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Title: Talwar  
Author: World Heritage Encyclopedia
Language: English
Subject: Scimitar, Gatka, Firangi (sword), Shamshir, Urumi
Collection: Indian Swords, Middle Eastern Swords, Mughal Weaponry, Pakistani Swords, Single-Edged Swords, South Asian Swords, Swords, Weapons of Pakistan
Publisher: World Heritage Encyclopedia


19th-century talwar, with typical disc-hilt and knucklebow, North India, crystalline wootz steel blade unusual in having a yelmen. The hardened cutting edge has been fused (scarf welded) to a softer, more flexible heel (a common practice in Indian swords), silver koftagri decorated hilt, red velvet covered scabbard.
Type Sword
Place of origin Indian Subcontinent
Production history
Produced Early types from ca. 1300, the classic form from ca. 1500 to present.
Blade type Single-edged, curved bladed, pointed tip.
Hilt type Unique Indian "Disc Hilt"
Scabbard/sheath Leather or cloth covered wood & the same with metal mounts, all metal and leather covered metal.

The talwar (pronounced ) is a type of curved sword or sabre from the Indian Subcontinent, and is found in the modern countries of India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal and Afghanistan. The word is also spelled talwaar and tulwar.


  • History 1
  • Characteristics 2
  • Use 3
  • In culture 4
  • Gallery 5
  • See also 6
  • Notes 7
  • References 8
  • Further reading 9


The talwar originated alongside other curved swords such as the Arab saif, the Persian shamshir, the Turkish kilij and the Afghan pulwar, all such swords being originally derived from earlier curved swords developed in Turkic Central Asia.[1] The talwar typically does not have as radical a curve as the shamshir and only a very small minority have the expanded, stepped, yelman typical of the kilij.[2][3] The use of talwar became more widespread under the Mughals, who were of Turko-Mongol origins.


Talwar with a wootz blade and silver koftigari decoration to hilt and blade forte. Note the widening of the blade near the tip.

The talwar was produced in many varieties, with different types of blades. Some blades are very unusual, from those with double-pointed tips (zulfikar) to those with massive blades (sometimes called tegha - often deemed to be executioner's swords but on little evidence). However, all such blades are curved, and the vast majority of talwars have blades more typical of a generalised sabre.[4]

Many examples of the talwar exhibit an increased curvature in the distal half of the blade, compared to the curvature nearer the hilt. Also relatively common is a widening of the blade near the tip (without the step to the back of the blade characteristic of the yelman of the kilij). The blade profile of the British Pattern 1796 light cavalry sabre is similar to some examples of the talwar, and expert opinion has suggested that the talwar may have contributed to the design of the British sabre.[5]

Though strongly influenced by Middle Eastern swords, the typical talwar has a wider blade than the shamshir. Late examples often had European-made blades, set into distinctive Indian-made hilts. The hilt of the typical talwar is termed a "disc hilt" from the prominent disc-shaped flange surrounding the pommel.[6] The pommel often has a short spike projecting from its centre, sometimes pierced for a cord to secure the sword to the wrist. The hilt incorporates a simple cross-guard which frequently has a slender knucklebow attached.[7] The hilt is usually entirely of iron, though brass and silver hilts are found, and is connected to the tang of the blade by a very powerful adhesive resin. More ornate examples of the talwar often show silver or gilt decoration in a form called koftigari.


The talwar was used by both cavalry and infantry. The grip of the talwar is cramped and the prominent disc of the pommel presses into the wrist if attempts are made to use it to cut like a conventional sabre. These features of the talwar hilt result in the hand having a very secure and rather inflexible hold on the weapon, enforcing the use of variations on the very effective "draw cut". The fact that the talwar does not have the kind of radical curve of the shamshir indicates that it could be used for thrusting as well as cutting purposes. The blades of some examples of the Talwar widen towards the tip. This increases the momentum of the distal portion of the blade when used to cut; when a blow was struck by a skilled warrior, limbs could be amputated and persons decapitated.[8] The spike attached to the pommel could be used for striking the opponent in extreme close quarter circumstances when it was not always possible to use the blade. The talwar can be held with the fore finger wrapped around the lower quillon of the cross guard.

In culture

The weapon is still used for talwar zani or matam e talwar, (Arabic: tatbir) Shiite Muslim self-flagellation, on 10th of Muharram, marking the martydom of Imam Hussain. Today, the word talwar has a literal meaning of "sword" or "dagger" in the majority of languages spoken in the Indian subcontinent.


See also


  1. ^ Nicolle, p. 175
  2. ^ Bull, p. 176
  3. ^ Stone, Fig. 770. The illustration shows 6 talwar, only 1 of which has a Turkish-style yelman.
  4. ^ Stone, see entries Talwar and Tegha (the glossary is alphabetical).
  5. ^ Robson, p.23
  6. ^ Evangelista and Gaugler, p. 575
  7. ^ Evangelista and Gaugler, p. 575
  8. ^ Nolan, Louis. Cavalry: its History and Tactics (Bosworth 1853, Pallas Armata facsimile reprint 1995)


  • Bull, Stephen. An Historical Guide to Arms and Armour. London: Studio Editions, 1991. ISBN 1-85170-723-9
  • Evangelista, N. and Gaugler, W.M. (1995) The encyclopedia of the sword. Greenwood Publishing Group. ISBN 0-313-27896-2
  • Nicolle, D. (2007) Crusader Warfare: Muslims, Mongols and the struggle against the Crusades. Hambledon Continuum. ISBN 1-84725-146-3, ISBN 978-1-84725-146-6
  • Robson, B. (1975) Swords of the British Army, Arms and Armour Press.
  • Stone, G.C. (1934) A Glossary of the Construction, Decoration and Use of Arms and Armor, Southworth Press, Portland Maine.

Further reading

  • Haider, Syed Zafar (1991) Islamic arms and armour of Muslim India, Bahadur Publishers.
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