority and technical competence of Indian artisans, traditional blacksmiths in fields such as metal making, etc.

Tit bits:

 Mr. Mallya,India's famous liquor baron of Bangalore  bought Tipu' swords in an auction and another that was for years in the possession of the Bangalore wing of the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) in Ganga Nagar.

There is a little bit of history behind the sword that Mr. Mallya now owns. Tipu in 1790s lost a battle with the Nairs of Travancore at Aluve, Kerala. The then Maharajah of Travancore, Dharma Raja, gifted the sword to the Nawob of Arcot from where it found its way to London . The sword was on display at the Wallace Collection in London before Mr. Mallya purchased it at an auction in 2004.

Tipu's personal possessions mostly will have  the tiger motif. Historians say that almost all of Tipu's swords were crafted at Haidernagar (Bednur) and tigers from the hilt of swords are now displayed at Powis Castle near Welsh pool, British Museum in London and Museo Stibbert Museum in Florence, Italy.

A historical sword used by Tipu Sahib  was given to Charles, 4th Duke of Richmond  along with  the Sword Belt  by Sir Arthur Wellesley Esq who defeated the brave Sultan in the decisive battle at Srirangapatna, Karnataka in 1799. Tipu died fighting with a sword in his hand and his famous heavy gold ring engraved with the Hindu God's name RAMA in Devanagari. Soon after Tipu's confirmed death on the battle field, Arthur Wellesley had both the heavy gold ring and the famous sword removed from the body of the mighty ruler and kept them personally as trophies.