A Kodava Pichangatti knife from India

Code:  IP3

This is a 19th century Pichangatti knife of the Kodavas (Kodava, Kannada) people of Kodagu in Southwest India (see map below). The British referred to the region as “Coorg”, an anglicized corruption of Kodagu, said to be derived from the Kanarese Kudu, " steep," "hilly".  The heavy, broad steel blade is quite sharp and has a single fuller on each side. The blade is inlaid with gold in traditional Kodava design.  The silver hilt is engraved and set with mother of pearl panels, gold inlay, and decorated with multiple vibrant color enameling.  With an overall length of just 22cm (8 5/8 inches), this is not a large knife.  Nevertheless, it is sharp and deadly in the hand as well as a beautiful work of art.

The Kodavas pronounci it “Peechekathi” and not “Pichangatti”.  The word “kathi” in the Kodava language (and most other Dravidian tongues such as Tamil and Malayalam) means “knife” or “dagger”.  The pichangatti cannot be purchased “off the shelf” even in the heart of Kodagu (also known as Mercara).  Like the "Pusaka" Keris of Java and heirlooms of other cultures, it often handed down over generations. 

Pichangatti hilt detail

New pichangattis can sometimes be made to order by a jeweler, not a swordsmith.  The jewelers were and still are responsible for the making of these knives, many of which are of ornate design and traditionally embellished with gold and silver as well as other metals and sometimes gems. The blades, although being of fine workmanship as well, are of lesser importance.

Kodava (Coorg) Man

The pichangatti is worn by Kodavas men on special occasions and for important social functions. The Kodavas men insert the knife at their waist.  The knife is always carried in the front of the belt that carries the aya katti (“ayudhakathi”), a short sword, which is invariably strapped to the Kodavas' waistband at the back or held in the hand (see the picture below).  “Ayudha” is Sanskrit for “weapon”.  With its rich decoration, the pichangatti is more of a status symbol than a weapon, and is used much as westerners use a pocket knife.

Once a kingdom, today Kodava is a province of India. The Kodavas are renowned warriors sometimes known as the “Lords of War”. Their homeland has been defended vigorously (and successfully) for two millennia. 

Like the Kafirs of the Hindu Kush in Afghanistan, some people believe the Kodavas are descendants of part of Alexander the Great's army who migrated south and married into the local population. These men in Alexander's army may have come from what is now Syria.  There are many other theories as well, but what is known without doubt is that they have been indigineous residents of this area for at least 1,000 years.

A group of men in Kodava

A Kodava (Coorg) family

The Kodavas constitute a highland clan, free from the trammels of caste, and they have the manly bearing and independent spirit natural in men who have been from time immemorial the lords of their soil. Their religion consists of ancestor and demon-worship, with a certain mixture of Brahman cults. The men are by tradition warriors and hunters, and while they will plough the fields and reap the rice,they leave all menial work to the women and servants.

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Coorg Culture

A Tiger Wedding in Coorg, India

Culture of Kodavas