Utility objects are windows to view stories of culture, social systems and the everyday lives of their times. This beautiful karda knife and snuff bottle tell stories about the ways and works of warrior and merchant tribes in medieval South Asia.
Few of South Asia’s knives hold quite as rich a folklore as the blade sets of Nepali Gurka warriors. This knife is a karda type that belongs to a Gurka warrior’s traditional set. Kardas belong with a mother blade known as a kukri—the infamous weapons that make up the Gurka legacy as much as the warriors themselves. Gurka warrior blades come in a set of three knives. The mother blades kukri carry their signature recurve and ‘notch’ called a cho designed to mark the starting point for sharpening and to prevent blood from running down the handle and onto the warrior’s hand. The smallest blade ‘chakmak’ is blunt, and made for the purpose of sharpening the kukri. The small, sharp knife shown here is the karda type reserved for utility purposes like skinning and cutting. This karda knife had been separated from its mother kukri blade at some point in its journey from the mountains of Nepal. It had been handcrafted in steel and buffalo bone. The handle has been fastened with a laha tree sap, also known as Himalayan epoxy. It features beautiful brass and bone inlays with geometric shapes, giving this karda a richness that celebrates its utilitarian origins.
The antique snuff bottle accompanying the karda is also from Nepal. Snuff bottles are tiny and exquisitely beautiful curiosities that once housed pulverized tobacco and aromatic spices for preservation and ease of transport. Conceived as precious containers, snuff bottles were initially made for the emperor and the court and eventually produced in much greater quantities as imperial tastes became popular with the public. This snuff bottle is made from silver, and carved Yak bone; it features a Star of David, a yin-yang, suns, flowers, and a dove. These little details show the technical virtuosity of the artisans at the time. Typical to tradition, it has a dipper attached to the lid.
Just in case: antique karda knife + snuff bottle
Knife 6.5” L x 1.1” W at the widest
Snuff bottle 3” H x 1.5” W at the widest