By: Chandrashekar Bhat
The bedchamber sword of an 18th-century ruler of a south Indian kingdom has been sold for a record £14 million at Bonhams Islamic and Indian Art sale in London.
The weapon had been retrieved from Tipu Sultan’s palace after he had died in Srirangapatna vainly trying to defend the kingdom of Mysore against the East India Company’s army in 1799.
According to historical accounts, the sword which lay within reach of the ruler while he slept, was found in his private quarters after his death. It was presented to major general David Baird in recognition of his courage in leading the final assault on Tipu’s capital.
Bonhams on Tuesday (23) said the final sale price, which far exceeded the estimate of £1.5m-£2m, was a new auction world record for an Indian and Islamic object.
With ‘The Sword of the Ruler’ inscribed in Persian on its steel blade, the weapon was of “exceptional quality”, the London-based auctioneer said.
It was made by Mughal swordsmiths in line with the model of German blades introduced to India in the 16th century. The hilt was ornamented in gold calligraphy “with five of the qualities of God and two invocations calling on God by name” inscribed on it, Bonhams said.
Nima Sagharchi, Group Head of Islamic and Indian art, said three bidders – two on the phone and one in the room – “hotly” vied for the weapon of “unrivalled craftsmanship”.
Bonham’s chief executive Bruno Vinciguerra said the sword was “one of the most astonishing objects” his company had brought to auction.
Born near Bengaluru in 1751, Tipu succeeded his father Hyder Ali as the ruler of Mysore in 1782 and had the sobriquet ‘Tiger of Mysore’. The ruler pioneered the use of rocket artillery in wars both against neighbouring states and the East India Company.
His reign was also characterised by the introduction of a new calendar, coinage and a new land revenue system, according to historians.