Bhutanese sword | Mandarin Mansion

Bhutanese sword

Overall length: 78.6 cm / 30.9 inch
Blade length: 65 cm / 25.6 inch
Thickness: forte 7 mm, middle 5 mm
Blade width: forte 39 mm, middle 38 mm
Weight: 833 grams

The Himalayan plateau has a long history of iron production. The world's first iron suspension bridges were in this region, built with chains by Thangtong Gyalpo in eastern Bhutan in the 15th century. According to local stories, many smiths lead a traveling life, moving from town to town to produce knives, swords and other iron products for the locals before moving on. They used caves to refine their ore and make the sword and some caves used by famous smiths were later declared as sacred.

The patag was worn by local chiefs and dignitaries. It was a symbol of power and bravery. The blades often exhibit strong Tibetan influence, showing the hairpin folding that is so characteristic of weapons made in the Tibetan cultural sphere. Instead of the method typical across Asia, including China and Japan, where a high carbon edge plate is inserted in-between a laminate of milder iron and steel, the hairpin method is a stacked construction where layers are stacked on each other from the edge to the back of the blade. These layers are clearly visible from the side, showing the characteristic hairpin pattern such as on this example. The reason, presumably, is that with the low levels of oxygen on the Tibetan plateau the ovens couldn't be fired up as hot as they could on lower lands. This made it hard to forge-weld large surfaces to each other, which would be necessary in conventional forge folding. The hairpin construction instead required less metal to be forge welded to each other while it still results in a blade with a hard edge protected by softer, shock absorbing layers.

A Bhutanese patag with a very good blade, still sharp, exhibiting nice activity such as a prominent hairpin folding and a layered edge plate. With its 833 grams, it is not just a chieftain's showpiece. It's a hefty blade that lies well in the hand, and it can deliver a heavy strike. Usually the handles of these are wrapped with silver-wire. This one instead is covered with ray-skin, a rather exotic material at the time for a landlocked kingdom that averaged around 2400 meters above sea level. In-between the ray-skin there are bands of finely knotted cord to provide extra grip. The bronze pommel, of typical form with flattened octagonal cross-section, exhibits honeycomb openwork on one site and floral scrollwork on the other side. The wooden scabbard covered on both sides in sheet brass, chased with a four-sided vajra at the suspension ring and decorative bands on four places. In the middle is a piece of rawhide, shrunk with age.

A group of Bhutanese chiefs of Tibetan origin. Circa 1860's. Note the patag in his hand.

By Kaye, John William, Sir, 1814-1876; Taylor, Meadows, 1808-1876; Watson, J. Forbes (John Forbes), 1827-1892. [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.

A nice representative example of an early Bhutanese patag with heavy, well-forged blade that shows lots of activity. A good addition to any ethnographic arms collection.


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