The ethereal art of weapon ornamentation- Koftgari, is perhaps the most beautiful part of the armory of Rajasthan’s royals. Koftgari is the Arabic term for the art of decorative damascening of hard ferrous metals with hair-thin precious metal wires. This particular art of damascening is believed to have reached India during 16th century. The erstwhile Mughal invaders had brought the art with them from Persia.
Eventually, the art found patronage among the kings of Rajasthan, where it flourished like a splendid foreign art until it became an inevitable part of the state’s own culture. Sikligars, the traditional weapon makers in Rajasthan of the time, specialized the art, ameliorating their already splendid skills of weapon making. Koftgari enabled Sikligars to craft functional and gracefully ornamented weaponry for the rulers and noblemen of the time.
The process these Sikligars used to develop a koftgari decorated weapon, was quite time-consuming, laborious, as well as artistic. First of all, the base metal (usually made of hard steel) is heated. Then, its surface is scratched thoroughly and evenly in a crosshatched manner. The plate is then heated once again to make it rough and easily adaptable for the wire inlaying. Once all these laborious tasks are done, the artistic part of the process begins.
Fine metallic wires are carefully pressed into thus prepared surface. Since no prior sketching can be done on metal, the weapon maker has to decide the design or pattern of the koftgari, in real time, when he is inlaying the metallic wires. Evidently, this stage of koftgari needs a great deal of precision and quick hands, so the whole work can be completed before the steel cools down.
Once the whole design is etched, the product is heated so that both the metals can infuse properly. Then using a smoother the cross hatched surface is smoothed, and heated again for one final time to give it that lustrous appearance.
Koftgari is mostly used in the ornamentation of sword’s, daggers, or similar weaponry’s hilts. Another prominent use of the arts is found on the shields. Some rare pieces of armory (like helmets and armlets) too were found with the Koftgari embellishments.