Catalogues are the life-spring of any museum-they are the cause and effect of the curatorial existence. It is a sad commentary on Indian museums that they have, individually and collectively, failed to accomplish their primary duty. Good catalogues, are hard to find and arms catalogues are almost unknown. The present catalogue may serve as a silver linning amidst the dark cloud. Out of its about six thousand four hundred assorted weapons of offence and defence about three hundred pieces of armour have been included in this catalogue.
The study of Indian armour is interesting both for the part they played in shaping history and, on the technical side, for the way they involved applied arts. The subject has been studied from the surviving examples of armour that have come down to us and are preserved in the museums, armouries of the erstwhile princes and private collections; from the representation of them on coins, in paintings, in sculptures and decorative arts; from the fragments unearthed from the archaeological excavations; from the particulars of manufacture and provenance available from inventories and other documents preserved in the pothikhanas and from the few armourers (sikligars) who have kept this tradition still alive in this country.
The evolution of armour was governed by two factors. First, there was a constant combat between the forces of offence and defence in which new armour had to be devised for every new weapon and still superior weapon had to be invented which could have pierced that kind of armour. That tug of war continues even today. Secondly, there was the contest between the need for mobility and the desire for safety. Light and handy armour provide better mobility but are not so sturdy as the heavier armour are. Too much emphasis on safety would make an armour heavy and its wearing tiresome. The there was the question of price, which was beyond the reach of many people. Only the princes, the knights and those who could afford it wore armour; common soldiers had to be contended with stuffed fabric coat and garments. The heat of India did not permit its wearing for long and the monsoon did not allow an armour piece to be preserved for long without being rusted and corroded.
A complete suit of armour weighted about fifty kilograms but this heavy load was spread over the whole body and the wearer could move with surprising ease and freedom. If on a horse or on an elephant, the major weight was shared by the animals.
With the development of fire arms into really useful weapons, armour had to be made thicker to give the necessary protection, which, in turn, made it heavier and uncomfortable to wear. So, in time, the warrior found it necessary to discard the armour for less vital parts. The leg pieces below the knee were first to go which were replaced by long leather boots. This eventually led to the total disappearance of armour in the 19th century.
After an absence of almost one hundred years, the armour reappeared in India, in World War I when troops on both sides were issued steel helmets. The world "armour" took an altogether difference meaning when in 1916 the "armoured tanks" rumbled on the field. And so the modern soldier goes to war, not encased in suit of shining armour, but carried in armoured vehicles which can travel on any ground or even "swim" in water.
Since I joined National Museum in 1998, I have been emphasizing the importance of museum publications as an instrument of educational programme. Several portfolios of miniatures were produced during last one year. These were proved to be quite popular among the museum visitors. We are now laying stress on the publications of a series of catalogues of selected collections which were so far remained unpublished.
This illustrated catalogue is the first of the series planned by us. The arms and armours collection in the National Museum is quite fascinating. It is one of the unique collections which presents a variety of armours revealing rich technological and artistic tradition of the country. Typical items of Rajput, Mughal and Maratha show different styles and decorative elements. A few armours are the prized possession as these were identified with the episodes of our medieval history.
I am sure that this catalogue will be useful not only to the school students but also to the teachers and scholars. Even the general public would be fascinated to see this publication carefully designed and formated by Prof. G. N. Pant and Shri K. K. Sharma, Dy. Keeper (Arms). They have done a good job in writing the relevant illustrations. I am pleased to say that the publication section has been labouring hard to bring out an excellent catalogue in a short time. This trend will continue and the National Museum will bring more worthwhile publications for the benefit of the public at large, in near future.
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