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Saturday, December 16, 2006

Mysore Damascus sword

Was Damascus sword made of Indian steel? Did wootz steel originate in Mysore? Or that the gift King Porus gave to Alexander in the fourth century BC was Ferrum Candidum, believed to be steel? Or that Pliny, writing in the first century BC, says that iron was imported from ‘‘Seres’’ (Cheras)? The list of surprising facts is endless. What is shocking is that we Indians know so little about such an important ancient industry of India.

Mysore wootz steel: Wootz is the anglicized version of ukku in the languages of the states of Karnataka, and Andhra Pradesh, a term denoting steel. Literary accounts suggest that the steel from the southern part of the Indian subcontinent was exported to Europe, China, the Arab world and the Middle East. India has been reputed for its iron and steel since ancient times. Literary accounts indicate that steel from southern India was rated as some of the finest in the world and was traded over ancient Europe, China, the Arab world and the Middle East. Studies on wootz indicate that it was an ultra-high carbon steel with 1-2% carbon and was believed to have been used to fashion the
Damascus blades with a watered steel pattern.

Wootz steel also spurred developments in modern metallographic studies and also qualifies as an advanced material in modern terminology since such steels are shown to exhibit super-plastic properties.In India till the 19th century swords and daggers of wootz steel were also made at centres including Lahore, Amritsar, Agra, Jaipur, Gwalior, Tanjore, Mysore, Golconda etc. although none of these centres survive today. Different types of Damascus swords have been identified in Salr Jung museum in Hyderabad.

The English word steel and the German Stahl are derived from Stahal in Old High German (~l1th century AD) and contain the reconstituted Indo-European root *sta which can be found in the German verb "stehen /stand" or in English "to stand", and related to the Sanskrit stakati, which means: "it resists". The same root is used in Nordic languages and in modem Russian, Polish, etc. In Celtic languages the same root is generally used, e.g., stailin but other words meaning force or hardness are also found, e.g., dir in Breton.

A major problem in doing scientific experiments on wootz Damascus steel is the inability to obtain samples for study. Such study requires that the blades be cut into sections for microscopic examination, and small quantities must be sacrificed for destructive chemical analysis. A rare example where museum-quality wootz Damascus blades were donated to science for study is reported in the 1924 .

The sword blanks and cakes of ukku wootz were exported in large numbers. Aristotle reportedly commented on its qualities. Some say it dates from around 500 AD. while others say it is far older. But the technology seems to have dwindled and vanished by early 1700's.
But history proclaims that wootz steel came from Mysore and few other southern parts of India.
It means that from yore ,Mysore has had inventions that we could be proud of.Is it sufficient to be proud or do something worthwhile?


Anonymous said...

There is a place near Mysore called Thandavala which until recently produced the steel that is very similar to Wootz steel.
When I was growing up in Mysore ( in the 70s) the market used to have this particular cookware dealer that specialized frying pans from Thandavala.
It had the reputation of being the best and the pans would never rust.

Ajit said...

This is some interesting information. We will try to find out more about "Steel" produced at thandavala

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Gouri Satya said...

Yes, Thandavala frying pans were popular in 50s and 60s. It was my mother's favourite and was all praise to its quality. She would search and buy Thandavala pans whenever she wanted to a buy a new one. Now it has disappeared from the market.

Raja said...

Alfred Chatterton was the first Director of Industries of Mysore Kingdom way back in 1912 and was Industrial Adviser and Director of Sandal Oil Factories, Government of Mysore, 1918-1923 in his paper presented on 22-5-1925 before The Royal Society for the Encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce says:

" Arms and equipment were of the utmost importance and the trades of the iron smelter, the smith and the armourer flourished. Mysore was celebrated for its wootz steel and it is claimed that it was in demand as the material from which the Damascus swords were made. Each village had its own artisans and the more clever and skilled men were attracted to the Courts of the local rulers, where they plied their trades to supply articles of luxury and beauty.

During the usurpations of Hyder Ali and Tippu the country suffered badly, and forced labour was ruthlessly requisitioned for the construction of military works. Wholesale migrations took place and when the Arasu family was restored to power and influence, in 1799, the country was in a terrible state.

It is a common impression that the indigenous artisans in India have suffered severely from the competition of the factories of Europe and that they are to-day in a depressed and decadent state. It is probably nearer the truth to state that the reverse is the case and, were it within the scope of this paper, it would be easy to produce convincing evidence that, whilst great changes have taken place and some industries have died out, yet on the whole the artisans are far more numerous than they ever were before, that they turn out a much greater volume of work and that they have adopted many improvements in their methods of working. This is true of Mysore as of other parts of India