• Monday, March 04, 2024


Victoria & Albert to loan ‘Tiger Claws’ weapon to India

Maharashtra minister for cultural affairs, Sudhir Munganitwar, signed the agreement with V&A director, Dr Tristram Hunt, at the museum

Maharashtra culture affairs minister Sudhir Mungantiwar stands before the statue of Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj before he leaves for London (ANI Photo)

By: Eastern Eye

INDIA’S Maharashtra state government on Tuesday (3) signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with the Victoria and Albert (V&A) Museum in London for the loan of a 17th century ‘Tiger Claws’ weapon for an exhibition in the country.

Maharashtra minister for cultural affairs, Sudhir Munganitwar, signed the agreement with V&A director, Dr Tristram Hunt, at the museum.

Hunt hailed the “historic partnership” between the V&A, the government of Maharashtra and the Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya (CSMVS) museum in Mumbai, which will enable the unique object to form part of celebrations in India next year.

The weapon is believed to have belonged to Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj. “Given their fascinating heritage, I hope the displays across Maharashtra and the accompanying events will help support new research into the Tiger Claws’ history and provenance,” Hunt said.

“We look forward to working with colleagues to finalise plans in the months ahead,” he added.

Details are set out in the deal for a three-year loan agreement of the Tiger Claws or wagh nakh in the V&A collection. They are described as an example of a weapon that was popular in the 17th century.

This particular set has long drawn interest from scholars due to the leather case which was made for them in the 19th century by their owner at the time. They are believed to be the same Tiger Claws used by Shivaji during the Maratha leader’s historic battle and triumph over Azfal Khan in 1659, the V&A said.

The agreement signed on Tuesday is the first step in the process which, following a formal loan agreement being finalised later this year, will enable the Tiger Claws to travel to multiple destinations across India. The Tiger Claws will feature in commemorative events planned next year to mark the 350th anniversary of Shivaji’s coronation.

During a protracted military engagement in 1659, the legendary Maratha leader held metal claws, or wagh nakh, concealed in his hand and is said to have disembowelled his opponent Afzal Khan – the commander of the opposing Bijapur army.

It is believed, though unverified, that the set of claws then came into the possession of James Grant Duff, an officer of the East India Company who was appointed resident or political agent of the Satara state in 1818 and then gifted to the V&A by a descendant.

“The story of Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj’s triumph over Afzal Khan is legendary, so we are delighted that the ‘Tiger Claws’ will return to India as part of the 350th anniversary events where they can be enjoyed as part of the celebrations. We hope their display might also enable new research into their history and look forward to working in partnership with colleagues in the months ahead as we develop plans for their display,” a V&A spokesperson said.

The MoU coincides with Maharashtra’s 350th anniversary celebrations of the coronation of Shivaji. It is expected to be dispatched to India later this year for an agreed period.

According to historical accounts, Shivaji and Afzal Khan had arranged a truce after political upheavals in order to meet in a tented enclosure, virtually alone.

The V&A description of the history of the ‘Tiger Claws’ said: “Both came armed: Shivaji wore mail under his clothes and metal skull protection under his turban. He also held a metal ‘Tiger Claws’ weapon concealed in his hand. The two men fought, and Shivaji disembowelled his opponent.

“The last Peshwa (prime minister) of the Marathas, Baji Rao II, surrendered to the British in June 1818 after defeat in the Third Anglo-Maratha War and was banished to Bithoor near Kanpur. It is possible he also surrendered this weapon to Grant Duff.”

Eastern Eye

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