Armour, believed to be of Guru Gobind Singh, to be auctioned

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Patiala, Mar 26 (UNI) A leading auction house Sotheby's is set to put under hammer rare piece of body armour that experts believe belonged to the tenth Sikh Guru, Guru Gobind Singh.

The inscribed steel armour plate will be auctioned in Sotheby's Arts of the Islamic World Sale, the most important of its kind the company has ever staged, on April 9.

The steel plate would originally have been part of a set of body armour known as 'char-aina' (four mirrors) comprising back, front and two side plates.

The Sotheby's armour plate bears a close similarity to Guru Gobind Singh's known personal armour preserved in a royal collection of erstwhile princely state of Patiala.

The existence of a second set leads experts to believe that the Guru's armourers were commissioned to produce another.

This sale comes at a time when Sikh heritage objects have realised impressive prices with collectors and dealers clashing in frenzied bidding wars in London's auction houses.

The most remarkable example was witnessed at Bonham's in April 2007, when a marble bust of Maharaja Duleep Singh sculpted by John Gibson in 1859, fetched an astonishing sum of 1.7 million pound as against Bonham's expectation of mere 30,000 pound.

The auction to be held on April 9, which comprises 400 lots of rare and important works of art, is expected to realise in excess of 9 million pound.

It will be the first time that the Sotheby's would put on offer a relic belonging to a Sikh Guru and as such, it is bound to attract keen interest from collectors and connoisseurs of Sikh heritage across the globe.

The Sotheby's example is virtually identical to another armour plate from a complete 'char-aina' set currently housed in the collection of the royal family of Patiala in Punjab.

Each plate in the Patiala set is adorned with verses rendered in gold Gurmukhi script from the Sikh scriptures, including the opening verses of Guru Nanak's ''Japji Sahib'', and Guru Gobind Singh's ''Jaap Sahib'' and ''Akal Ustat''.

According to a well-established family tradition, the set was gifted to one of their ancestors by Guru Gobind Singh.

The close relationship between the Guru and the Patiala family is attested to in the saying ''Tera ghar mera asay'' (Your house is my refuge). This phrase appears in the Guru's hukamnama (royal decree) dated August 2, 1696 and addressed to the sons of Phul, the founder of the Patiala dynasty.

The Sotheby's armour plate also carries the opening verse of ''Akal Ustat'' as found on the Guru's personal ''Raikot'' sword.

The inscription has been delicately applied on the plate's central panel in gold 'koftgari', the traditional technique of overlaying gold wire onto a steel surface. The floral border and buckles that would have fastened the set together with straps are also lavishly decorated in gold 'koftgari' work.

In keeping with the highest standards associated with the Guru's personal armoury, the plate's central panel has been forged from ''watered steel'', a fabled material known in the West as Damascus Steel, used by Indian and Persian blacksmiths to create the finest and most valuable blades and armour before the advent of modern manufacturing techniques.

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