Tipu Sultan's sword fetches $24m at Bonhams

Tipu Sultan's fabled bedchamber sword (right) sold for £14 million ($24 million) at Bonhams Islamic and Indian Art sale in London on Tuesday. This is a new auction world record for an Indian and Islamic object.

Ms Nima Sagharchi, group head of Islamic and Indian Art at Bonhams, said: "The sword has an extraordinary history, an astonishing provenance and unrivalled craftsmanship. It was no surprise it was so hotly contested between two phone bidders and a bidder in the room."

Of the many weapons removed from the palace of Tipu Sultan after the fall of his royal stronghold at Seringapatam in India on May 4, 1799, few have such resonance nor such a close connection to the Ruler of Mysore than the Bedchamber Sword.

As described by Francis Buchanan in his on-the-spot account describing Tipu's palace immediately after the British siege, a sword lay within reach of the Sultan while he slept.

On constant alert against attack, Tipu slept in a hammock suspended from the ceiling of his locked and bolted bedchamber with a pair of pistols and a sword by his side.

The weapon is of exceptional quality, its blade inscribed with the words "The Sword of the Ruler". It was manufactured by Mughal swordsmiths following the model of German blades introduced to India in the 16th century. The hilt is inlaid in gold calligraphy with five of the qualities of God and two invocations calling on God by name.

Speaking before the sale, Oliver White, Bonhams Head of Islamic and Indian Art, said: "This spectacular sword is the greatest of all the weapons linked to Tipu Sultan still in private hands.

"Its close personal association with the Sultan, its impeccable provenance traceable to the very day it was captured, and the outstanding craftsmanship that went into its manufacture make it unique and highly desirable."

The sword was presented to Major General David Baird by the British army "as a token of their high esteem of his courage and conduct in the assault which he commanded and in which Tipu Sultan was slain".

Baird led the soldiers on May 4 which ended the month-long siege of Seringapatam.

Tipu Sultan (1751-1799) succeeded his father as the ruler of the kingdom of Mysore in 1782. He earned the sobriquet Tiger of Mysore from the ferocity with which he defended his kingdom.

He pioneered the use of rocket artillery in wars both against neighbouring states and also the East Indian Company of which he was an implacable opponent.

His reign was also characterised by the introduction of a new calendar and coinage system and other administrative and financial reforms which built on the work of his father and he transformed Mysore into the most dynamic economy in India.

Bonhams CEO Bruno Vinciguerra said: "This is one of the most astonishing objects Bonhams has had the privilege of bringing to auction. It is a stupendous price for a stupendous piece."

Indo-Asian News Service


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