Armour of Rajput Warrior
Date: Late 18th century
Materials and Techniques: Steel, gold, wood, brass, leather and textile
Dimensions: Height 102.8 cm
Museum Number: The Wallace Collection, A1828
Fabric is a very early form of armour. The problem in designing armour is to create something that protects and yet allows the user to move about and fight. Fabric works very well for this and is cheap. Armour was often reinforced at the most vulnerable areas with plates made of steel. The coat is called Chilta Hazar Masha. 'Coat of a thousand nails', made up of layers of fabric faced with velvet and studded with numerous small brass nails, which were often gilded. The padded coat, minus its nails, is known for short as a chilta and was worn over armour or on its own. Fabric armour was very popular in India because metal became very hot under the Indian sun.
These coats were very expensive. The steel helmet, arm guard or bazuband and baldric were added later (fabric hats were also made) and could be varied according to the wishes of the owner.
This armour is from Rajasthan, which means 'land of kings.' The Rajput were brave warriors whose joy in life was fighting. In order to achieve warrior heaven they wanted to die gloriously in battle - to die in bed was a huge disgrace. For this reason the Rajputs would ride to battle but then get off their horses to fight, so that if they were wounded the horse could not carry them home by accident. The story is told of one Maharaja who fought against great odds and at the end of the day, wounded and exhausted, cut his way off the battle field and rode with his surviving men for his castle. When he hammered on the door to be admitted, his wife from the battlements 'asked if he was victorious?'. When he replied 'no' she said that he must be an impostor because her husband would either be victorious or dead! The Maharaja turned round and rode back towards his enemies and death. Of course his wife too would die as a result of her action because she would ritually burn herself to death on his funeral pyre so as to accompany her husband to the next world and preserve her honour and his.