Traditional boomerangs in India


https://lh4.googleusercontent.com/-S4zFs9NAkWk/VKmp519WmfI/AAAAAAAAAuY/QUhdBqqpS7I/w800-h82-no/boomerang%2Bindia%2Bvalari%2Bkatariya%2Bbirundungi%2Bsinga%2Bfrise%2Bflip%2Bhz.jpg




I had taken for granted that boomerangs were used in India.

But when I tried to know a bit more, I found only the same sentences repeated everywhere on the Internet.

So, I searched the Web more seriously ... and gathered here every photo or comment about indian boomerangs. Most photos are from the British Museum, the Quai Branly Museum, the National Trust Collections, the Royal Collection Trust. The rest was found in the Higgins Collection, the Pitt Rivers Museum, a few commercial sites, blogs, forums or web pages. Comments generally come from old books found on archive.org.

I made screen copies of what was shown in my web browser when I zoomed on the interesting parts of the screen. Then I reworked slightly the resulting image (cropping, harmonizing sizes and orientations). This should not be a copyright violation (no commercial purpose, personnal research, teaching of some kind, ...) and it's a protection against the change of url that may always happen on the other web sites. Beside that some web site   (ex. Quai Branly Museum)  don't even allow (bug ? or stupid policy  ?) linking to their photos or web search results.

If you prefer a quick Web tour without comments you can see this video  :         




If you are interested in the cultural or historical aspect of the subject, you'll be able to read the books or web sites referenced below (although the reliable information that we can gather in english on this subject can seem very "shallow").  Anyway, the interesting thing for who (like me) is ignorant about India, is the unusual quantity of new names that we can't even associate with a vague category (tribes, castes, places, cities, persons, titles, languages, objects, historical events, ...). Add to this the fact that the place names have changed and that there were various ways of transcribing names in the roman alphabet. So, even by chasing such a limited subject as "boomerangs in India", you immediately encounter a fairly interesting quantity of unknown cultural and historical notions. 

This search really began after a discussion with youtuber "Bangalorebobbel" who found an online version of "Castes and Tribes of Southern India", Edgar Thurston, 1909.

As usual this kind of old book is to be found on archives.org, where, maybe, any such search should begin (!?) : https://archive.org/details/castestribesofso01thuriala (pdf version :
https://ia600408.us.archive.org/33/items/castestribesofso03thuruoft/castestribesofso03thuruoft.pdf).

In that document, page 66, 70, 84/85,  boomerangs are said to be a typical weapon of the Kallars/Kallan and Maravans (castes / tribes of the Tamil people in South India). Those boomerangs were made of wood, ivory, metal. The name of the weapon is written as "valai tadi" / "valari tadi" / "vellari thadi" / "vallari thadi" and is said to mean "bent stick". Page 77, 78 is mentioned a tradition : exchange of boomerangs between bride and bridegroom.
Associated place names : Madura, Madras [now Chennai] Museum, Pudukkottai, Tanjore [now Thanjavur]  Armoury.

Actually this text partly comes from "Ethnographic notes in southern India : with 40 plates", Edgar Turston, 1906; where a chapter is dedicated to boomerangs (page 555 to 559 ?? /  645 to 649) and a plate (XXXVII, page 556) with 2 boomerangs.
plate : https://archive.org/stream/cu31924023651023#page/n648/mode/1up

 
 (I separated the image in two parts)


text : https://archive.org/stream/cu31924023651023#page/n645/mode/2up

This text also states that the Koli tribe of Guzerat [Gujarat, North Western India] used boomerangs. We can doubt that the author ever saw himself an indian boomerang as every assertion is attributed to other authors or personnalities or books : Mr Savile Kent citing Mr Balfour, General Pitt Rivers [ex Lane-Fox], Prof. E.C. Stirling, Egerton's "Indian and Oriental Armour", Dr G. Oppert citing the Dewan of Pudukkottai, Mr R. Bruce Foot, G.F. Dr Penha.

Egerton's "Indian and Oriental Armour" should contain some information about indian boomerangs, but it is unexpoitable on archive.org which refers to googlebooks where (as usual) there is no means to read the thing normally. 

About Pitt Rivers / Lane-Fox, an interesting article describing his experiments on boomerangs can be read on the Pitt Rivers Museum Web site, at  http://england.prm.ox.ac.uk/englishness-PR-and-Boomerang-technology.html . We learn that Pitt Rivers made several facsimiles of Egyptian and Indian boomerangs seen in museums and that he successfully trained himself to throw them [so, this obsession about boomerangs is at least 230 years old in the west, may be more :-) ]. These are the 2 facsimiles of indian boomerang shown on the Web site (the egyptian one is beautiful also, but not given below) :
http://england.prm.ox.ac.uk/image-admin/d/2222-4/1884_25_41.jpg 

http://england.prm.ox.ac.uk/image-admin/d/2226-2/1884_25_45.jpg

I can find only another boomerang photo (a ceremonial throwing stick, Madurai, Tamil Nadu) on Pitt Rivers Museum web site :
http://web.prm.ox.ac.uk/weapons/index.php/tour-by-region/oceania/asia/arms-and-armour-asia-138/index.html

http://web.prm.ox.ac.uk/weapons/images/joomgallery/originals/asia_3/arms_and_armour_-_asia_20101126_1021464879.jpg



Chennai Museum Web Site only shows a bad quality photo of 2 apparently indian boomerangs but, strangely, the associated commentary is about australian Aborigines (although the comment is not very clear).
See  this page, which also mentions the Khonds of Orissa without alluding to boomerangs : http://www.chennaimuseum.org/draft/gallery/02/02/ethnolg2.htm


In "The races of Man : an outline of anthropology and ethnography", Deniker, 1904 we read that boomerangs named "Singa" are attributed to the Khonds of Orissa [now Odisha, Eastern India] :

https://archive.org/stream/racesofmanoutlin00deniuoft#page/258/mode/2up



In "A study of traditionnal throwing sticks and boomerang tuning", Luc Bordes makes an analysis of the shapes and profiles of 5 Indian boomerangs (Valai thadi series of 5 boomerangs from Tamil Nadu) found in the Quai Branly Museum, Paris. See page 6 "a remarkable Indian Valari series" in http://revedeboomerang.free.fr/tuning2.pdf ; figure 12a is reproduced below :


Elsewhere, on http://revedeboomerang.free.fr/inde.html and http://revedeboomerang.free.fr/planisphere.jpg we find other photos of unknow origin, one is said to represent a Katariya / Katurea (from Gujarat), another represents some Valari and an australian-looking boomerang said to be from Southern India, Tamil Nadu.
http://www.oriental-arms.co.il/photos/items/58/000558/ph-0.jpg
After verification... the first image comes from http://www.oriental-arms.co.il/item.php?id=558 (a sold item) 

Another of the same type of "Katariya", made of brass, is shown on http://akaalarms.com/sold-very-rare-18th-century-indian-boomerang-ref-10327/  
http://akaalarms.com/wp-content/uploads/birun-21.jpg
The comments let me wonder if it's a good idea to believe everything ... they seem to be like me : gathering information from every source... I would make every confusion between Katariya and Valari or Gujarat and Tamil Nadu when reading :  "A very rare 18th Century Indian boomerang, traditionally used by the tribes of Gujerat and South India to hunt small animals, and protect livestock from predators. There are various names attributed to these items, Elgood* calls it a ‘Birundungi’ (referring to the South Indian variant); and Lord Egerton**, a ‘Katariya’ (referring to a boomerang used by Koles – a tribe of Gujerat). A lesser known source, Edgar Thurston*** provides some compelling research and calls it a ‘Valari’ or ‘Valai-Tadi’, referring to examples in the Tanjore Museum."


Another similar object, 30 cm long, steel, called Birundungi, said to be from South India is shown on http://akaalarms.com/sold-south-indian-steel-boomerang-known-as-a-birundungi-ref-10082/




Another "Katariya" from the Higgins Collection http://www.higgins-collection.org/artifacts/3485

18 1/4" O.L. 14 oz - Katariya, Gujarat, iron
http://www.higgins-collection.org/object_photos/artifact_image/image/15344/3485.jpg







I first found mention of the Quai Branly collection on this page :
http://www.ashokaarts.com/shop/extremely-rare-tamil-valari-or-birudungi-wooden-war-boomerang-19th-century where they show another Valari :
 profile and upper face
 Extracts of the comment : "[...] its more common steel form it is known as Singa, it has various names in southern languages: Valari (Tamil), Katariya (Khol), Birra Jungee/Birudungi (Hyderabad), Vălaytădi (malayalam). [...] Similar examples can be seen in the British Museum, Quai Branly, Fitzwilliam and Liverpool Museum amongst others."

I found nothing about boomerangs on the Liverpool Museum Web site.

About the Fitzwilliam museum, I was not able to find any photo and their search tool is not very efficient compared to others... it's beeing replaced... so ... we can at least find a few verbal descriptions for 2 south indian boomerangs donated by a man named Robert Taylor in 1879  :
http://webapps.fitzmuseum.cam.ac.uk/explorer/index.php?qu=robert%20taylor&oid=160097
   length: 47.5 cm ; weight: 140 g ;
http://webapps.fitzmuseum.cam.ac.uk/explorer/index.php?qu=robert%20taylor&oid=160096
    length, 46 cm , weight, 250 g  [shorter but heavier]


Quai Branly Museum has a few wooden boomerang not shown to the public, but with photos on their Web Site : http://collections.quaibranly.fr/#71ea5d81-50c8-4054-a2c2-e1fcc19880b7
(searching for "boomerang inde" we find 4 results, all from South India, Tamil Nadu, Gasivaganga)

N° 71.1939.85.69 - 16 x 50,5 x 2,7 cm, 114 g 



N° 71.1939.85.66 - 14 x 48,5 x 2,8 cm, 269 g


 N° 71.1939.85.67 - 17 x 46,5 x 3 cm, 202 g


N° 71.1939.85.68 - 48 x 15 x 2,5 cm, 182 g


 knobs

searching for "bâton de jet", we find 2 more boomerangs from India
http://collections.quaibranly.fr/#15e6b86d-c5d8-4982-9b00-ec0a2511ce1e

N° 71.1954.21.19 D - 50,5 x 18 x 3,1 cm, 250 g


N° 71.1950.86.2 - 47 x 14 x 3 cm, 309 g
[can't be flat, if the data is correct, by comparison with the other boomerangs]


The british Museum also has some boomerangs from india. Searching for india+boomerang gives 6 results, all named "Valari", one being strange in shape (and doesn't seem to be able to fly).
http://www.britishmuseum.org/research/collection_online/search.aspx?searchText=india+boomerang

metal valari from Madurai (?) 34cm x 5.5 cm; 219 g
http://www.britishmuseum.org/collectionimages/AN01210/AN01210432_001_l.jpg

ivory valari from Sri Lanka 47 cm x 7.4 cm, 120 g
http://www.britishmuseum.org/collectionimages/AN01210/AN01210400_001_l.jpg

ivory valari from Sri Lanka 48 cm x 7.3 cm, 140 g
http://www.britishmuseum.org/collectionimages/AN01210/AN01210399_001_l.jpg
 
wooden valari from Madras 46cm x 7cm, 231 g
http://www.britishmuseum.org/collectionimages/AN01210/AN01210431_001_l.jpg

wooden (mimosa) valari from south india 47cm x 6.8 cm, 159 g
http://www.britishmuseum.org/collectionimages/AN01210/AN01210425_001_l.jpg

valari, indian club, from industan (?) 62 cm x 32.5 cm x 3.1 cm ; 480 g [probably not flat and unable to fly]
http://www.britishmuseum.org/collectionimages/AN01208/AN01208865_001_l.jpg

Searching for "india throwing stick" http://www.britishmuseum.org/research/collection_online/search.aspx?searchText=india+throwing+stick we find one more boomerang (in shape), this time it is said to have been made by Gond (said to be one of the most diffused tribe in India) but by the shape, it seems to be simply one more valari from south India (with a missing broken angle). 


6.1 cm, 44.6 cm, 0.2 cm, 0.2 g [the alleged dimensions are clearly false]
http://www.britishmuseum.org/collectionimages/AN01316/AN01316864_001_l.jpg

Searching for "collery stick" ("collery" comes from Kallar) http://www.britishmuseum.org/research/collection_online/search.aspx?searchText=collery+stick we find one more southern indian Valari. This one related to : Thanjavur (city, formerly Tanjore), Maravar (Tamil tribe).

49.5 cm x 6.2 cm; 207 g
http://www.britishmuseum.org/collectionimages/AN01210/AN01210433_001_l.jpg
About the "collery stick" we find in "Military reminiscences : extracted from a journal of nearly forty years' active service in the East Indies", James Welsh, 1830, Volume 1, page 130  (https://archive.org/stream/militaryreminisc01wels#page/130/mode/2up) : " [...] taught me to throw the spear, and hurl the collery stick, a weapon scarcely known elsewhere, but in a skilful hand, capable of being thrown to a certainty to any distance within one hundred yards".
Little more information on the collery-stick / valari that had known James Welsh, on the Web page http://www.sivagangaiseemai.com/maruthupandiyar/maruthu-pandiyar-history6.html# (about the history of Maruthu / Marudhu / Mardoo brothers once rulers of Sivagangai) The text seems to replicate parts of James Welsh's text without always saying it, so it's not very clear where the information comes from). 
From the blog Maya Devar comes another photo that spresents a dozen of Valari : http://mayadevar.blogspot.com/2009/04/poomarang-valari.html . By interpreting the automatic translation of the Tamil comments, I guess those Valari were exposed in the palace of the ex-ruling family in Ramanathapuram / Ramnad, South East India.
We can guess that most of those valaris are only slightly flattened : except the one in the center ; they may have been unable to really fly. 4 are broken in a way that let think they were not perfectly cut along the grain of the wood. Maybe because, for handiness, the knob had to diverge slightly from the overall  curve.
http://1.bp.blogspot.com/_cUXwJ7o3uhw/Sex_EZnJclI/AAAAAAAAADA/wBVXWFdt_Aw/s1600/pumarang.jpg


On http://tamilnation.co/heritage/weapon.htm we find another article about boomerangs used by the Tamils (but no source is cited) : "Valari - An Unique Weapon of the Tamils". The url "tamilnation.co" is said to replace temporarily "tamilnation.org", so be sure to go there when this url doesn't work anymore. And there is an image of a valari that is said to have been found in Thondi (city, port, in Ramanathapuram District, Tamil Nadu). Associated person names : Dr Jeyachandrun (the man who holds the valari in the photo), Dr Jayabarathi (the author of the article)
http://tamilnation.co/images/heritage/valari.jpg


On http://vikingsword.com/vb/showthread.php?p=56083 we find two photos.
The first one is of a metal boomerang, from the book of Robert Elgood (2004) "Hindu Arms and Ritual: Arms and Armour from India 1400-1865" where it is said to be on page 191 (also said : more boomerang from India to be seen on page 193 ; the author states that there are 6 types of boomerangs in India - [can't verify that, this book is too recent to be freely read online] ).
http://vikingsword.com/vb/attachment.php?attachmentid=25675&stc=1

The second one is said to be from a "book Malbourough House" (I found on archive.org a catalog of "A CATALOGUE OF THE MUSEUM OF ORNAMENTAL ART AT MARLBOROUGH HOUSE PALL MALL (1856)" but there is only the part I ; the Division 14 - about weapons - may be in the second part; see it at http://hdl.handle.net/2027/chi.80791435). The photo represents a cluster of weapons labelled "CASE J". I show here only the #205 : something shaped as another ivory boomerang from India.
http://vikingsword.com/vb/attachment.php?attachmentid=26571&stc=1


A few more boomerangs found by searching "throwing weapons" in the National Trust Collections (after having seen photos and detailed comment on Pinterest)  http://www.nationaltrustcollections.org.uk/search/1?show=100.
http://gateway.ntpl.org.uk/hppa-zooms/00000000420/cms_pow2614.bro
http://gateway.ntpl.org.uk/hppa-zooms/00000000420/cms_pow2615.bro

http://gateway.ntpl.org.uk/hppa-zooms/00000000621/cms_pow2616.bro

http://gateway.ntpl.org.uk/hppa-zooms/00000000621/cms_pow0304.bro

http://gateway.ntpl.org.uk/hppa-zooms/00000000419/cms_pow2435.bro


"The Evolution of Culture and Other Essays", Pitt-Rivers, Augustus Henry Lane-Fox, 1906
 Plate XV, diagram 6, Indian Boomerangs
 
There may have been an interesting collection of Indian boomerangs at the Pitt-Rivers Museum in 1946; Large enough to deserve a catalog (?), from what we may infer from "Sir Francis made a valuable catalogue of our Indian boomerangs" (see the annual report of the curator of the Pitt Rivers Museum, in 1946, http://web.prm.ox.ac.uk/sma/index.php/museum-annual-reports/246-1945-46-annual-report.html )


46.8 x 5.2 x 2.5 cm, rosewood, blades shod in silver, heavy knobs
Presented by H.H. The Rani of Shivaganga, Mysore

49.3 x 15.2 cm, rosewood, flat blade, iron band, heavy knob
Presented by H.H. the Rani of Shivaganga, Mysore

48 x 15 cm, rosewood, flat blade, iron band, heavy knob
Presented by H.H. the Rani of Shivaganga, Mysore


Singhá, 44.2 x 14.5 cm, flat [?? doesn't seem so] steel blade, heavy knob
Presented by H.H. the Rani of Shivaganga, Mysore


Singhá, 44.0 x 14.6 cm, flat [?? doesn't seem so] steel blade, heavy knob
Presented by H.H. the Rani of Shivaganga, Mysore


38.8 x 15.5 cm, flat steel blade, heavy knob
Presented by H.H. the Rani of Shivaganga, Mysore
Singa, 39.5 cm, flat blade, heavy knob
Presented by H.H. the Rani of Shivaganga, Mysore

43.3 x 17.0 cm, flat steel blade, heavy knob, N° 38589
Presented by H.H. the Rani of Shivaganga, Mysore



46.0 x 5.2 x 2.9 cm, flat rosewood blades, heavy knobs, N° 38129
Presented by H.H. the Rani of Shivaganga, Mysore


2 Singá, 34.8 x 14.8 x 2.4 cm, silver-damascened steel, flat blades, heavy knobs
Presented by H.H. the Rani of Shivaganga, Mysore


45.7 x 6.4 x 3.2 cm, ivory boomerang, each side slightly convex
Presented by Ramachandra Tondaiman, Raja of Pudukkottai.


54.2 x 10.6 x 2.1 cm, ivory, slightly convex surfaces, tapering to flat rounded pommel,
fitted with band mount at wide end
Presented by Ramachandra Tondaiman, Raja of Pudukkottai.

36.4 x 4.8 x 2.6 cm, coloured ivory with strong grain, silver and lacquer




"Handbook to the ethnographical collections", British Museum, 1910. Found on archive.org :  https://archive.org/stream/handbooktoethnog00brituoft#page/48/mode/2up

(This comment differs from what we understand from http://revedeboomerang.free.fr/planisphere.jpg, where an australian looking boomerang and 3 southern indian boomerangs are all related to Tamil Nadu)


The Rough Guide to South India, https://books.google.fr/books?id=sEhJBfbhTAAC, page 513
 [...]

That is probably related to the mayadevar blog entry seen earlier.


The Hindu, April 22, 2012


Update, oct 2015 : 
I'm happy to see the above text reproduced (under the title " Maravar Wepon Boomerang collected in Maravar Zamintaris" ... what is Zamintaris ?) on
The two copies have added something : a link to "chakra(boomerang)" from the "Book of Vishnu" by Nanditha Kirshna. As far as I understand : in some mythical/religious stories and books of India, some gods and supernatural creatures made use of a weapon called "chakra" that had the property to come back in the hand of the thrower; the article makes a link with neolithic boomerangs.



Found this picture of beautiful indian boomerangs on a facebook group organised someone named Raniganda Ranganathan and promoting the revival of the Valari : தமிழர் வளரி 2016 (Ancient Boomerang)

https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=1069700086383165&set=gm.1069205826464851&type=3&theater
 [the one on the right side seems more australian (?)]



On the same facebook group, someone (Kamala Balchandar) posted this picture, said to be of a family bringing home natural mangrove elbows (supposedly for making boomerangs).

https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=1047058982012520&set=gm.944731938941785&type=3&theater




TheHindu.com has an article (dated june 3 2016) about valaris : "The deadly weapon that exemplified Tamil spirit". (http://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/chennai/the-deadly-weapon-that-exemplified-tamil-spirit/article8684011.ece)

According to this article, there may be lots of information to be read about valaris : "A lot of British documents of the 17th and 18th century talks about the weapon,” said Sahitya Akademi award-winning writer Su.Venkatesan, who has done a lot of research about the weapon.". The same Venkatesan is said to have seen hundreds of Valaris in a temple in Kovilankulam in Madurai where valari was still offered to a deity named Pattasamy. The article shows a photo with a comment saying that it depicts valaris as an offering to Pattasamy.
Another interesting claim, in part attributed to a man designated as "IAS officer M. Rajendran" : the British would have banned the use of valaris in 1801, and even recollected and destroyed 15000 valaris.




James Hornell
The Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland
Vol. 54 (Jul. - Dec., 1924), pp. 316-346

The section about boomerangs seems much less documented and precise than that of the blow-gun. But the content seems plausible (to the basic ignorant; when he ignores the seemingly wild speculations about links with Egypt and egyptian boomerangs). 

We read that non returning boomerang were still in use in India in ~1920.  There is also a mention of the use of thin returning boomerangs.
A glimpse at the original text above cited (Lane Fox Catalogue, page 28; https://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=umn.31951002133997g;view=1up;seq=52) shows nothing very fascinating (lots of speculations about the possible evolution of the boomerang), no much real indian boomerangs, 3 fac-simile. The assertion that some indian boomerangs can be made to return may well be the result of his practice with fac-simile, not the result of him witnessing South indian individuals using their traditional boomerangs in this way.

The tradition seems rooted in the past, if we believe the remark that tales about heroic skilled throwers were appreciated.

In ~1920 the boomerang was mainly used for hunting.




A short YTB video by user "mohamed rafeek" showing some beautiful exemplaries 
"boomarang valari kambu of tamilnadu once used by maruthu brothers"


The term "valari kambu" is rarely seen elsewhere on the internet and seems related to Sivaganga Palace.
The mentions I found (often mere copy/pastes) :
  • once here : http://www.sivagangaiseemai.com/history/sivagangai-kingdom.html
  • once here : http://www.discoveredindia.com/tamil-nadu/attractions/historical-and-archeological-places/sivaganga-palace.htm
    • same thing here : http://www.thehindu.com/todays-paper/tp-in-school/of-valour-and-victory/article4953775.ece
    • and here http://tamilnadu-favtourism.blogspot.fr/2016/08/sivaganga-palace-sivaganga.html 
    • and once again duplicated here http://www.skyscrapercity.com/showthread.php?t=1467658&page=21 
    • an again (a small excerpt) here http://shodhganga.inflibnet.ac.in/bitstream/10603/149560/10/10_chapter%204.pdf


From the V&A web site

Boomerang made in Gujarat, wood, Length: 68.6 cm, Width: 4.7 cm max; made in ~1850
http://collections.vam.ac.uk/item/O1289532/boomerang-unknown/

Another one, made in Gujarat, Length: 74 cm, Width: 6 cm max.
https://collections.vam.ac.uk/item/O1289531/boomerang-unknown/


We can find interesting keywords in the notes : Kole tribe, hunting game, katariya, katureea
  • "As originally arranged and displayed in Exhibition Road Indian Museum galleries until 1955, with some additions while in storage, case F.695"
  • "Carved wooden boomerang with inscriptions in black ink on one side, used by the Koles for hunting game, Gujarat, mid 19th century. Ex India Museum. Egerton 2.; boomerang, katariya; Arms, wood, Gujarat"
  • "Boomerangs katureea: (three); wood, undecorated; length on outer curve 34, 29, 29 ins; Kole tribe, Gujarat2761 I.S. [pre 1993]"
  • bibliographic reference : "Lord Egerton of Tatton, Indian and Oriental Armour, London, 1896, p. 78, Cat. No. 1-3"


2 comments:

  1. Muy buen trabajo de recopilación. Desconocía la existencia de tantos tipos de boomerangs en India.
    Gracias por compartir la información.

    ReplyDelete
  2. I would like to speak to you, We are reviving Valari, Documenting and spreading the skills of Valari. I feel you have be with us, in this process for the cause.

    Your work is excellent in this blog. can i get your contact number.

    My mobile number is 9916688811.

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    ReplyDelete