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The many swords of Shivaji: Searching for a weapon, finding a nation

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  05 February 2024

Andrew Halladay*
Department of History, Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, Maryland, United States of America


Since at least the nineteenth century, the Maratha warrior-king Shivaji (r. 1674–80) has served as a central symbol in Indian politics. This article interrogates his legacy through the lens of his famous sword, the Bhavani Talvar. At least three swords have been identified as this weapon since the nineteenth century; by analysing each of these claims in turn, I consider how the discourse around Shivaji’s sword(s) traces the evolving legacy of Shivaji himself. Interested less in the historical merits of these claims than in the socio-political work they perform, I seek to uncover why the last of these three, now in London, has become essentially synonymous with the Bhavani Talvar in the popular sphere. Ultimately, I attribute this preference to the object’s political resonance: supposedly given to the Prince of Wales by a descendant of Shivaji in 1875, the object has been a rallying cry for Indian politicians of diverse ideological persuasions, who, in demanding its return, have sought to position themselves as the heirs to Shivaji and the healers of a nation still ailing from colonial wounds.

Research Article
© The Author(s), 2024. Published by Cambridge University Press.

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1 Kafka, F., ‘The new advocate’, in The complete short stories, (trans) Willa, and Muir, Edwin (New York: Schocken Books Inc., 1971), p. Google Scholar. The original German reads: ‘Schon damals waren Indiens Tore unerreichar, aber ihre Richtung war durch das Königsschwert bezeichnet.’

2 The ‘I’ represents ‘Indira’, denoting an opposition faction within Congress formed in 1978 by Indira Gandhi and her allies after their electoral losses the previous year. By 1984, this branch would gain recognition as the legitimate Congress Party. For the formation of Congress (I), see Jayakar, Pupul, Indira Gandhi: A biography (New Delhi: Penguin Books, 1995), pp. 181183.Google Scholar

3 His margins exceeded even the 82 per cent at which he had been polling, according to ‘Record of a Conversation between the Minister of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs and Mr Antulay and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office at 3.15 pm on 1 December’, in FCO 37/2331, the National Archives, Kew, London. This same source describes Antulay winning 89 per cent of the vote, but The Times of India reports him having won 72,897 out of 84,214 valid votes cast, or 86.6 per cent. As in most other parliamentary systems, Antulay was not contesting the position of chief minister directly, but rather his position in the state assembly. ‘Antulay scores record win: All rivals trounced’, Times of India (henceforth TOI), 24 November 1980.

4 ‘Antulay confident of getting the sword’, Free Press Bulletin, 3 December 1980.

5 ‘Why does Antulay need the sword?’, Free Press Journal, 6 December 1980.

6 ‘I’ll bring back Shivaji’s sword: Modi’, TOI, 11 September 2007. The media speculated that Modi was courting the state’s Marathi-speakers ahead of the legislative assemblies and, indeed, it was to a gathering of this community that he addressed his remarks in Surat. But at the same time, his appeal to Shivaji cannot be so neatly circumscribed. Modi must at some level have envisioned all of Gujarat as his audience and even looked ahead to the national spotlight into which he was no doubt considering an entrance. For more on Modi’s campaign to return Varma’s remains to Mandvi (Kutch district), see ‘PM Modi pays tributes to freedom fighter Shyamji Krishna Varma’, The Hindu, 30 March 2022.

7 A recent tradition, articulated most prominently by Babasaheb Purandare, a writer, playwright, and popular historian, maintains that Shivaji owned three swords ‘named Bhawani, Jagdamba and Tulja’. (See a reference in ‘Desperately seeking Shivaji’s sword’, TOI, 2 July 2002.) Though these names have referred to Shivaji’s sword(s) at various times, there has not been a consistent, one-to-one correspondence, and multiple names have often denoted the same object. The London sword, for instance, has been referred to as the ‘Jagadamba Bhavani sword’ by a British official (Geoffrey de Bellaigue to Amol Desai, St James’s Palace, 11 April 1980, in FCO 37/2331) and the sword purportedly given to Shivaji by the Sawant clan—leaving aside whether it is the same one as the London sword—has been called the ‘Tulja Bhawani’ (N. S. Pande, ‘The Bhawani Talwar: A sword and its mystique’, Nagpur Times, 5 December 1980). Much of the confusion stems from the fact that these names each refer to the mother goddess and can be understood as aspects of the same deity. The goddess Jagdamba, for instance, is often equated with Bhavani, especially in Maharashtra, where the names Bhavani and Tulja can be used interchangeably or even in conjunction with one another (i.e. ‘Tulja Bhavani’). For more on the veneration of Tulja Bhavani, see Kiran A. Shinde, ‘Re-scripting the legends of Tuḷjā Bhavānī: Texts, performances, and new media in Maharashtra’, International Journal of Hindu Studies, vol. 17, no. 3, December 2013, pp. 313–337.

8 This interest in the material legacy of Shivaji manifested, as we will see, in the often state-sponsored upkeep of his various forts and in the increased attention given to his letters. Jadunath Sarkar was reticent to accept the legitimacy of these letters, arguing that, ‘No piece of writing in his own hand is known to exist.’ Referring to one possible instance, Sarkar argues that the document ‘has not yet been critically examined by any expert or independent historian. These very recent “discoveries” in Maharashtra require corroboration before they can be accepted.’ Sarkar, Jadunath, Shivaji and his times (Calcutta: M. C. Sarkar and Sons, 1919), p. Google Scholar. I am grateful to the anonymous reviewer for reminding me of the importance of Shivaji’s letters as objects of popular and scholarly interest during this time.

Tvaṃ yadā vāsudevo’bhūstadāhaṃ nandamandire |
tridivāttava sāhāyyavidhānārthamavātaram ||
Idānīmapi daityāre vimucya Tulajāpuram |
Upetāsmīti jānīhi sāhāyyāyaiva te svayam ||
Yathājātena Kaṃsena yathāhamavamānitā |
pūrvaṃ tathādhunaitenāpyavaśātāsi pāpmanā ||
Vidhinā vihito’styasya mṛtyustvatpāṇināmunā |
atastiṣṭhāmi bhūtvāhaṃ kṛpāṇī bhūmaṇe tava ||
Vyāharantīti Śarvāṇī tatkṛapāṇīmavīviśat |
asau jāgradavastho’pi tatsvapnamavamanyata ||

Kavīndra, Paramānanda, Śrīśivabhārata, (ed.) Mahādev Divekar, Sadāśiv (Poona: Sekreṭarī Śrī Gaṇeś Priṇṭing Varks, 1927 [1849]), pp. 193194Google Scholar. The clever title of this text encourages us to read ‘Bhārata’ both as the vowel-strengthened (vṛiddhi) form of the mythological figure ‘Bharata’ and the land his clan would populate, i.e. India. The first reading evokes the title of the Mahabharata (the ‘Great [epic of the] Bharata [Clan]’) and positions Paramānanda’s work in its shadow. The second—‘the India of Shiva[ji]’—gestures towards Shivaji’s territorial and political ambitions. James Laine has pointed out that some versions of the Śivabhārata include the title Śuryavaṃśa Anupurāṇa, which, as he states, nods both to Shivaji’s claims to kṣatriya status and to another well-known mahākāvya, Kalidasa’s Raghuvamśa. See James W. Laine and S. S. Bahulkar (trans. and ed.), The epic of Shivaji: Kavindra Paramananda’s Śivabhārata (New Delhi: Orient Longman, 2001), p. 9. The title may be a model for similarly named late Sanskrit epics written on Shivaji, notably Ambikādatta Vyāsa’s Śivarājavijaya (The Victory of King Shiva[ji]) written during the latter part of the nineteeth century. For more on Śivarājavijaya and its social and political significance, see Halladay, Andrew, ‘“India has utterly changed”: Shivaji and modernity in a colonial Sanskrit novel’, in The life of contemporary Sanskrit: Dialogues between tradition and modernity, dialogues in South Asian traditions. Vol. 9, (eds) Patton, Laurie, Black, Brian and Ram-Prasad, Chakravarthi (London: Routledge, forthcoming).Google Scholar

10 The composition history for the Śivabhārata is not entirely clear, in part because the text is almost certainly incomplete. James Laine, in introducing the translation he prepared with S. S. Bahulkar, argues that the sections of the text that recount Shivaji’s exploits from 1677–1679 are in all likelihood the work of a later poet, probably at the court of Shivaji’s son and immediate successor, Sambhaji, and that the text proper was composed during Shivaji’s own lifetime and ends with a description of a military campaign in 1661. Laine and Bahulkar, The Epic of Shivaji, p. 10. A very similar episode to the one described in the Śivabhārata features in the Śabhāsad Bakhar, a Marathi text that is likely to have been contemporaneous with Shivaji himself. For an English translation of the relevant episode, see Ananta Sabhāsada, Kṛshṇāji, Śiva Chhatrapati, being a translation of Sabhāsad Bakhar, with extracts from Chiṭṇīs and Śivadigvijaya, (ed. and trans.) Sen, Surendranath (Calcutta: The University of Calcutta, 1920), pp. 911Google Scholar. A significant difference is that here Bhavani only appears to Shivaji but does not enter his sword. In the episode in which Shivaji prepares to meet another adversary, Shaista Khan, the Śabhāsad Bakhar describes Bhavani herself as entering Shivaji’s body. Sabhāsada, Śiva Chhatrapati, p. 42.

11 As David R. Kinsley has observed, the worship of a goddess in the form of a sword has precedent in Hindu texts, particularly in the Devībhāgavat Purāṇa. See Kinsley, D. R., Hindu goddesses: Visions of the divine feminine in the Hindu religious tradition (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1986), p. .Google Scholar

12 Many versions of this encounter exist in historical sources. An old, but still highly valuable, cross-referencing of the various Persian and Marathi sources can be found in Karkaria, R. P., Pratapgad Fort and the episode of Shivaji and Afzal Khan told from the original Mahratta chronicles (Poona: Arya Bhushana Press, 1896).Google Scholar

13 The weapon now more commonly associated with this episode is the vāgh-nakh (Marathi) or bāgh-nakh (Hindi-Urdu)—the ‘tiger claw’—a metal device worn over the knuckles and concealed under a garment or within the palm. As the name suggests, the weapon’s four or five blades resemble the claws of a large cat.

14 Although Paramānanda does not use the name ‘Bhavani’ to refer to the sword, P. K. Gode cites its appearance (possibly the earliest on record) in a 1685 work of another poet, Hari Kavi, who praised the use of the sword by Shivaji’s son Sambhaji. If the dating and reading of the text is accurate, then the symbolic importance of the Bhavani Talvar held traction even shortly after Shivaji’s death. See P. K. Gode, ‘Hari Kavi’s contribution to the problem of the Bhavani sword of Shivaji the Great’, New Indian Antiquary, June 1940, pp. 81–100, esp. 94–95.

15 Bhavani is occasionally equated with a more local goddess, Shivai, the tutelary deity of Shivaji’s family after whom he was probably named. Shivai—whose name suggests a feminine form of Shiva—is, like Bhavani, often regarded as an expression of Parvati. Despite her close association with Shivaji, however, only rarely is she venerated directly. The most prominent site associated with her specifically is a small temple in Shivneri Fort, near Junnar, the location of Shivaj’s birthplace and the traditional site of her meeting with him. Less prominent temples to her also exist, such as the Siddhivinayak Temple in Siddhatek; for local legends regarding this second temple, see Balasubramanian, Lalitha, ‘Ashta Vinayak Yatra’, in Temples in Maharashtra: A travel guide (Chennai: Notion Press, 2017).Google Scholar

16 Vasant Deshmukh cites ‘the records of the Shilekhana of the Kolhapur Durbar’ for this information. V. Deshmukh, ‘“Bhavani” sword’, letter to the editor, Indian Express, 5 December 1980. The Kolhapur Archives have been unable to offer information on these documents. Kashiram Desai, a prominent advocate for the return of the London sword to India whom we will encounter later, suggests that the sword was given by the Portuguese general Alphonso de Albuquerque as friendly gesture to the Sawants, specifically to Desai’s own ancestor Sawant Desai. For more on his claims, see ‘Antulay bares his sword’, Current, 6 December 1980. Anthony Mascarenhas relates a similar but much less harmonious version in which Sawant Desai ambushes Albuquerque and takes his sword. A. Mascarenhas, ‘Why Mr Antulay is asking for the Queen’, Sunday Times, 7 [?] December 1980.

17 For a partial translation of the Śivadigvijaya, including the relevant section, see Sen (trans.), Śiva Chhatrapati, pp. 181–182. This source gives its value as 200 hons and relates that the Sawant chief had a dream advising him to secure Shivaji as an ally and thereby fortify his kingdom. For a version of the story in which Shivaji buys the sword from the Sawants for 300 hons, see, for one oft-cited example, Sakharam Sardesai, Govind, New history of the Marathas. Vol. 1: Shivaji and his line (Bombay: Karnatak Printing Press, 1946), p. .Google Scholar

18 The two legends share interesting parallels in both their evolution and their content. First, neither ascribes a miraculous origin to the sword in its earliest iterations: Shivaji does not acquire a new weapon in the Śivabhārata, and according to Geoffrey of Monmouth in 1136, Arthur ‘girds himself with a sword called Excalibur, made, so they say, with remarkable skill on the island of Avalon’ (accinctusque gladio nomine Caleburno, in insula Avallonis, ut aiunt, mira arte fabricato); see in Hammer, Jacob (ed.), Historia regum Britanniæ (Cambridge, MA: The Mediaeval Academy of America, 1951)Google Scholar, Book IX, Chapter II, p. 228. Magical associations with Avalon would appear only in later stages of Arthurian myth, such as in Sir Thomas Malory’s Le Morte d’Arthur, where a new sword (also called Excalibur) is given to Arthur by the Lady of the Lake in much the same way that a new, supernatural sword is given to Shivaji by Bhavani in later tellings of their encounter. Reminiscent of Bhavani, the Lady of the Lake—in all versions in which she appears—offers the sword on the condition that the hero kill a man who has dishonoured her. In Le Morte d’Arthur, this figure is not the evil Modred (as in later versions) but rather Sir Balin, who had killed her brother (vol. I:I, p. xxiii). That promise goes unfulfilled (vol. I:II, p. iii).

19 Versions in which Bhavani gives the sword to Shivaji, and the role of the Sawants is minimized or altogether omitted, are now so standard that they appear in reputable guidebooks like Michell, George, Southern India (New Delhi: Roli Books, 2012),Google Scholar but are notably absent in older guides like Mate, M. S., Temples and legends of Maharashtra (Bombay: Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, 1962)Google Scholar. The story itself nevertheless enjoyed wide currency by Mate’s time, appearing, for instance, in Munshi, K. M. and Diwakar, R. R. (eds), Pageant of great lives (Bombay: Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, 1964)Google Scholar. That Bhavani is now defined by this narrative even in academic references like Monaghan, Patricia, Encyclopedia of goddesses and heroines. Vol. I: Africa, Eastern Mediterranean, Asia (Santa Barbara, CA: Greenwood, 2010), p. Google Scholar, further illustrates the episode’s enduring appeal.

20 It is interesting to note the ease with which these various accounts can coeixst comfortably, as they do in a colourful article by a British-Dutch journalist, H. George Franks, in which he imagines conducting an interview with the ghost of Shivaji. In response to Frank’s question about him receiving the sword from Bhavani, Shivaji tells the more prosaic tale of how he acquired it from the Sawants; see George Franks, H., ‘Shivaji, the human king: A journalist’s interpretation of India’s greatest character’, in Shivaji souvenir, (ed.) Sardesai, G. S. (Bombay: Keshav Bhikaji Dhawale, 1927), pp. 9399Google Scholar. This capacious and malleable narrative tradition is especially notable in the context of the first decades of the twentieth century, a time when many aspects of the Shivaji legend became ossified in the public sphere.

21 In the case of Freud, I am referring to his characterization of melancholia (Melancholie) in his essay, Sigmund Freud, ‘Trauer und Melancholie’, in Studienausgabe, Bd. III: Psychologie des Unbewussten (Frankfurt: Fischer, 1975 [1917]), pp. 194–212; my understanding of nostalgia and Kant comes from his discussion of ‘the homesickness of the Swiss’ (Das Heimweh der Schweizer) in Immanuel Kant, Anthropologie in pragmatisher Hinsicht, with a foreword by J. F. Herbart (Leipzig: Immanuel Müller, 1833), pp. 84–85.

22 For more on Grant Duff and his relationship to Maratha history and the princely state of Satara, see Kulkarni, A. R., James Cuninghame Grant Duff: Administrator-historian of the Marathas (Kolkata: K. P. Bagchi and Co., 2006).Google Scholar

23 Grant Duff, James, A history of the Mahrattas, 3 vols (London: Longman, Rees, Orme, Brown, and Green, Paternoster-Row, 1826), vol. 1, p. .Google Scholar

24 Neither Khafi Khan nor Chitnis, two likely sources for Grant Duff, include events that closely follow those that Grant Duff describes. For the section in Chitnis pertaining to Shahu’s wedding, see Rāmrāv Ciṭṇīs, Malhār, Thorale Śāhū Mahārāja Yāṃceṃ Caritra, (ed.) Sāne, Kāśināth Nārāyaṇ (Pune: Dnānprakāś Press, 1893–1894 [Shaka year 1815]), pp. 45Google Scholar. For an English summary of the section, see Chatterjee, Indrani and Guha, Sumit, ‘Slave-queen, waif-prince: Slavery and social capital in eighteenth-century India’, The Indian Economic and Social History Review, vol. 36, no. 2, 1999, p. CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

25 Grant Duff, A history of the Mahrattas, vol. 1, p. 415.

26 Adjusted several times over the course of the empire, the manṣabdārī system was an elaborate institution through which government officials were ranked, duties were assigned, and services were remunerated. For more on Aurangzeb’s treatment of Shahu, see Chandra, Satish, Medieval India: From sultanat to the Mughals. Part Two: Mughal empire (1526–1748) (Delhi: Har Anand Publications, 2005), esp. pp. 346347Google Scholar, whose main source appears to be Khafi Khan. For the tensions that led Shivaji to reject Aurangzeb’s offer of government service, precipitating his legendary escape from Mughal captivity, see ibid., pp. 322–324.

27 Just as his milder treatment of Shahu served Aurangzeb’s political ends, the release of Shahu after his death was probably an attempt to stir instability among Maratha leaders, a point noted by Davies, C. C., ‘Rivalries in India’, in The new Cambridge modern history. Vol. VII: The old regime, 1713–63, (ed.) Lindsay, J. O. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1957), p. .Google Scholar

28 The second son of Shivaji, Rajaram I (r. 1689–1700), had been reigning as the successor of his half-brother, Sambhaji. Rajaram’s wife Tarabai assumed power after his death in the name of their son, Shivaji II, and was keen to retain it even after Shahu’s release from captivity.

29 Although styled Shivaji II in his capacity as ruler of the Maratha empire, he is typically referred to as Shivaji I of Kolhapur. Here and elsewhere in the Kolhapur line, however, the numbering of rulers is inconsistent; we shall see that Shivaji VI (r. 1871–1883), for instance, is often referred to in British correspondence as Shivaji IV.

30 Shahu and his descendants stood at the head of the Maratha empire, but de facto power lay with the peshwas, a line of Brahmin rulers that began with Balaji Vishwanath Bhat (r. 1713–1720).

31 For more on the establishment of Satara as a princely state—a project undertaken by a powerful administrator (and erstwhile governor) of the Bombay presidency, Mountstuart Elphinstone—see Kulkarni, Sumitra, The Satara Raj, 1818–1848: A study in history, administration, and culture (New Delhi: Mittal Publications, 1995).Google Scholar

32 D. B. Parasnis writes in or shortly before 1920 that ‘it is generally believed in Satara that the original Bhavâni was taken to Kolhapur by Târabai … and was there preserved for many years’. I have been unable to find textual evidence supporting this claim. As quoted in S. M. Edwardes, ‘Shivaji’s sword, “Bhavāni”’, The Indian Antiquary, no. 53, January 1924, p. 19.

33 Since the Satara and Kolhapur swords are not available for public view and the whereabouts of the Pudumjee sword is unclear, I have not been able to view them personally. The dimensions and description of the Satara sword I present here rely on the first-hand account of Parasnis, D. B., Satara: Brief notes (Bombay: Tukaram Javaji, 1909), p. Google Scholar; and a grainy photograph in S. L. Sharma (ed.), 300th anniversary of coronation [sic] of Chatrapati Shivaji Maharaj souvenir (New Delhi: The Foreign Window Publishing, 1974), p. 15 (see Figure 10). The features of the Kolhapur sword draw from several photographs included in British government records: ‘Photos of sword’, Francis Tell, Cultural Relations Department, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, in FCO 37/2331 (see Figure 3); a photograph in Bourne, Samuel, Prince of Wales Tour of India 1875–6. Vol. 5 (Calcutta: Bourne and Shepherd, 1876)Google Scholar, see ‘Sword hilt’ (see Figure 4); and a description and photograph in C. Purdon Clarke (ed.), Catalogue of the collection of Indian arms and objects of art presented by the princes and nobles of India to H.R.H. the Prince of Wales (London: India Office, 1898), no. 201 (see Figure 9). I have been unable to find an official source stating a precise length of the Kolhapur blade. S. Almaula writes that it is ‘a little more than 3 feet’, though she is summarizing an article in The Maharashtra Times; see S. Almaula, 8 December 1980, in FCO 37/2331. A more precise measurement of 38.5 inches appears in Shailendra Ghorpade, ‘The elusive Bhavani’s [sic] sword’, Mid-Day, 4 December 1980, but does not cite a source. The descriptions and measurements of that sword come primarily from H. George Franks, ‘Shivaji and his swords’, The Illustrated Weekly of India, April 1929, and a grainy photograph included in Pudumjee, Bomonjee D., Notes on the subject of Shivaji’s sword (Bombay: Charni Road, 1929), p. Google Scholar (see Figures 5 and 6).

34 The defeat of the peshwas who headed the Maratha empire meant several, potentially contradictory, things for the royal family of Satara. On the one hand, the relationship between the peshwas and Satara had deteriorated so much that the defeat of a political rival could signal a political opportunity. It would be reductive, however, to suggest—as many colonial sources do—that the defeat of the peshwas meant straightforward liberation for Satara, whose rulers were after all now answerable to their new British overlords. It is also important to note that the East India Company attacked Satara during this time, though some sources aligned with the British military reinterpret this campaign as further proof of liberation. Consider the version of events as related by Major B. D. Basu, Story of Satara (Calcutta: Modern Review Office, Calcutta), p. 19:

So when they went to Satara, the British force under the command of General Lionel Smith made a show of conquering the place by firing a few shells at the fort which were of course never returned; and then hoisting the British flag for some time afterwards replacing it by that of the Satara Raja. Thus the British made it appear that they had conquered Satara, but that they were so generous as to have made a free gift of it to the Raja of Satara!

35 Grant Duff, A history of the Mahrattas, vol. 1, p. 298. Though elsewhere Grant Duff repeats his assertion that the sword is in the raja’s possession (ibid., p. 415), it is interesting that he also alludes to another, now marginalized, tradition concerning its whereabouts. In Raigarh, he writes, ‘The Brahmins in charge … have an effigy [of Shivaji], and the real sword of Sivajee, whose body, by their account, lies buried there.’ Ibid., p. 298.

36 Ibid., p. 298, n. 334. In some contexts the term seems to refer either to a Genoese knife (a kind of dagger) or to a Genoese naval boarding sword, both of which were in use during Shivaji’s time and afterwards. The modest size and limited utility of the former makes it an unlikely option for Shivaji to wield or for his descendants to associate with him. The latter is more plausible but does not align with Grant Duff’s description of the object: whereas a typical boarding sword of this type extends about 60 cm and is double-edged, the current specimen is single-edged and nearly twice that length. Grant Duff may be referring to some other style of sword but it is more likely that he is simply reproducing local lore regarding the blade’s origin. For more on the Genoese knife, see Gelli, Jacopo, Guida del raccoglitore e dell’amatore di armi antiche (Milan: Libraio della Real Casa, 1900), pp. 160161Google Scholar; and Laura, Roberto, Das Schwert des Volkes: Geschichte, Kultur und Methodik des traditionellen, italienischen Messerkampfes (Hamburg: tredition GmbH, 2015)Google Scholar, p. ‘10.2.1 Genua’.

37 See Temple, Richard, ‘On the geography of the birthplace and cradle of the Mahratta empire’, Proceedings of the Royal Geographical Society and Monthly Record of Geography, vol. 4, no. 8, August 1882, p. CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Francis Burton, Richard, The book of the sword (London: Chatto and Windus, 1884), p. Google Scholar, where he writes that it is ‘a Genoa blade of great length and fine temper’; and Cameron Stone, George, A glossary of the construction, decoration, and use of arms and armor in all countries and in all times (Mineola, NY: Dover Publications, Inc., 1999 [reprint of Portland, Maine: The Southworth Press, 1934]), p. .Google Scholar

38 Representatives of the Shri Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Museum, Satara, India, were very kind and encouraging but could not clarify the existence of these records.

39 Kyāpṭan Grāṇṭ Ḍaff [Cpt. James Grant Duff], Marāthayāṃcī Bakhar, (trans.) Kyāpṭan Ḍeviḍ Kepan [Cpt. David Capon] (Bombay: Government Press, 1830).

40 For more on the termination of the Satara princely state, see R. C. Majumdar, H. C. Raychaudhuri and Kalikinkar Datta, An advanced history of India (Madras: Macmillan India Limited, 1981), pp. 757–764, esp. 760–761; and Sandra Emme Kayser, ‘The annexation of Satara and the doctrine of lapse’, PhD thesis, The University of Maryland, 1970. For Grant Duff’s doubts on the merits of the government’s actions, see A. R. Kulkarni, ‘Grant Duff and the Satara case’, Proceedings of the Indian History Congress, no. 30, 1968, pp. 246–251.

41 Katharine Blanche Guthrie, My year in an Indian fort (London: Hurst and Blackett, 1877), pp. 125 and 127–128. ‘Ferrara’ refers to Andrea de Ferrara, possibly an Italian swordsmith, who, as Andrew Ferrara, moved to Scotland during the sixteenth century in order ‘to instruct the Scots in the manufacture of sword-blades’. Sir Walter Scott, Introductions, and notes and illustrations, to the novels, tales, and romances, of the author of Waverley (Edinburgh: R. Cadell, 1833), p. 116. Importantly, by Guthrie’s time the term had ceased to refer to Ferrara specifically and had ‘become the common name for the glaymore [Claymore] or Highland broad-sword’. Francis Grose, A classical dictionary of the vulgar tongue (London: S. Hooper, 1785), p. 62.

42 For more on the popularity of firangi blades in medieval and early modern Indian courts, see Robert Elgood, Hindu arms and ritual: Arms and armour from India 1400–1865 (Delft: Eburon Publishers, 2004), p. 40. He notes that European blades were very common among Mughal and Maratha leaders, though the hilts of the Maratha type are almost invariably of local design and make.

43 Guthrie, My year in an Indian fort, p. 118.

44 Ibid., p. 119.

45 Jadunath Sarkar, House of Shivaji. Studies and documents on Maratha history: Royal period (New Delhi: Orient Longman, 1978), p. 276. Many objects were acquired by Seth Purushottam Mavji (also commonly referred to as Purshotam Vishram Mawjee), who initially displayed them in his home before their purchase by the Prince of Wales Museum in 1915. This museum—since renamed, interestingly, after Shivaji—ultimately acquired many of the pieces and still houses them. See ‘Mumbai’s “Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya” steps into its centenary year’, Press Information Bureau, Mumbai, 10 January 2022,, [accessed 17 October 2023]. An inventory of Mavji’s collection includes several items from Satara, but none matching Grant Duff’s description. See A catalogue of Purshotam Vishram Mawjee Museum [sic] (Bombay: n.p., 1911), esp. p. 28, for Satara metalwork.

46 The inscription is rather peculiar. Some accounts describe its final part as so unclear as to be illegible. This is the stance of Pudumjee, whose claims rely on a 1918 study by Pandurang Martand Chandorker and maintains that only its first letters, ‘kād’, are visible. D. B. Parasnis does not mention the deterioration of the inscription and reproduces it in full, although he reads the first vowel in the troublesome word as short. The transcription I reproduce in the main text comes from Parasnis. (See Pudumjee, Notes on the subject of Shivaji’s sword, p. 19.) Assuming Parasnis is correct, the phrase ‘kadīm avval’ is still odd. While the Persian word qadīm typically refers to something old or ancient, it can also signify something without end. A more likely reading than either might be qiddīm, another term denoting a ruler, the Devanagari spelling of which could also begin to explain Chandorker’s and Parasnis’s divergent readings of the vowel. The word avval, too, offers its own complications: typically signifying ‘first’, such a reading is tempting given that Shahu would be subsequently known as Shahu I, though this would suggest a later addition, since Shahu did not style himself this way. The intended sense of the word might therefore be ‘great’, or ‘excellent’, or (with slightly different vowelling) ‘good governance’ or ‘administration’. Finally, though I have been inclined to read sarkār and rājā as near synonyms, Sumit Guha kindly pointed out to me that the sense of sarkār may simply be that of ‘government’, thus marking the object as property of Shahu’s government. These numerous complexities, needless to say, make a smooth translation effectively impossible. Moreover, as stated in note 33, I have been unable to examine the sword personally.

47 H. G. Rawlinson, ‘Jai Bhavani: The mystery of Shivaji’s sword’, TOI, 17 September 1929.

48 Stone, A glossary, p. 112.

49 For one influential take on the legacy of the Marathas in the formation of Indian nationalisms, see M. G. Ranade, Rise of the Maratha power (Bombay: Punalekar and Co., 1900). C. A. Bayly considers the use of the Maratha past as ‘paradigmatic’ of wider efforts to articulate nationalist claims in India. C. A. Bayly, Origins of nationality in South Asia: Patriotism and ethical government in the making of modern India (Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1998), pp. 21–26.

50 For one of the only English-language studies on the (overwhelmingly negative) responses to these accusations in the Marathi public sphere, see Avanish Patil, ‘Public opinion in colonial India: The “Kesari” and the Kolhapuri Affair, 1881–1883’, Proceedings of the Indian History Congress, no. 67, 2006–2007, pp. 711–724. For the politics of sexual morality that the colonial government weaponized in these claims, see Shruti Kapila, ‘Masculinity and madness: Princely personhood and colonial sciences of the mind in western India 1871–1940’, Past and Present, no. 187, May 2005, pp. 121–156.

51 Purshotam Vishram Mawjee, The imperial durbar album of the Indian princes, chiefs, and zamindars, 2 vols (Bombay: Lakshmi Art Printing works, 1911), vol. 1, p. 23B.

52 As mentioned in note 29, Shivaji VI is sometimes referred to as Shivaji IV, especially in British sources. Some accounts state that the sword was given not by the raja himself but by the Divan of Kolhapur, Rao Bahadur Madhav Rao Barve, on his behalf. See, for instance, D. B. Parasnis’s account given to S. M. Edwardes in Edwardes, ‘Shivaji’s sword’, p. 19.

53 The politics surrounding gift giving was complicated, and not only because of the relationship between the Prince of Wales and Indian princes. Before the tour, some British officials had expressed concern that the gifts Albert Edward would receive would surpass the value of those he would give, thereby causing embarrassment to the Crown. Some agreed afterwards that this had indeed been the case. For more on this concern, see Christopher Hibbert, ‘The Prince of Wales in India, 1875–6’, History Today, vol. 25, no. 9, 1 September 1975, p. 620.

54 For an example of this kind of argument, see Deshmukh, ‘“Bhavani” sword’. But detractors of this claim are far from few; consider D. V. Gokhale, ‘assistant editor of the “Maharashtra Times” and an ardent student of Maratha history’, who argues that, ‘There is no mention of the sword in historical references and correspondence of the period’. Ghorpade, ‘The elusive Bhavani’s [sic] sword’. As stated in note 16, the Kolhapur Archives have been unable to clarify the existence of the documents Deshmukh mentions.

55 William Howard Russell, A diary in India: With some account of the visits of His Royal Highness to the Courts of Greece, Egypt, Spain, and Portugal (London: Sampson Low, Marston, Searle and Rivington, 1877), pp. 130–134 and 154–156; and ‘Return visit by His Highness the Prince of Wales: Visit of his …’, TOI, 10 November 1875. Albert Edward visited only a few Indian princes at their Bombay residences, and that the raja of Kolhapur was among these attests to the significance that many British observers gave to his royal line; one British paper went so far as to call the raja of Kolhapur ‘the chief, as far as pedigree is concerned, of all Mahrattas’ and likened his meeting Albert Edward in Bombay to ‘the arrival of a Pope in Venice to welcome a Crown Prince of Germany’. ‘The Prince of Wales at Bombay’, The Spectator, 13 November 1875.

56 ‘While this interview was proceeding, the presents were being laid out in an adjoining room.’ Russell, A diary in India, p. 156.

57 Indian princes typically had their gifts delivered to Albert Edward after their first (and usually only) meeting, and many of these were apparently selected beforehand through consultation with British authorities. ‘Presents offered by the Chiefs, and accepted by the Prince, are already pouring in to Parell in great quantities … . The Political Agents had informed the Government of Bombay what presents would be made and what would be the value of them; in some instances apparently directing, or at least advising, what the presents should be.’ Ibid., p. 164.

58 Ibid., p. 183.

59 There are clear records of bejewelled swords having been given, for instance, by princes from Jaipur (Russell, A diary in India, p. 460); Benares (ibid., p. 616); Patiala (George Wheeler, India in 1875–6: The visit of the Prince of Wales, a chronicle of His Royal Highness’s journeyings in India, Ceylon, Spain, and Portugal [London: Chapman and Hall, 1867], p. 186); Jodhpur (ibid., p. 300); Indore (ibid., p. 340); Hyderabad (ibid., p. 346); and Arcot (Sir J. Fayrer, Notes of the visits to India of their Royal Highness the Prince of Wales and Duke of Edinburgh, 1870–1875–6 [London: Kerby and Endean, 1879], p. 237). So plentiful were these royal swords that during Albert Edward’s return journey his ship apparently struggled to stow them all safely. Their precariousness made a rather literal impression on the prince’s doctor, who would recall one eventful night: ‘when I was asleep, one of two native tulwars (swords) fell from where it was hung on the bulkhead, on my forehead, and made a deep cut’. Fayrer, Notes of the visits to India, p. 139.

60 As quoted by S. M. Edwardes, to whom Probyn had written personally. Edwardes, ‘Shivaji’s sword’, p. 19, and a parallel reference in Grant Duff, A history of the Marathas, vol. 1, p. 230. Russell specifically mentions that Probyn was present during the first meeting between Albert Edward and Shivaji. Russell, A diary in India, pp. 131–132. W. F. Sinclair, a civil servant who had been stationed in the Bombay presidency during the prince’s visit was warmer to the possibility that such a sword was given. But it is not clear that he was present at the meeting and prefaces his remarks with the important qualification, ‘if I remember right’. W. F. Sinclair, ‘The cult of Shivaji’, letter to the editor, Westminster Gazette, 12 August 1897.

61 Admittedly, three other major western Indian princes—the Nizam of Hyderabad, the maharaja of Mysore, and the Gaikwar of Baroda—were all, as one journalist noted, ‘mere boys’. Each was also granted a full 21–gun salute, one gradation above Kolhapur’s 19. Even so, the elaborate retinue brought by (and the preferential meeting afforded to) the young Kolhapur occupies a prominent place in most, though not all, accounts. The most important prince at the event should have been the Nizam, who opted instead to send a representative, a choice that raised eyebrows among some British commentators. Consider Wheeler, India in 1875–6, p. 44.

62 ‘The Prince of Wales’, Londonderry Sentinel, 9 December 1875.

63 A court circular functions like a press release and ‘is the official record of past royal engagements’. ‘Court circular’, The Royal Household,, [accessed 17 October 2023]. The extract here is from ‘The Prince’s Indian collection’, The Times, 22 June 1876, which was, to my knowledge, the first to publish it. For a version omitting the reference to the Bhavani Talvar, see ‘The Prince of Wales’ Indian presents’, Belfast News-Letter, 26 June 1876.

64 The circular elsewhere downplays the monetary value of the gifts more explicitly: ‘costly as particular presents are, the total value of those received by the Prince does not exceed the value of those presented by his Royal Highness [the Prince of Wales]’. ‘The Prince’s Indian collection’, The Times.

65 I have been unable to substantiate the scattered references to the sword that exist, though many seem merely to reproduce the claim that the sword lay in the armory, not that it was given by Shivaji to Albert Edward. For instance, an assertion from the journalist Deepak Neogi that ‘[t]he sword also been mentioned [sic] in the records of the former Kolhapur princely state’ (D. Neogi, ‘It’s Shivaji’s sword: CM’, Free Press Journal, 25 December 1980) seems to refer to earlier claims about records in the Kolhapur Durbar.

66 George Birdwood would later summarize the movement of Albert Edward’s gifts, noting that they ‘were publicly exhibited in 1876 [at South Kensington]; and in 1877 at Bethnal Green, and in 1878 at Paris; and then, successively at Edinburgh, Glasgow, and Aberdeen; and finally, in 1881, at York’. G. Birdwood, ‘Indian art in Marlborough House’, in Catalogue of the collection of Indian arms. See also a summary of the travelling exhibitions in Kajal Meghani, Splendours of the subcontinent: A Prince’s tour of India, 1875–6 (London: Royal Collection Trust, 2017), pp. 9–10 and 27–31.

67 The delegation was in fact headed by the Prince of Wales himself. George C. M. Birdwood, Handbook to the British Indian section (London: Office of the Royal Commission, 1878), p. 55.

68 Ibid., p. 67.

69 Ibid., p. 68.

70 ‘The life and work of Sir George C. M. Birdwood, C. S. I.’, Journal of Indian Art, vol. 8, no. 61–69, January 1900, p. 45.

71 Birdwood, Handbook to the British Indian section, pp. 1–4.

72 Birdwood saw imperialist significance in all the weapons in the collection, which were for him ‘the symbols of the latent hopes and aspirations of nations and once sovereign families … literally forced on the Prince’s acceptance in a spontaneous transport of loyalty’, in return for which the prince would offer ‘the good faith, and wisdom, and power of the British government’. Ibid., p. 68.

73 Both swords were installed as part of The Indian Collection at Sandringham House. A 1910 inventory of that collection lists both as having been given by Shivaji VI to Albert Edward. While it describes both as a ‘European 17th century steel blade’—making them contemporaneous with Shivaji—it links neither to him. C. Purdon Clarke, Arms and armour at Sandringham: The Indian Collection presented by the princes, chiefs and nobles of India to His Majesty King Edward VII … (London: W. Griggs and Sons, Ltd., 1910), p. 5. See also the current inventories: ‘Sword (firangi)’, Royal Collection Trust, and ‘Sword and scabbard (firanghi)’, Royal Collection Trust,, [both accessed 17 October 2023].

74 This may reflect diminishing attendance at the South Kensington Museum around this time. A government report from 1879, for instance, notes that visitor numbers were lower that year than in the previous two, although it optimistically adds that this was ‘owing probably in some degree to the unfavourable weather which prevailed during a great part of the year’. Sir Philip Cunliffe Owen, ‘Report on the South Kensington Museum and the Branch Museum at Bethnal Green’, Twenty-seventh report of the Science and Art Department of the Committee of Council on Education, with appendices (London: George E. Eyre and William Spottiswoode, 1880), p. 529.

75 The trial was a closely watched media event and is accordingly well documented. References to the sword are scattered throughout the deliberations and largely relate to Bhavani herself, whom the advocate-general interpreted as a goddess of destruction. The advocate-general’s logic ran that Tilak’s interest in Shivaji, his sword, and Bhavani confirmed his intention to destroy British rule itself. For the details of this argument and the quotation in the main text, see ‘The Trial of the Hon. B. G. Tilak: Close of the case for the prosecution’, TOI, 13 September 1897; for quotations from the advocate-general regarding Bhavani, see ‘The Poona press prosecution: Trial of Messrs. Tilak and Bal. Scene in the High Court’, TOI, 9 September 1897. What might have drawn the prosecution’s attention to the sword was that Tilak had appended the ‘mark of the Bhawani sword’ to an article he had written in Shivaji’s voice in Kesarī. For a contemporary translation of the piece, see ‘The incriminating articles’, TOI, 30 July 1897. Two decades later, Tilak would explain his use of the sword as a signature during his civil suit against the British journalist Valentine Chirol, in which he insisted the practice was consistent with Shivaji’s own, reflecting his (Shivaji’s) illiteracy. See the transcription of the relevant phase of the trial in D. V. Athalye, The life of Lokamanya Tilak, foreword by C. R. Das (Pune: Jagaddhitecchu Press, 1921), p. 283.

76 The best textual evidence I can find for a (reasonably) direct Satara-London connection is a letter written by Brigadier-General Lionel Smith to James Grant Duff in 1820. D. B. Parasnis had come into possession of the document and shared it in 1920 with S. M. Edwardes, who discusses its contents in Edwardes, ‘Shivaji’s sword’, p. 19. The letter states that a sword, which Parasnis presumes was the Bhavani Talvar, had been given by Pratap Singh, the raja of Satara, to Lionel Smith in 1818 upon the latter’s victory in the Battle of Ashti. For more on this claim—which seems to me improbable—see note 121.

77 For more details on the young ‘Shivaji’s tragic death’, see Manohar Malgonkar, Chattrapatis of Kolhapur (Bombay, 1960), pp. 562–587. One detail that emerges is the extent to which the young prince imagined a connection between himself and the Prince of Wales. As his psychological condition worsened, he would occasionally believe that he was himself Albert Edward and would ‘write the most extraordinary letters in English’ (p. 563).

78 In much the same way that multiple swords and Indian princes became condensed into a simplified narrative, Edward VII would much later become confused with his son and successor, George V. An article written after Antulay’s return from London cites both Babasaheb Bhosale (Antulay’s successor as chief minister) and Kensington Museum authorities as stating that the London sword had been given to George by the maharaja of Kolhapur in 1889. Since we know that a sword associated with Shivaji is recorded in London more than a decade before this, events here have clearly become muddled. But for us this is a useful muddling since it reveals that the specific identities of the two main actors in the narrative—the Indian prince and the future British king—do not much matter. See ‘“Bhavani” issue raised again’, Free Press Journal, 23 April 1982.

79 Shahu was adopted by the widow of Shivaji VI and subject to direct British oversight until he came of age in 1894. Six years later, in 1900, Shahu became the first ruler of Kolhapur to receive the designation ‘maharaja’, an honour given to him on Queen Victoria’s eighty-first birthday. See A. B. Latthe, Memoirs of His Highness Shri Shahu Chhatrapati, Maharaja of Kolhapur, 2 vols (Bombay: The Times Press, 1924), vol. 1, p. 185. Shahu enjoyed a reputation for generosity and lent weapons, costumes, and other royal artefacts to filmmakers. But even allowing for his somewhat eccentric love of the entertainment industry, the distribution of these items feels somehow consistent with his predecessor’s seemingly bewildering surrender of an item of great worth. For more on Shahu and his relationship to the film industry, see Pramod Kale, ‘Ideas, ideals and the market: A study of Marathi films’, Economic and Political Weekly, vol. 14, no. 35, 1 September 1979, p. 1513.

80 The intricate history of the India Museum has been skilfully synthesized in Robert Skelton, ‘The Indian collections: 1798 to 1978’, The Burlington Magazine, special issue devoted to the Victoria and Albert Museum, vol. 120, no. 902, May 1978, pp. 296–305. Though the India Museum had been housed at the South Kensington Museum since 1875, it was not until 1879 that the collection would be formally annexed by it. For more on the arrangement in 1875, see Ray Desmond, The India Museum, 1801–1879 (London: H. M. Stationery Office, 1982), p. 151; for the formal consolidation in 1879, see Cunliffe Owen, ‘Report on the South Kensington Museum’, p. 527. Confusing matters further is that the South Kensington Museum did not maintain all items, with some objects (although not arms) going to other public museums, as detailed by Skelton, ‘The Indian collections’, p. 301. A fire also affected the collection a few years later, as recounted in ‘Fire at the India Museum’, The Journal of Indian Art, vol. 1, no. 7, July 1885, p. 56. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, we should consider how the annexation of the India Museum by the South Kensington Museum was a last-minute arrangement secured by the personal intervention of Albert Edward, since, as Skelton, ‘The Indian Collections’, p. 301, notes, the ‘decidedly complicated’ negotiations among various government bodies had first ended with a decision to give the collection to the British Museum. The original plan points to a common-sense expectation that was clearly shared by the public and likely to have been enhanced by the problems affecting the India Museum. It is for this reason, perhaps, that so many looked to the British Museum for the sword, and erroneous statements like ‘[i]t is well known that the sword of the famous Shivaji Maharaj called “Bhawani” is now in the British Museum’ would persist as late as 1927. See G. J. K., ‘Shivaji’s sword’, letter to the editor, TOI, 29 June 1927. The last enquiry to the museum about the sword that I have traced was in 1930: ‘Play not with sentiments’, Maharashtra Times, 29 November 1980.

81 D. N. Apte, letter to the editor, ‘Shivaji’s sword Bhawani: Where is it?’, TOI, 13 July 1927. Apte’s letter is interesting in that it presents a rather garbled version of an essay by Manikrao (see note 108) to claim that the sword had been given not by Shivaji VI but by Shahu IV, who he claims presented it to Albert Edward in 1902 upon his coronation as Edward VII. I have not seen this substantiated by any reputable source, though the account bears similitaries with the one outlined in note 78.

82 S. M. Edwardes to C. V. Joga, 4 October 1921, as quoted in C. V. Joga, letter to the editor, ‘Bhawani sword’, TOI, 22 July 1927.

83 Edwardes, ‘Shivaji’s sword’, p. 20. Initially receptive to an idea, suggested by Parasnis (see note 32), that the sword may have travelled from Satara to Kolhapur and then to London, Edwardes here retreats from this position and speculates that the sword remained in the Satara royal family. Although representative of the discourse around the sword insofar it assumes a single surviving weapon, Edwardes’ reference to Benares appears in no other source of which I am aware.

84 John Hubert Marshall, 8 May 1925, Department of Education, Health and Land, Nos 271–72, the National Archives of India, New Delhi.

85 A prominent feature of these celebrations was the planned unveiling of an equestrian statue of Shivaji in Pune. For the political debates around the project and the involvement of Edward, Prince of Wales, see Andrew Halladay, ‘A distant throne: The British sovereign in the mirror of Indian nationalism, 1919–36’, PhD thesis, University of Chicago, 2023, Chapters 2 and 3.

86 The Reay Paper Mill was initially founded by Nowrojee Pudumjee in 1887 before its re-establishment as Pudumjee Paper Products, Ltd. in 1964. See ‘The Rey Paper Mill’, TOI, 7 October 1887; and ‘Pudumjee Paper Products Ltd.’, Pudumjee, 2015, The website appears defunct as of 10 September 2023.

87 Arnold Wright, The Bombay presidency, the United Provinces, the Punjab, etc. (Bombay: Foreign and Colonial Compiling and Publishing Company, 1920), p. 335.

88 United States Patent Office, Annual report of the Commissioner of Patents for the year 1901 (Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, 1902), p. 342; and Patrick Doyle (ed.), Indian engineering, no. 27, January–June 1900, p. 415.

89 For his interest in Indian classical music, see ‘St. Isabel’s Association’, TOI, 7 January 1908; for his rifling experience, see ‘The Indian Rifle Association’, The Pioneer, 6 March 1895. His role as a ‘native’ invitee appears in ‘H. E. The governor’s levée’, The Bombay Gazette, 20 December 1900.

90 The title was granted to Sorabjee Pudumjee sometime in the early nineteenth century for his successful execution of a government mail contract. For more on the Pudumjee family, see The cyclopedia of India, 3 vols (Calcutta: Cyclopedia Publishing Company, 1907), vol. 1, pp. 369–372.

91 In ‘Notes and news’, Indian history for the year 1928 (New Delhi: Sahitya Akademi, 1928), p. 183, Pudumjee may be referred to as ‘one of the members of our Society’, although the referent is unclear.

92 Pudumjee, Notes on the subject of Shivaji’s sword, pp. 3–4.

93 Ibid., pp. 5 and 15.

94 The strongest evidence supporting this claim came from the Sanskritist Shripad Krishna Belvalkar, who noted that the appearance of the letter छ was consistent with manuscripts ‘about 150 or 200 years old’, a period that would have intersected with Shahu’s reign (1707–1749). See the discussion in ‘Shivaji’s sword’, editorial, The Indian National Herald, 15 January 1929; and Belvalkar’s own statement in Pudumjee, Notes on the subject of Shivaji’s sword, p. 13.

95 V. S. Bendrey, ‘The Bhavani sword of Shivaji the Great’, Journal of the Royal Society of Arts, vol. 86, no. 4482, October 1938, p. 1143. Bendrey supposes that the ‘inscription more appropriately fits Shivaji II’ of Kolhapur (r. 1691–1723).

96 Pudumjee, Notes on the subject of Shivaji’s sword, p. 8.

97 The verses on Shivaji’s seal read:

Pratipaccandralekheva vardhiṣṇurviśvavanditā Like the new moon, waxing and extolled by the world,

Śāhasūnoḥ Śivasyaiṣā mudrā bhadrāya rājate. This seal of Shivaji, son of Shahaji, shines with benevolence.

I am grateful to Sumit Guha for pointing to an alternative meaning of the last word that is reflected in my translation.

98 Pudumjee, Notes on the subject of Shivaji’s sword, p. 8.

99 We have seen Pudumjee do this, for instance, in his assessment of the Satara sword. For his ‘process of exclusion’, see ibid., p. 12.

100 Dipesh Chakrabarty, The calling of history (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2015), p. 6.

101 B. D. Pudumjee to Professor W. Norman Brown, 24 November 1928, Bombay, Kislak Center for Special Collections, Misc. Mss Box 2, Folder 41, the University of Pennsylvania, United States of America. Brown would later go on to found the South Asia Studies Department at the University of Pennsylvania, the first of its kind in North America. For more on the establishment of the department, see ‘Department History’, South Asian Studies,, [accessed 17 October 2023]. For the geopolitical relevance of such programmes within the context of the Cold War, see Thongchai Winichakul, ‘Asian Studies across academies’, The Journal of Asian Studies, vol. 73, no. 4, November 2014, pp. 879–897.

102 Pande, ‘The Bhawani Talwar’.

103 Pudumjee’s list of experts included prominent voices from both the media and academic circles. Among the former was H. George Franks (whose writing on Shivaji we encountered in note 20), the Sanskrist Shripad Krishna Belvalkar, and the prominent Maratha historian Govind Sakharam Sardesai. See Franks, ‘Shivaji and his swords’; S. K. Belvalkar, ‘Shivaji’s sword: At present in the custody of Mr. B. D. Pudumji’, The Indian Daily Mail, 10 January 1929; G. S. Sardesai to Khan Bahadur B. D. Padamji, Poona Alienation Office, 17 July 1929. Pudumjee enthusiastically includes these references in his Notes on the subject of Shivaji’s sword (on pp. 21–22, 13, and 36, respectively) and quotes from them at length. Even so, these individuals express varying degrees of certainty about Pudumjee’s claims, with some stating the sword is very likely Shivaji’s (although not necessarily the Bhavani Talvar) and others taking something of a wait-and-see approach.

104 See, for instance, a much later report: ‘Pawar flays Antulay’s mission’, The Sunday Standard, 30 November 1980.

105 ‘Play not with sentiments’, Maharashtra Times.

106 At some point Pudumjee sold the sword to a certain Dr Kurtakoty, who in turn sold it to Captain Bahadur Mody—presumably Khan Bahadur Captain Sorab Rustomji Mody, for whom there are scattered references. I have been unable to trace the book on the sword he is said to have written in ‘Play not with sentiments’, Maharashtra Times. Pudumjee had other offers for the sword, such as we see in Ghulam Mohiudden Master to B. D. Pudamjee, Bombay, 12 August 1928, reproduced in Pudumjee, Notes on the subject of Shivaji’s sword, p. 16.

107 It is interesting to note that the version told by Pudumjee himself would in later decades transmogrify into a still more romantic account in which Pudumjee ‘bought the Bhavani sword as junk from a Bombay shop’. See ‘Antulay bares his sword’, Current.

108 ‘बकींगहॅम राजवाड्यामधील सुवर्ण कपाटांत ठेवलेली श्रीभवानी’. Rajratna Professor [Gajanan] Manikrao, ‘कांही ऐतिहासिक हत्यारें’ [Some historical weapons], in Shivaji souvenir, (ed.) G. S. Sardesai (Bombay: Keshav Bhikaji Dhawale, 1927), p. 150.

109 This is the Catalogue of the collection of Indian arms, the citation for which appears in note 33.

110 Birdwood, ‘Indian art in Marlborough House’. It is unclear when precisely these objects were in place in Marlborough House: though the main travelling exhibitions had concluded by 1881, a subset of the prince’s gifts continued to tour until 1883, travelling as far as Copenhagen. See Meghani, Splendours of the subcontinent, p. 30.

111 The picture in the catalogue is labelled ‘Case J.’, which is out of view in the accompanying photographs of the Indian Room. These oaken display cases were ‘relieved with gold … [and] the contents illumined by means of electric light’. Arthur Henry Beavan, Marlborough House and its occupants: Present and past (London: F. V. White and Co., 1896), p. 32. The earliest photograph seems to be the image included in Bourne, Prince of Wales Tour of India (see Figure 4).

112 Meghani writes that Albert Edward’s Indian treasures moved with him to Buckingham Palace in 1902, shortly after his ascension. This would make eminent sense, though I have not seen this documented, and no source is cited in Meghani, Splendours of the subcontinent, p. 32.

113 Bendrey, ‘The Bhavani sword of Shivaji the Great’, p. 1143.

114 As quoted in ‘Sword in U.K. not Shivaji’s: Scholars’, TOI, 9 December 1980. The article also clarifies that Bendrey’s research in London was at the behest of the Bharat Itihas Sanshodhak Mandal.

115 As quoted in ‘Antulay airs doubts on Bhavani sword’, Indian Express, 25 December 1980. Pant claimed he saw the weapon at St James’s Palace, not at Buckingham Palace itself. Although British correspondence occasionally locates the sword at Buckingham Palace (the ‘sword at present in the Royal Collection at Buckingham Palace …’), these remarks may be reproducing the discourse used by Antulay and others, since no eyewitness testimony after Pant locates the sword there. See G[raham] R Archer to [Peter] Blaker, ‘Brief for Meeting with Mr Antulay, Chief Minister of Maharashtra, Monday, 1 December, 3 PM’, 28 November 1980, in FCO 37/2331. Since the two palaces are only about half a kilometre apart, it seems that Buckingham Palace could have been shorthand for the entire royal complex—a shorthand that would also double as an evocative metonym for British royalty. Pant has in any case left us with a decent description: ‘The blade of the sword is straight and has obviously seen action in battle. The most interesting aspect of the hilt is that the grip is only two-and-a-half inches in width, obviously for a person of short stature and very small hands’ (as quoted in ‘Antulay airs doubts’, Indian Express). Shivaji’s small stature is something of a trope and was picked up on by Katharine Guthrie who writes that, ‘It is a matter of surprise that so small a man as Sevaji is said to have … wielded such a weapon’. See Guthrie, My year in an Indian fort, p. 127. Putting aside the historicity of such statements, Shivaji’s shorter stature only enhances his underdog status and invites obvious comparisons with Napoleon. For a contemporary discussion of Shivaji’s relationship to historical military leaders, including Napoleon, see the translator’s preface to Lala Lajpat Rai, Shivaji the great patriot, (trans.) R. C. Puri (Delhi: Metropolitan, 1980), p. ix. In Puri’s estimation, Shivaji ranks with Ranjit Singh and, somewhat surprisingly, Lord Clive, owing to what Puri considers their commitment to nationalist struggles. This quality distinguishes them from, and sets them above, figures like Napoleon, Mahmud of Ghazni, Akbar, and Babur, whose greatness Puri attributes to their being ‘chivalrous and sagacious’.

116 His works include such texts as A moment in time (1974) and Mandala: An awakening (1978), which consider his political experiences through a philosophical lens, and Surya Namaskar (1975), which recounts yoga practices he learnt from his father.

117 John Titman to Kashiram Desai, Lord Chamberlain’s Office, St James’s Palace, London, 20 July 1972. The letter is reproduced in ‘Antulay bares his sword’, Current.

118 The Government of Maharashtra marked the event by granting amnesty to prisoners, a policy that bears striking similarities to one that the colonial government had employed on royal occasions like jubilees and coronations. For more on the particulars of the policy in 1974, see A. M. Bhatia, ‘Grant of Amnesty to Prisoners—Tricentenry [sic] Celebrations of Coronation of Shivaji’, Government of Maharashtra, in File No. 3/22/74-GPA-II, the National Archives of India, New Delhi.

119 ‘Shivaji’s sword’, TOI.

120 Ibid.

121 ‘Shivaji sword sent back to Satara’, TOI, 17 June 1974. Its journey was in some respects a happier re-enactment of that taken by other heirlooms sold by the Satara royal family to Seth Purushottam Mavji, as discussed in note 45. The current location of the Satara sword is not entirely clear, though a representative with whom I spoke at the Shri Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Museum, Satara, insisted that it is not in the museum’s collection. In 1876 Guthrie places it in Satara’s Old Palace (Junhā Rājvāḍā), though in 1909 D. B. Parasnis locates it in the nearby Jalmandir Palace. Parasnis, Satara, p. 38. By 1920, however, Parasnis would suggest to S. M. Edwardes (in Edwardes, ‘Shivaji’s sword’, p. 20) that Pratap Singh, the raja of Satara, may have given the sword to General Lionel Smith. In an 1820 letter to Grant Duff (in Parasnis’s possession) Smith mentions that he (Smith) is to receive a sword from the raja that, in Smith’s words, ‘had been possessed so many years by his illustrious family’ in recognition of his defeat of Pratap Singh’s rival, the Peshwa Baji Rao, in 1818. That this was the sword associated with Shivaji, as Parasnis argues, seems unlikely, first, since we would struggle to explain why Grant Duff still locates the Bhavani Talvar in Satara six years after receiving the Smith’s letter. There is, moreover, nothing in the sources I have examined pertaining to Satara to suggest that this sword, if it was given, was the one linked to Shivaji. Instead, there is strong evidence that the promise of a sword was part of the political discourse between the East India Company and the Satara court and that this promise was not always kept. In 1835, for instance, General John Briggs recalled that the Government of Bombay ‘passed a resolution … that a jewelled sword should purchased … and should be sent to His Highness, accompanied by a letter from the Court’ but that ‘neither sword nor letter was ever delievered’. (For the quotation, see Evans Bell, Major, Memoir: General John Briggs, of the Madras Army [London: Chatto and Windus, 1885], pp. 9293Google Scholar; and for more on the episode in general, see Basu, Story of Satara, pp. 47–59). Accordingly, we might conclude that Pratap Singh’s promise of a sword—whichever one it was—was a similar kind of political gesture and that it was in any case unlikely—as Edwardes puts it—‘that the Raja, no matter how grateful and how generous he may have been, would have given away to a European military officer the real Bhavani of Sivaji’. Anecdotal evidence suggests that the sword that travelled from Satara to Bombay in 1974 (assuming that it is the same weapon) may still be in Jalmandir Palace where Parasnis had first located it, though my attempts to contact Udayanjae Bhonsle, who claims descent from Shivaji and calls the palace home, have been unsucessful. See, among many other sources attesting to its current whereabouts, Mansi Kshirsagar, ‘शिवरायांच्या तीन तलवारी आता आहेत तरी कुठे? शोध तुळजा, भवानी अन् जगदंबा तलवारींचा!’, Maharashtra Times, 11 November 2022.

122 For an interpretation of the nexus between modernity and ephemerality in Benjamin, see Davis, Robert A., ‘Down sudden vistas: Walter Benjamin and the waning of modernity’, Counterpoints, no. 168, 2003, pp. 3653Google Scholar; for a study of their relationship in Marx, see Berman, Marshall, All that is solid melts into air: The experience of modernity (London: Penguin, 1988), esp. pp. 8798.Google Scholar

123 Although it addresses Japan, Tomii’s assessment of the decade—which she also associates with ‘the body and performance, collectivism, regionalism, the public sphere, and the relationship between art and mass media’—feels apropos. See Reiko Tomii, ‘“Art outside the box” in 1960s Japan: An introduction and commentary’, Review of Japanese Culture and Society, no. 17, December 2005, pp. 1–2.

124 Geoffrey de Bellaigue to Amol Desai, 11 April 1980.

125 See the reproduction in ‘Antulay bares his sword’, Current.

126 See Archer to Blaker, ‘Brief for meeting with Mr Antulay’.

127 G. G. Wetherell to C. H. Imray, British High Commission, New Delhi, 2 December 1980, in FCO37/2331.

128 Shresh, ‘Mystery of Antulay’s airdash abroad’, Blitz, 13 December 1980.

129 The image of Antulay charging on a horse enjoyed some currency at the time. Consider, for instance, a rather flippant account in The Times of India: ‘He [Antulay] is of course hardly a sabre-rattler, though he relishes combat and is figuratively fond of cut and thrust. Mr. Antulay astride a proud steed and flourishing the sword of Shivaji will make an imposing spectacle. But chief ministers, unless of course they are film stars or matinee idols, do not ride horses, though some of them may ride roughshod over certain people or certain principles.’ R. G. K., ‘Acute and obtuse: Mr. Antulay and the sword’, TOI, 12 December 1980. Antulay’s cry, more commonly transliterated, ‘Har Har Mahadev’, praises the Great God (mahādev) Har (Shiva). As a battle cry, the phrase is associated with several Hindu heroes, including with Shivaji.

130 Gyan Prakash, ‘Blitz’s Bombay’, Seminar (Web-Edition), no. 528, August 2003,, [accessed 17 October 2023].

131 Afzal Khan, the reader will recall, is the Bijapuri general against whom the goddess Bhavani sought to protect Shivaji.

132 Ramesh Gune, ‘Much ado about Shivaji sword’, Indian Express, 4 December 1980.

133 ‘Sword: Pawar flays Antulay’s mission’, The Sunday Standard, 11 November 1980.

134 ‘Goray: Bhavani sword not in UK’, Indian Express, 25 November 1980.

135 See remarks from Sharad Pawar in ‘Antulay trip to London against all norms of protocol: Pawar’, Poona Herald, 30 November 1980.

136 ‘Record of a Conversation between the Minister of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs and Mr Antulay’, in FCO 37/2331. Prince Charles’s visit to Maharashtra was successful, ‘drawing large crowds’, as I. D. Singh noted during discussions with British authorities. Prince Charles weighed in on the controversy himself, albeit in an off-the-cuff manner. When introduced to a portrait of Shivaji during his tour of the Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalya (the former Prince of Wales Museum, as discussed in note 45), Charles noted that the sword in the painting was not the same as the one in Buckingham Palace. S. Almaula, 8 December 1980, in FCO 37/2331.

137 ‘Record of a Conversation’, in FCO 37/2331.

138 Ibid. Although some newspapers report that Antulay had suggested that the sword could ‘at least [be] returned on loan to be exhibited in Maharashtra’, no such request appears in the official minutes in the National Archives in Kew. Compare ibid. with, for instance, ‘Hand over sword, CM tells UK minister’, Free Press Journal, 3 December 1980.

139 These other topics—including opportunities for Indian investment and Indian reliance on Iranian and Iraqi oil—were sidelined by the discussion of the Bhavani Talvar. See Archer to Blaker, ‘Brief for meeting with Mr Antulay’. In anticipation of receiving the real sword, Antulay presented the Lord Chamberlain with a silver replica in an act that recalls, even as it inverts, the exchange through which the United Kingdom first acquired the sword. ‘The “Bhavani” controversy’, Indian Express, 12 December 1980.

140 Neogi, ‘It’s Shivaji’s sword: CM’.

141 Consider the use of Sardesai in the debate in ‘Antulay bares his sword’, Current. Another prominent historian who had been active during the early period of the Bharat Itihas Sanshodhak Mandal—and was in this case still living—was Ganesh Hari Khare, who denied the existence of the Bhavani Talvar. ‘Not only that,’ he said, ‘but no sword of Shivaji’s period is available today.’ The remark is curious and possibly a misquotation since many seventeenth-century swords are extant. See ‘What “Bhavani” was Antulay after?’, Blitz, 13 December 1980.

142 ‘Antulay airs doubts’, Indian Express.

143 As in the case of ‘I’ (Indira) in note 2, the ‘U’ here refers to Devaraj Urs, then chief minister of Karnataka, who formed another faction within the Congress. In 1981, the faction would be rebranded ‘Congress (Socialist)’ with Sharad Pawar as its president. For more on the transition from Congress (U) to Congress (S), see Walter K. Andersen, ‘India in 1981: Stronger political authority and social tension’, Asian Survey, vol. 22, no. 2, ‘A survey of Asia in 1981: Part II’, February 1982, pp. 119–135, esp. p. 127.

144 Indira Gandhi’s apparent commitment to Antulay’s crusade caused considerable consternation in Whitehall. G. G. Wetherell to D[avid] C W Revolta, British High Commission, Delhi, 12 December 1980, in FCO 37/2331, for instance, mentions that, ‘We shall look out for any corroboration of Antulay’s claim that he had Mrs. Gandhi’s support’, and officials considered whether the British High Commission should ‘have a quiet word with Mrs Gandhi’ to make the matter go away. (M. K. Ewans to Graham Archer, ‘The sword of Shivaji’, 17 March 1981, in FCO 37/2511.) Antulay himself recognized Gandhi’s political value and called upon her to contact Margaret Thatcher. See ‘Antulay bares his sword’, Current. Thatcher’s political significance for Antulay was amplified owing to her forthcoming visit to Bombay, an occasion he deemed ideal for the return of the sword. [Martin] Ewans to [Graham] Archer, ‘Sword of Shivaji’, 17 March 1981, in FCO 37/2511.

145 ‘The “Bhavani” controversy’, Indian Express, 6 December 1980.

146 As reproduced in ‘Antulay bares his sword’, Current. Although Ranade’s remarks are clearly mocking, the ‘prophecy’ he refers to seems to be a (deliberately) warped version of a statement Tilak had written in 1906: ‘It was only in conformity with the political circumstances of the country at the time that Shivaji was born in Maharashtra. But a future leader may be born anywhere in India and who knows, may even be a Mahomedan.’ The essay ‘Is Shivaji not a national hero?’ was originally published in The Mahratta, 24 June 1906. The translation here is taken from Bal Gangadhar Tilak: His writings and speeches, foreword by Aurobindo Ghose (Madras: Ganesh and Co., 1919), pp. 50–51.

147 For details on this episode, see Majid Hayat Siddiqi, ‘History-writing in India’, History Workshop, no. 10, Autumn 1980, pp. 186–187.

148 ‘Play not with sentiments’, Maharashtra Times.

149 Antulay claimed that these letters were an abbreviation of ‘thou shalt conquer’ in Portuguese, but no Portuguese formulation of this phrase can be reasonably mapped onto these letters. For Antulay’s claim, see ‘Sword in UK belonged to Shivaji: CM’, TOI, 25 December 1980. Bendrey had interpreted these letters correctly when he brought attention to them in 1938, though one fastidious reader was quick to point out, correctly, that the Latin reading was itself a backronym taken from reading the first letters of the Greek spelling of ‘Jesus’ (ΙΗΣΟΥΣ) as their Latin lookalikes. Bendrey, ‘The Bhavani sword of Shivaji the Great’, p. 1144; and Lee, Chas. E., ‘The Bhavani sword of Shivaji the Great’, Journal of the Royal Society of Arts, vol. 86, no. 4484, 28  October 1938, pp. 11821183.Google Scholar

150 Some recent discussions connect the Bhavani Talvar to Spain, although these interpretations are generally associated with the Satara sword and its proponents, namely L. K. Advani and Babasaheb Purandare. Advani claimed to have acquired these details during a trip to Spain in 2002, when, as home minister, he sought to finalize an extradition treaty. ‘Desperately seeking Shivaji’s sword’, TOI. Pant noted that the blade appeared ‘Damascene, Portuguese or Spanish’ during his visit in 1971. As quoted in I. D. Singh, ‘Rare sword of Shivaji in UK palace’, TOI, 14 November 1971.

151 For an example of the discourse in Britain surrounding European swords in India, consider a passage written about the India Room in Marlborough House: ‘We are not surprised, therefore, to learn that the blade of many a celebrated Indian sword came from the West … . Nor is it to be wondered that the weapons of European taken from England by the Prince for presentation in India, were much appreciated by native rulers and tributaries.’ Beavan, Marlborough House and its occupants, p. 32. The question of inscriptions is more complex. One of the leading authorities on Indian weapons in the early twentieth century, Wilbraham Egerton (whom Pudumjee cites), writes that most swords from the Mughal and Maratha periods lacked inscriptions, except perhaps the maker’s name, a Quranic verse, or the name of an owner ‘if he be of distinguished birth’. Egerton, Wilbraham, Indian and Oriental arms and armour (Devon: Dover Publications, 2002), p. Google Scholar. Since Shivaji and his descendants clearly regarded themselves as being ‘of distinguished birth’, inscriptions are common on royal Maratha swords. For more, see note 42 and Elgood, Hindu arms and ritual, p. 40.

152 ‘Record of a Conversation’, in FCO 37/2331.

153 Nearly identical language appears in C. A. K. Cullimore to Shri A. G. Kulkarni, 16 December 1980, in FCO 37/2331, suggesting the line was recommended for use with Indian citizens requesting the sword’s return.

154 As described by M. K. Ewans, ‘Sword of Shivaji’, in FCO 37/2331.

155 ‘Antulay bares his sword’, Current.

156 As quoted in ‘Sword in UK belonged to Shivaji’, TOI.

157 As quoted in Gune, ‘Much ado about Shivaji sword’.

158 These goals reflected not just ideologies but also political allegiances. The scion of the Satara line, Abhaysingh Raje Bhonsle, was a minister in Antulay’s cabinet and, as one paper noted, did not ‘raise even a flutter of protest against’ Antulay’s campaign. Ghorpade, ‘The Elusive Bhavani’s [sic] sword’. Antulay had also already developed a relationship with the Rajmata when he sought to become a trustee of the Shivmudra Pratishthan, an organization committed to building a statue of Shivaji and headed by the Rajmata herself. Gune, ‘Much ado about Shivaji sword’.

159 As quoted in ‘Bhavani sword back by Maharashtra day?’, Indian Express, 6 December 1980.

न लगे दौलत, न लगे बरकत, नको कोहिनूर ।।
स्वदेश न लगे स्वराज्य न लगे हो सर्वहि चूर ।।
एक सांगणें एक मागणें तेंच लाखवार ।।
‘मागुनि घ्यावी श्रीशिवबांची भवानि तलवार ।।
स्वदेशभूषा, स्वराज्यजननी सकाळें दाखवावी ।।
…’ ।।

Ganesh Gadkari, Ram, ‘Lokmānyāṇs Bhāratavarṣācā Āśīrvād’, Saṃpūrṇa Gaḍkarī, 2 vols (Pune: Saritā Prakāśan, 1984), vol. 2, pp. 970972.Google Scholar

161 Gadkari’s poem points less to a concrete political demand than it does to a contemporary literary trend in which Shivaji’s patriotism served to inspire the Indian public. A good example in this regard is Tagore’s ‘Śibājī’ (1904), in which Shivaji’s commitment to unifying India is used to rally Tagore’s fellow Bengalis to political action.

162 For an examination of the Elgin Marbles controversy from a legal perspective, see Henry Merryman, John, Thinking about the Elgin Marbles: Critical essays on cultural property, art and law (Boston: Kluwer Law International, 2000)Google Scholar. For the question of the repatriation of objects to the Middle East and the eastern Mediterranean, see Killebrew, Ann E. and Scham, Sandra A., ‘Artifacts out of context: Their curation, ownership, and repatriation’, Journal of Eastern Mediterranean Archeology and Heritage Studies, Forum, vol. 5, no. 1, 2017Google Scholar; for objects from Southeast Asia, see Louise Tythacott and Panggah Ardiyansyah (eds), Returning Southeast Asia’s past: Objects, museums, and restitution (Singapore: National University of Singapore Press, 2021). As the controversy around the Elgin Marbles was gaining more traction—in part through exposure during the 2000 Athens Olympics—18 major museums from the United States and Europe issued a ‘Declaration on the importance and value of universal museums’, which, among other things, argued against repatriating objects acquired during colonial times. For a summary of and critical engagement with this event, see Martin Bailey, ‘Shifting the blame’, The Art Newspaper, 21 January 2003; for an ethical-theory perspective, see Edvardsson Björnberg, Karin, ‘Historic injustices and the moral case for cultural repatriation’, Ethical Theory and Moral Practice, vol. 18, no. 3, 2015, pp. 461474CrossRefGoogle Scholar. The arguments for and against repatriation bear obvious similarities with the London sword, though the argument that international museums offer a space for ‘the people of every nation’ to view such objects can scarcely apply to an object not available for public viewing.

163 Carrington to Certain Missions, ‘The return of cultural property to its country of origin’, 9 March 1981, in FCO 37/2511. Even today, the Kolhapur sword remains a highly sensitive topic among many institutions in the United Kingdom. While conducting research for this article, I sought permission from the Royal Collection Trust (the British charity that manages the art collection of King Charles III) to reproduce images in the collection pertaining to the sword. My request for one of these images—Figure 4—was thankfully granted due to its historical nature, though the other—the only high-quality colour photograph of the sword I have encountered—was denied, culminating in the categorical response: ‘Permission has not been granted for you to reproduce the sword’. Although no reasons were given, the refusal presumably has much to do with persistent demands for restitution and the generally charged nature of the object. Though it is not my purpose here to adjudicate the various stances on the issue, I do question whether this militant gatekeeping of an image of the sword—to say nothing of the sword itself—is likely to do anything other than inflame sentiments further. Readers looking to view the image should see Abhinay Deshpande, ‘Shivaji’s ceremonial sword “Jagdamba” may travel to India from the U.K. for a year’, The Hindu, 11 April 2023,, [accessed 17 October 2023].

164 ‘Antulay’s pledge over Bhawani ridiculed’, The Free Press, 22 April 1982. The shift in position between Antulay and Bhosale was naturally political but also reflects a more gradual change in the public attitude in India around this time. Martin Raven, an official in the British High Commission in Delhi, noted in January 1981—two months after Antulay’s visit to London—that ‘Press coverage of the story seems to have died down considerably’. M[artin] C Raven to D C W Revolta, ‘Sword of Shivaji’, 27 January 1981, in FCO 37/2511. Interest did not entirely evaporate, however, since a month later an official in the South Asian Department lamented the ‘continuing SAD interest in this matter’. D[avid] C W Revolta to Mr May, 26 February 1981, in FCO 37/2511. Anxiety seemed to stem mainly from the idea that the Indian High Commission intended to take up the issue directly with the British government, though Raven insisted that, ‘We have heard nothing officially at this end.’ M[artin] C Raven to G[raham] R Archer, ‘Sword of Shivaji’, 3 February 1981, in FCO 37/2511.

165 Antulay had emphasized the purported secularism of Shivaji long before he served as chief minister. See, for instance, his remarks on the occasion of the tricentenary of Shivaji’s coronation in 1974: ‘The reign of Shivaji Maharaj is also distinctly commendable for … the spirit of broadmindedness and tolerance with which he treated people of different castes and religions. The life of Shivaji Maharaj contains abundant evidence of his secular approach as far back as three centuries ago and it is approach [sic] which brought about a sense of unity and complete harmony amongst all his subjects.’ Sharma (ed.), 300th anniversary of coronation [sic] of Chatrapati Shivaji Maharaj souvenir, p. 12.

166 It is worth noting that another sword has been anecdotally linked to Shivaji in recent years. For more on this sword—associated with the Kolhapur royal family and housed in a temple in Sindhudurg Fort (on the coast of Maharashtra)—see, for instance, Kshirsagar, ‘शिवरायांच्या तीन तलवारी’, Maharashtra Times; and Mohsin Mulla, ‘Shivaji’s iconic sword back in Sindhudurg Fort’, DNA, 16 February 2011.

167 As related to the journalist Sujata Anandan and quoted by her in ‘Why Shivaji was an incomparable king’, Hindustan Times, 15 January 2020.

168 Since the election of Rishi Sunak, a British politician of Indian descent, to lead the Conservative Party and thereby serve as prime minister, the government of Maharashtra has revived efforts to secure the return of the sword. Coinciding with the 350th anniversary of Shivaji’s coronation in 2024, the request appears to be for a year-long loan as opposed to restitution. See Deshpande, ‘Shivaji’s ceremonial sword’, The Hindu.

169 ‘Devotee writes a letter with his blood to Pm Modi; demands to get back Jagdamb sword of Chatrapati Shivaji from England’, Marathi Newj, 19 October 2021,, [accessed 17 October 2023]. Some may find the video unsettling.

170 See, for instance, Munish Chandra Pandey, ‘Farmers write letters to PM Modi using their blood, demand repeal of farm laws’, India Today, 22 December 2020.

171 ‘Five things you need to know about Shivaji Memorial off Mumbai coast’, Hindustan Times, 20 December 2016. The metro extension seems to be a comparatively recent idea; see ‘Undersea rail mooted to reach site of Shivaji Memorial during rains’, The Indian Express, 15 August 2022.

172 ‘PM Modi performs Jal Pujan for Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Memorial’, TOI, 24 December 2016.

173 The cost of the project has constantly fluctuated; this is an estimate that excludes an additional ₹1,500 crore for the possible metro extension. ‘Undersea rail mooted to reach site’, The Indian Express.

174 ‘Use Shivaji Memorial funds for repairing his forts: Raj Thackeray’, Hindustan Times, 27 December 2016.

175 ‘Shivaji Memorial: Maharashtra govt now plans shorter statue, longer sword’, TOI, 17 July 2018. These measurements do not include the 89-metre pedestal. For comparison, the Statue of Liberty in New York has a height of 46 metres (with a pedestal of approximately the same height) and that of Christ the Redeemer in Rio de Janeiro is 30 metres (with an 8-metre pedestal). The world’s tallest statue, of Vallabhbhai Patel in Gujarat, is 182 metres with a 58-metre base.

176 The project was stalled following a Supreme Court stay in January 2019, although for a time it appeared to have been enlivened again after the Public Works Department granted an extension to the contractor, Larsen and Toubro. Vishwas Waghmode, ‘Shivaji Memorial contract: Firm gets one-year extension’, The Indian Express, 18 October 2021. As this article goes to press, the project appears stalled again, with one Maratha activist issuing an ultimatum to the government to remove delays or else give the people of Maharasthra the right to complete the project through donations. ‘Shivaji Memorial in Arabian Sea’, The Free Press Journal, 11 May 2023.