3210

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Bhutanese Silver, Gilt, Copper, Shagreen & Turquoise Dagger with Steel Blade (Kongdi Maja)

Bhutan
18th century

length: 35.7cm, weight: 581g

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Provenance

private collection

This splendid example of a traditional Bhutanese dagger or kongdi maja has a sharp, single-edged steel blade. The handle comprises a faceted grip covered in fine cream-coloured shagreen (stingray skin) and a cap-shaped pommel covered in parcel-gilt silver decorated with Bhutanese Buddhist symbols.

The top of the pommel is crested with a gilt spherical pommel nut that rises from a chakra wheel motif.

The magnificent scabbard comprises a fine, open-work parcel-gilt silver covering decorated with Himalayan dragons and Buddhistic symbols amid densely entwined foliate work. The scabbard is studded with small turquoise chips in box settings (some age-related losses).

The principal dragon – its long, sinewy body runs the length of much of the front of the scabbard – is masterfully worked into the under-layer, beneath the upper layer of foliate work, its body marked out in gilding.

A gilded copper sheet sits beneath the open-work silver overlay on the front and on the back of the sheaf. The gilt-copper under-lay is more apparent on the reverse of the scabbard where it is engraved with scrolling foliate motifs.

A dagger of this quality would almost certainly have been made for a member of the Bhutanese nobility.

A similar Bhutanese dagger is in the Wallace Collection, London (inventory no. 1684). The catalogue detailing the Wallace Collection’s oriental arms and armour collection describes the Collection’s example as a ‘short dirk’ attributed to the mid-sixteenth century. This dating might seem ambitious, although it should be noted that the Wallace Collection was formed in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries during which time the Collection’s Bhutanese dagger joined the collection. It almost certainly was already quite old by the time it joined the collection, judging by its patina and condition.

The example here is an excellent example of a Bhutanese dagger being of the highest quality.

References

Laking, G.F., Oriental Arms and Armour: Wallace Collection Catalogues, 1964.

LaRocca, D.J., Warriors of the Himalayas: Rediscovering the Arms and Armor of Tibet, Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2006.

Myers, D., and S. Bean (eds), From the Land of the Thunder Dragon: Textile Arts of Bhutan, Serindia, 1994.

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