There are many knives related to nations or tribes. The khyber knife is an ancient medieval tool that originated from Persia. Many people who recognize it know it as an Afghani-bladed sword.
The knife was originally the national sword of tribes residing close to the Khyber Pass, a popular hilly area between Pakistan and Afghanistan.
This pass meanders via the Spin Ghar (white) mountains in Afghanistan to reach Pakistan for linking Central Asia to the Indian subcontinent. It is also an integral part of the famous old Silk Road route of trade and had tactical importance for invasions.
The Pashtun tribes such as Shinwari and Afridis, inhabit this area. Most hamlets in the Khyber Pass are Afridis, which are warlike folks as tagged by the British in the past. Using this knife, the Shinwaris have a record of protecting travelers for a nominal charge.
The knife is used even today in and around this pass. It is also used in Northern India, Pakistan, and Afghanistan.
Let’s find out more about this knife.
The weapon is locally famous as chura, charay, or charas. George Stone and Lord Egerton have given another name while writing about this knife in their books, which is salawar yataghan. The salawar was popular amongst armies who had struggled to conquer the clans of Afghanistan.
This name is perhaps a Western term derived from Ottoman yataghan featuring a blade that is somewhat similar to the Khyber sword. The word, salawar, comes from the term salwar, which refers to the conventional apparel of South Asia that the people of Pashtun tribes typically wear.
The Design of Khyber Knives
A Khyber knife is traditionally a sword. It is known as a short sword, as per the modern terminology. The tool features a huge straight, T-shape blade of sizeable length with the base widened so that the base can act as a handguard.
Thus, this sword is a wide-bladed tool with a T-shaped cross-section narrowing to a sharp point. With the unique T-shaped blade, this tool is incredibly strong across its length and perfect for cutting attacks and piercing armor.
A portion of its handle tends to vanish in the scabbard, just as the Indo-Persian kard or Caucasian shashka daggers. A few modes are large knives, while the rest have the size of a typical sword.
A typical Khyber knife comes with a one-edged straight blade whose length can be between 14 to 30 inches. The T shape of the blade is visible at the opposite end of the edge that is sharpened. The width is maximum at the hilt’s base from where the blade tapers slowly towards the point.
The hilt has the typical knife’s handle look. It encompasses a flat tang. The pommel is small, and it bends a bit towards the blade. The handle is typically made using two pieces of horn, ivory, or bone. The conical scabbard is designed using wood and is layered with fabric, leather, or long metal.
Typically, a Khyber knife is large. Apart from the blade widening at its base, the knife’s back is also quite wide in some models. This gives you an extraordinarily stable blade.
The blade’s wide base accompanies the center of gravity near to the handle-you get a well-balanced knife. There is no forward drop, and a brass fitting is also typical for this type of Khyber knife.
The earlier Khyber knives came with a gently recurved shape. The British forces used them for fighting during the 19th century and found that they were chiefly for rendering heavy cuts. This was despite their look similar to thrusting weapons and the T-cross-section, creating hope for piercing armor.
Most Khyber swords feature tribal craftsmanship as well as finish, with quite simple blades made using steel. The best versions featured a build of dark Persian wootz steel and koftgari art of decorating steel with gold on handles and bolsters. These are usually large and belong to the 18th century.
Lord Egerton possessed this weapon that has a dark blade termed as Kara Khorassan. Kara refers to the brilliant black color marked by a contrast pattern of near black to silver shades. These knives possessed the spine’s rear chiseled with ornamental motifs and ridgelines.
On the other hand, Khorassan is the name of a place in modern Iran from where the popular dark Persian wootz came. He has also mentioned that the chura knives were made in Kabul, Khorassan, and Jellalabad.
Khyber Knife Styles
A Khyber’s blade is available in more than one style. For example, it is seen in the salawar’s small counterparts, namely, the Pesh kabz and the chura. The chura variants and the Khyber swords are the characteristic weapons of the Pashtun people.
First utilized in Indo-Persia, the chura version took no time in spreading in the East and derived its name from its widespread usage against the British by the folks of the Khyber Pass region. The scabbard is usually worn unsecured and in a variety of positions underneath a belt.
The Pesh kabz is a shorter variant whose length is between 11 and 18 inches and has a recurve, while the kard is a longer form with a length of up to 26″ and is relatively straighter.
The chura or the Afghan knife, as the name indicates, is what the people of Afghanistan use. However, it was widely allotted to people across India since the Mughal era. Thus, this style is commonly seen in large numbers in Indian museums and armories.
With the blade measuring 30 to 70 cm, the longer Afghan chura is not a part of the dagger category. It contains a single-edged, straight back blade. The rear edge is thick and armored to make a T-shaped section. On the other hand, the front edge tapers slowly. The hilt’s lower part usually has an ornate metal mount.
Most chura knives are designed using high-carbon steel. The grip splits riveted to a full tang are made using buffalo horn, while the pommel is added using a built-in lanyard ring.
Some models come with an aged finish on the full body of the blade and handle, full tang profile, painted brass and buffalo horn grip, and a customary ring for a wrist tie-down. Further, a raised spine along the blade makes it thin to possess a sharp edge and yet be exceedingly strong.
A rarer version of the famous chura is a pattern-welded knife that the British met while expanding their reign. It is a bone-handled tool with surprisingly a heavy blade. The steel build highlights the areas of light and dark flows triggered due to pattern welding, thus making it more preferable by collectors.
The overall build’s transparency and robustness indicate that it is an ancient model made earlier than most knives of the Victorian era.
Pesh kabz Knife
The Pesh kabz is an Indo-Persian knife made to infiltrate maille and other kinds of armor. This Persian term means foregrip. Initially designed during the Safavid dynasty in Persia in the 17th century, it became prevalent not only in Afghanistan but also in Central Asia and India during the Mughal era.
The term was initially used to refer to the front of a strap that the Persian wrestlers wore. The shorter form of Khyber knife was centrally worn, unlike the kard and other knives worn at the side. The blade was also famous for slicing flesh.
As the modern armies stopped wearing the armor, the Pesh kabz was retained as a close combat knife. Several Pashtun men, especially the Afridi, Mahsud, and Shinwari, kept using the design along with the kard and chura.
The tribesmen used shooters to pin down the Indian or British armies while crawling up with these close combat knives. During the Indian colonial era, the British referred to all these Afghan blade patterns as Khyber or Afghan knives. In India, this knife was used in the northern Bhera, which is now in Pakistan.
At the time of the first two Anglo-Afghan wars, this weapon, along with the Afghan knife, was repeatedly used for finishing off the wounded colonial and British armies.
Even today, this version of a Khyber knife is used as a personal weapon. It is also in use as a ceremonial symbol of adulthood for the Afghan hill tribes. At the time of the Soviet occupation, this knife in Afghanistan was again commonly in use to slay wounded or detained prisoners.
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A Khyber knife is traditionally a Persian knife with a treacherous history in the regions of Afghanistan and Central Asia. It is available in different styles and is known by different names in its originating area of Khyber Pass.