Chakkar Sada Chakrum Sikh

Code: IP7

A rare and unusual throwing ring knife from India known as the Chakram (also Chakra, Chakar, Quoit).  The word “chakra” comes from Sanskrit and means round, circle or wheel.   It has been a weapon of choice of the Sikhs for hundreds of years. The Chakkar Sada has a smooth and sharp outer edge.  The Chakkar Katavdar has a serrated outer edge.

This 19th century example of a Chakkar Sada is 9 3/8 inches in diameter.  The ring is beveled in section to generate aerodynamic lift.  The patina is mottled gray with light pitting.  The composition is radial patterned steel, pattern welded for strength and not for esthetic effect.  In other words, this is a weapon used in battle.  Other examples, overlaid in gold using the technique of koftgari, are quite beautiful.  Interestingly, the makers and users of chakrum did not differentiate between those made for display and those for practical use -- when needed, all were used in battle.

A steel chakram such as this example has an effective range of 40 to 50 meters and  because of its aerodynamic shape it is not easily deflected by wind. A brass chakram, due to lower mass, could be thrown in excess of 100 meters. It is utterly silent when thrown properly. Chakram can be thrown quickly as a stack, similar to shuriken.  Methods of throwing varied by conditions.  In single combat, the chakram would be thrown underarm.  In battle, an overhand vertical throw was used to avoid hitting friendly combatants.  A method of throwing called tajani requires the weapon to be twirled on the index finger of an upraised hand and then released towards the enemy with a flick of the wrist.  This spinning method adds power and range to a throw while also helping to avoid the risk of cutting oneself on the sharp outer edge. The Nihang, an armed Sikh order, were known as masters of the tajani and employed unique formations in battle to protect the chakram wielders who hurled chakrums at the Moghul dynasty enemy army  in volleys.   It is uncanny how similar the methods of throwing the chakram are to the ways we throw modern toys such as the Frisbee or Aerobie. In fact, the designer of the Aerobie, Alan Adler, has said he was inspired by the chakrum.

The chakram is also useful as a melee weapon in close combat, sometimes worn around the arms or wrist or held as a knuckle-duster.  Sikh warrors, shown in the picture (right) would carry multiple chakram on their wrists, around their necks and also placed on their unique conical turbans.  On the turban, the chakram could be raked across an enemy’s face in close combat.

Although the chakram is traditionally associated with the Sikhs, it is likely that the wide variation in construction and quality encountered today is due to broader use.  Examples have been associated variously with aboriginal and non-Aryan tribes of Central India and the Andaman islands who are known to have produced fine metal work in their weapons.  The Sikhs may have adapted, and perfected, this weapon from refugees of an early Aryan invasion. Variations of the chakram spread to other countries as well. A spiked version was used by Mongol cavalry, and torus-like weapons have been found in Tibet, Malaysia and Indonesia.

Chakrams are rarely found today.  After the Sikh wars and after the mutiny of 1857, in the general disarmament that took place many old weapons were destroyed and sold as metal.

Similar other traditional ethnographic weapons, the chakram has religious significance.  In Hindu and Buddhist literature, the word “chakra” refers to energy centers in the body.

The Chakrum is famously known as the weapon of Vishnu. The weapon is called “Sudarshana” and held in the upper right hand symbolizing the mind.  “Sudarshana” comes from the words “Su”, meaning good, and “Darshan”, which means vision.  The interpretation of the use of Chakram as a weapon indicates the necessity of destroying one’s ego, illusory self-existence, and developing the vision to identify eternal truth. According to the Puranas, the Sudarshana Chakram is used for the ultimate destruction of an enemy.