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Old 16th May 2007, 01:28 PM   #1
Jens Nordlunde
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Default Jamdhar/katar why do we call it a katar?

When reading in Arms and Jewellery of the Indian Mughuls by Abdul Aziz, i found something interesting. He shows a plate from A’in-i-Akbari and gives the names of the weapons shown on the plate, and later in the book he gives a description of the different weapons. There are several funny things here, but what especially caught my attention were two things. In the text below the author accepts what Blochmann choose to call the weapons, not what they wee called on the drawing, although this name, no doubt, was written to the same time the drawing was made – the name on the drawing could of course be wrong, but I find it difficult to believe. One of the other things, which caught my eye were number five and eleven. Number five is what we would call a katar and the Indians a jamdhar, but number eleven is called a katara. The difference is not in the hilt, but in the blade, as the blade of the katara is slimmer and curved, but the blade of the jamdhar is straight. We must remember that in India a ‘katar’ is called by many names, according to the number if blades, curved or straight and so on, so maybe the European who ‘invented’ the name ‘katar’ saw all daggers with the same hilt, as the same kind of weapon – a katar, and not as different daggers like the Indians did; much like we do with the swords – a sword with a tulwar hilt is a tulwar, no matter what the blade looks like.

Could it be, that someone asked an Indian with a curved 'katar' what his dagger was called, and was told it was a katara. Not noticing the curved blade, the someone thought all daggers with such a hilt were called katara.

(1) Shamshir, (2) Khanda, (3-4) Gupti ‘asa and sheath, (5) Jamdhar, (6) Khanjar, (7) Jamkhak (according to Blockmann; name in plate therefore wrong), (8) Bank, (9) Janbwa (name in plate wrong again), (10) Narsingh-moth (so in Blochmann; in plate the name is pesh-qabz), (11) Katara, (12) Kaman (bow), (13) Takhsh-kaman (small bow) and arrow, (14) Tarkash (quiver), (15) Paikan-kash (arrow-drawer).
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Old 19th May 2007, 03:25 PM   #2
Jim McDougall
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This is indeed a most interesting topic brought up by Jens, the terminology applied to these weapons, and how semantics and transliteration have undoubtedly confounded the proper terms for many of them. I think the idea of variation in terms used for katars with curved blades as opposed to those with the typical straight blades seems quite plausible.
I think the term 'katara' has a much more general application, though even that idea is vaguely applied. In regions of what is now Nuristan, the Kalash carry a dagger with hilt similar to the khanjhar (#6) shown here, without the closed knuckleguard, and these are termed locally 'katara'.

I have always considered interesting that the Persian 'quaddara' and the Omani 'kattara' seem to have thier terms so closely associated to the term for these daggers.

The term katar it would seem, and I emphasize I am no linguist, possibly to be diminutive of the kattara term?

Then there is the much discussed application of the term jhamdhar or jemadhar as argued by Pant to be the correct term for the 'katar'. He claims that the term became misapplied inadvertantly by Egerton in his work.

I always find discussions on the katar fascinating as it is truly one of the anomolies of ethnographic edged weapons, not only in its origins and development, but as shown here, even the term it is called by.

I do hope others will share thier observations as well.

All best regards,
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Old 25th May 2007, 06:23 AM   #3
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In Hindi (and Nepali), the word is spelled as kaTaar (see transcription key), and seems to derive from (an unattested) Old Indo-Aryan/'Sanskrit' word *karttaara-. It seems to simply mean 'knife, dagger'. The root it derives from ultimately means 'to cut', and there are other related words with meanings like 'scissors' (e.g. Hindi kaatii 'goldsmith's scissors', Assamese kaatii 'scissors'). It's a bit strange that it's from a root of 'to cut', since I don't think of katars as generally being much use in cutting, but the sense may have generalised to 'knife', and then been applied to anything knife-like.

I think 'katara' is a red-herring. The devanagari orthography used for languages like Hindi, Nepali is a bit ambiguous in a few cases. The spelling kaTaar could in theory be pronounced either as kaTaar or kaTaara, and certainly in transcription might often be represented as 'katara'.
In any case, 'katar' could not be a diminuitive of 'katara' as far as I know, as Indo-Aryan diminuitives are actually formed by additional suffixes, or by changing vowels (usually -aa to -ii, i.e. masculine to feminine - e.g. Hindi rassaa 'rope', rassii 'string'). In other words the diminuitive of *karttaara is *karttaarii, and it is from this latter (diminuitive) root that words for 'scissors' are formed: e.g. Assamese kaatii (cited above), Gujarati kaat, kaatar 'scissors', etc.

So I don't know if 'katar' is correctly applied to the type of weapon it is often applied to in the West. My Hindi dictionary simply defines kaTaar as 'a dagger'. It seems it could be a case of overspecialisation of a term due to a misunderstanding by a Westerner. A bit like if someone pointed at a table knife and asked 'what's that called in English' and was told 'knife', but then restricted the meaning of 'knife' only to table-knives.

That said, the phrase kaTaar utaarnaa means in Hindi 'to stab with a dagger', which recalls the normal use of a katar. So perhaps the term became specialised indigenously and isn't just a European mistake. (plus a word can of course be used in both specialised and non-specialised ways, e.g. my wife, who is Nepalese, can use the term 'khukuri' to apply specifically to khukuris, but on occasion also just uses it to mean '(sharp) knife' in general).
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Old 25th May 2007, 09:35 PM   #4
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Hi Beoram,
Beautifully written and well thought out post! I think your observation on the association between katar and katara is nicely supported and I am inclined to agree with the red herring comment!
I think your explanations linguistically on the application of these terms is excellent and provides the kind of perspective that really helps in the study of these weapons. Thank you very much !
All the best,
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Old 8th February 2009, 09:38 PM   #5
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Default Egerton's error?

Hi, I came across your excellent site whilst doing some research and wondered if you would be interested to know that I have been led to believe that the initial error was GC Stone's as he states in 'A Glossary of the Construction, Decoration' etc.(from my notes, I don't have a copy in front of me) that "Jamdhar Katari ...under this name Egerton figures the Kafirs of the Hindu Kush" (pg. 314)
However in 'The Arms and Armour of India' Egerton places Jamdhar Katari as Nepalese weapons.
Stone also mentions the British Museum Handbook which shows a Katir of the Hindu Kush, and the error has apparently led to much confusion between two daggers which only have a similarity.
What do you think?
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Old 8th February 2009, 10:10 PM   #6
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Old 8th January 2014, 08:02 AM   #7
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Originally Posted by Help
However in 'The Arms and Armour of India' Egerton places Jamdhar Katari as Nepalese weapons.

Even funnier: Egerton's plate of Nepalese weapons has a picture of a typical Ottoman yataghan.

I think he grouped the weapons according to the place where he or his agents bought them. Had he managed to buy a Balinese Keris that somehow found its way to Afghanistan, we still might have argued about its true origin :-)

Well, he spent literally only a couple of years in India as a tourist and did not have Stone or suchlike as his reference book:-) Forgivable errors of a novice collector. Pity it acquired a patina of authority.
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