A fabled sword found in the private bedchamber of 18th century Mysore ruler Tipu Sultan has broken all auction records for an Indian object for Bonhams in London by fetching over GBP 14 million at its Islamic and Indian Art sale this week.
The sword, from Tipu Sultan’s reign between 1782 and 1799, is described as a fine gold koftgari hilted steel sword referred to as sukhela – an emblem of authority. It was found in the private apartments of Tipu Sultan and presented to Major General David Baird by the Army of the East India Company as a “token of their high esteem of his courage and conduct in the assault” which resulted in the killing of Tipu Sultan – known as the Tiger of Mysore.
"This spectacular sword is the greatest of all the weapons linked to Tipu Sultan still in private hands,” said Oliver White, Bonhams' Head of Islamic and Indian Art and auctioneer, in a statement ahead of the sale on Tuesday.
“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," he said.
The sword had a guide price between GBP 1,500,000 and 2,000,000 but went on to surpass that estimate to fetch GBP 14,080,900.
“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. We are delighted with the result," said Nima Sagharchi, Group Head of Islamic and Indian Art.
According to historians, of the many weapons removed from the palace of Tipu Sultan after the fall of his royal stronghold at Seringapatam in May 1799, few have such resonance or such a close connection to Tipu Sultan. Unquestionably part of Tipu's own arsenal, the bedchamber sword is dubbed among the finest and most important of weapons with a proven personal association with the ruler.
"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. I am so thrilled for our teams that worked so hard to deliver this result," said Bruno Vinciguerra, CEO of Bonhams.
As described by Francis Buchanan in his on-the-spot account of India from the time, a sword lay within reach of Tipu Sultan while he slept. On constant alert against attack, Tipu Sultan slept in a hammock suspended from the ceiling of his locked and bolted bedchamber with a pair of pistols and this sword by his side.
The weapon itself is of "exceptional" quality, with the blade inscribed “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 exquisitely executed gold calligraphy with the qualities of God and invocations calling on God by name.
Tipu Sultan famously 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 until Major General led the company’s soldiers to end a month-long siege of Seringapatam with the killing of the ruler on May 4, 1799.
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