Katar (dagger)

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Ornamental katar.jpg
Ornamented katar
Place of origin Indian subcontinent
Hilt  typeHorizontal

The katar or katara, [1] [2] [3] is a type of push dagger from the Indian subcontinent. [4] The weapon is characterised by its H-shaped horizontal hand grip which results in the blade sitting above the user's knuckles. Unique to the Indian subcontinent, it is the most famous and characteristic of Indian daggers. [5] Ceremonial katars were also used in worship. [6]

Push dagger

A push dagger is a short-bladed dagger with a "T" handle designed to be grasped in the hand so that the blade protrudes from the front of one's fist, typically between the index and middle finger. Over the centuries, the push dagger has gone up and down in popularity as a close-combat weapon for civilians and selected military forces.

Indian subcontinent Peninsular region in south-central Asia south of the Himalayas

The Indian subcontinent, is a southern region and peninsula of Asia, mostly situated on the Indian Plate and projecting southwards into the Indian Ocean from the Himalayas. Geologically, the Indian subcontinent is related to the land mass that rifted from Gondwana and merged with the Eurasian plate nearly 55 million years ago. Geographically, it is the peninsular region in south-central Asia delineated by the Himalayas in the north, the Hindu Kush in the west, and the Arakanese in the east. Politically, the Indian subcontinent includes Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka.



Having originated in south India, the weapon's earliest name-form was likely the Tamil kaţţāri (கட்டாரி). It is alternatively known in Tamil as kuttuvāḷ (குத்துவாள்) which means "stabbing blade". This was adapted into Sanskrit as kaţāra (कट्टार) or kaţārī. Due to the schwa deletion in Indo-Aryan languages however, the word often came to be rendered as "katar" in modern Hindi and by extension in colonial transliterations.

Tamil language language

Tamil is a Dravidian language predominantly spoken by the Tamil people of India and Sri Lanka, and by the Tamil diaspora, Sri Lankan Moors, Douglas, and Chindians. Tamil is an official language of two countries: Sri Lanka and Singapore and official language of the Indian state Tamil Nadu. It has official status in the Indian state of Tamil Nadu and the Indian Union Territory of Puducherry. It is used as one of the languages of education in Malaysia, along with English, Malay and Mandarin. Tamil is spoken by significant minorities in the four other South Indian states of Kerala, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh and Telangana and the Union Territory of the Andaman and Nicobar Islands. It is one of the 22 scheduled languages of India.

Sanskrit language of ancient India

Sanskrit is a language of ancient India with a history going back about 3,500 years. It is the primary liturgical language of Hinduism and the predominant language of most works of Hindu philosophy as well as some of the principal texts of Buddhism and Jainism. Sanskrit, in its variants and numerous dialects, was the lingua franca of ancient and medieval India. In the early 1st millennium CE, along with Buddhism and Hinduism, Sanskrit migrated to Southeast Asia, parts of East Asia and Central Asia, emerging as a language of high culture and of local ruling elites in these regions.

Schwa deletion, or schwa syncope, is a phenomenon that sometimes occurs in Hindi, Urdu, Bengali, Kashmiri, Punjabi, Gujarati, and several other Indo-Aryan languages with schwas that are implicit in their written scripts. Languages like Marathi and Maithili with increased influence from other languages through coming into contact with them — also shows a similar phenomenon. Some schwas are obligatorily deleted in pronunciation even if the script suggests otherwise.

Other regional names for the weapon include kaṭhāri (ಕಠಾರಿ) in Kannada, kaţāra (കട്ടാര) in Malayalam, kaṭyāra (कट्यार) in Marathi, kaṭār (ਕਟਾਰ) in Panjabi, and kaṭāra (कटार) or kaṭāri in Hindi.

Kannada Dravidian language of India

Kannada is a Dravidian language spoken predominantly by Kannada people in India, mainly in the state of Karnataka, and by significant linguistic minorities in the states of Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Telangana, Kerala and abroad. The language has roughly 43.7 million native speakers, who are called Kannadigas. Kannada is also spoken as a second and third language by over 12.9 million non-Kannada speakers living in Karnataka, which adds up to 56.6 million speakers. It is one of the scheduled languages of India and the official and administrative language of the state of Karnataka.

Malayalam language spoken in Kerala and Lakshadweep of India

Malayalam is a Dravidian language spoken in the Indian state of Kerala and the union territories of Lakshadweep and Puducherry (Mahé) by the Malayali people, and it is one of 22 scheduled languages of India. Malayalam has official language status in the state of Kerala and in the union territories of Lakshadweep and Puducherry (Mahé) and is spoken by 38 million people worldwide. Malayalam is also spoken by linguistic minorities in the neighbouring states; with significant number of speakers in the Nilgiris, Kanyakumari, and Coimbatore districts of Tamil Nadu, and Kodagu and Dakshina Kannada districts of Karnataka. Due to Malayali expatriates in the Persian Gulf, the language is also widely spoken in Gulf countries.

Marathi language Indo-Aryan language

Marathi is an Indo-Aryan language spoken predominantly by around 83 million Marathi people of Maharashtra, India. It is the official language and co-official language in the Maharashtra and Goa states of Western India, respectively, and is one of the 22 scheduled languages of India. There were 83 million speakers in 2011; Marathi ranks 19th in the list of most spoken languages in the world. Marathi has the third largest number of native speakers in India, after Hindi & Bengali. Marathi has some of the oldest literature of all modern Indian languages, dating from about 900 AD. The major dialects of Marathi are Standard Marathi and the Varhadi dialect. Koli, Malvani Konkani has been heavily influenced by Marathi varieties.


The katar was created in India, [7] its earliest forms being closely associated with the 14th-century Vijayanagara Empire. [5] It may have originated with the mustika, a method of holding a dagger between the middle and index finger [8] still used in gatka today. A specific type of dagger might have been designed for this, as maustika is described vaguely as a "fist dagger" in the arsenal list of Abu'l-Fazl ibn Mubarak. [8] One of the most famous groups of early katar come from the Thanjavur Nayak kingdom of the 17th century. [4] [9] [5] [10] Katar dating back to this period often had a leaf- or shell-like knucklebow curving up from the top of the blade to protect the back of the hand. [8] This form is today sometimes called a "hooded katara" but the knuckleguard was discarded altogether by the later half of the 17th century. [11] As the weapon spread throughout the region it became something of a status symbol, much like the Southeast Asian kris or the Japanese katana. Princes and nobles were often portrayed wearing a katar at their side. This was not only a precaution for self-defense, but it was also meant to show their wealth and position. Upper-class Rajputs and Mughals would even hunt tigers with a pair of katar. For a hunter to kill a tiger with such a short-range weapon was considered the surest sign of bravery and martial skill. [5]

Vijayanagara Empire Hindu kingdom in Southern India (14th–17th century)

The Vijayanagara Empire was based in the Deccan Plateau region in South India. It was established in 1336 by Harihara I and his brother Bukka Raya I of Sangama Dynasty. The empire rose to prominence as a culmination of attempts by the southern powers to ward off Islamic invasions by the end of the 13th century. It lasted until 1646, although its power declined after a major military defeat in the Battle of Talikota in 1565 by the combined armies of the Deccan sultanates. The empire is named after its capital city of Vijayanagara, whose ruins surround present day Hampi, now a World Heritage Site in Karnataka, India. The writings of medieval European travelers such as Domingo Paes, Fernão Nunes, and Niccolò Da Conti, and the literature in local languages provide crucial information about its history. Archaeological excavations at Vijayanagara have revealed the empire's power and wealth.


Gatka is the name of an Indian martial art associated with the Sikhs of the Punjab region, and with the Tanoli(Pathan Tribe) and Gujjar communities residing in mountainous regions of northern Pakistan who practice an early variant of the martial art. It is a style of stick fighting, with wooden sticks intended to simulate swords. The Punjabi name gatka properly refers to the wooden stick used. The word originates as a diminutive of Sanskrit gada "mace".

Abul-Fazl ibn Mubarak vizier

Shaikh Abu al-Fazal ibn Mubarak also known as Abu'l-Fazl, Abu'l Fadl and Abu'l-Fadl 'Allami was the Grand vizier of the Mughal emperor Akbar, and author of the Akbarnama, the official history of Akbar's reign in three volumes, and a Persian translation of the Bible. He was also one of the Nine Jewels of Akbar's royal court and the brother of Faizi, the poet laureate of emperor Akbar.

Modern katar designs may include single-shot pistols built into either side of the weapon. In the 18th century, some traditional katar were refurbished with this innovation. The pistols are meant to deal the killing blow after the weapon has been thrust into the enemy. The katar ceased to be in common use by the 19th century, though they were still forged for decorative purposes. During the 18th and 19th century, a distinctive group of katar were produced at Bundi in Rajasthan. They were ornately crafted and their hilts were covered in gold foil. These katar were shown at the Great Exhibition of 1851 in Crystal Palace, London. Since then, the weapon has sometimes been mistakenly referred to in English as a "Bundi dagger".

Rajasthan State in India

Rajasthan is a state in northern India. The state covers an area of 342,239 square kilometres (132,139 sq mi) or 10.4 percent of the total geographical area of India. It is the largest Indian state by area and the seventh largest by population. Rajasthan is located on the northwestern side of India, where it comprises most of the wide and inhospitable Thar Desert and shares a border with the Pakistani provinces of Punjab to the northwest and Sindh to the west, along the Sutlej-Indus river valley. Elsewhere it is bordered by five other Indian states: Punjab to the north; Haryana and Uttar Pradesh to the northeast; Madhya Pradesh to the southeast; and Gujarat to the southwest.

The Crystal Palace Former building originally in Hyde Park, London, 1854 relocated to Bromley, South London

The Crystal Palace was a cast-iron and plate-glass structure originally built in Hyde Park, London, to house the Great Exhibition of 1851. The exhibition took place from 1 May until 15 October 1851, and more than 14,000 exhibitors from around the world gathered in its 990,000 square feet (92,000 m2) exhibition space to display examples of technology developed in the Industrial Revolution. Designed by Joseph Paxton, the Great Exhibition building was 1,851 feet (564 m) long, with an interior height of 128 feet (39 m). It was three times the size of St Paul's Cathedral.


The basic katar has a short, wide, triangular blade. Its peculiarity lies in the handle which is made up of two parallel bars connected by two or more cross-pieces, one of which is at the end of the side bars and is fastened to the blade. The remainder forms the handle which is at right angle to the blade. Some handles have long arms extending across the length of the user's forearm. The handle is generally of all-steel construction and is forged in one piece together with the blade.

The blade, typically measuring 30–90 cm (12–35 in) in length, is usually cut with a number of fullers. Most katar have straight blades, but in south India they are commonly wavy. [5] South Indian blades are often made broad at the hilt and taper in straight lines to the point, and elaborately ribbed by grooves parallel to the edges. Occasionally the blades are slightly curved, making them suited for slashing attacks. Some blades are forked into two points, which would later develop into the scissors katar.

South India Group of Southern Indian states

South India is the area including the five Indian states of Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Telangana, as well as the three union territories of Lakshadweep, Andaman and Nicobar Islands and Puducherry, occupying 19% of India's area. Covering the southern part of the peninsular Deccan Plateau, South India is bounded by the Bay of Bengal in the east, the Arabian Sea in the west and the Indian Ocean in the south. The geography of the region is diverse with two mountain ranges–the Western and Eastern Ghats, bordering the plateau heartland. Godavari, Krishna, Kaveri, Tungabhadra and Vaigai rivers are important non-perennial sources of water. Chennai, Bangalore, Hyderabad, Trivandrum, Coimbatore, Visakhapatnam, Madurai and Kochi are the largest urban areas.

The force of a katar thrust could be so great that many blades were thickened at the point to prevent them from bending or breaking. This also strengthened their use against mail. All katar with thickened tips are commonly described as "armour-piercing", but it is likely that only narrow and slender blades made this function possible. Such a weapon was capable of piercing textile, mail, and even plate armor. This quality was preferred for warfare, where an opponent was more likely to be armor-clad, as opposed to single combat.

The Indian nobility often wore ornamental katar as a symbol of their social status. The hilts may be covered in enamel, gems, or gold foil. Similarly, figures and scenes were chiselled onto the blade. Sheaths, generally made from watered steel, were sometimes pierced with decorative designs. The heat and moisture of India's climate made steel an unsuitable material for a dagger sheath, so they were covered in fabric such as velvet or silk. Some katar served as a sheath to fit one or two smaller ones inside.


Because the katar's blade is in line with the user's arm, the basic attack is a direct thrust identical to a punch, although it could also be used for slashing. This design allows the fighter to put their whole weight into a thrust. Typical targets include the head and upper body, similar to boxing. The sides of the handle could be used for blocking but it otherwise has little defensive capability. As such, the wielder must be agile enough to dodge the opponent's attacks and strike quickly, made possible because of the weapon's light weight and small size. Indian martial arts in general make extensive use of agility and acrobatic maneuvers. As far back as the 16th century, there was at least one fighting style which focused on fighting with a pair of katar, one in each hand. [5]

Aside from the basic straight thrust, other techniques include the reverse flipped pierce, inwards side slashing, outwards side slashing, cobra coiled thrust, and tiger claw pierce performed by jumping towards the opponent.

See also

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