A Flexible and Deadly Blade: The Dangerous Urumi
The urumi (which may be literally translated as ‘curling blade’,) is a type of weapon from India. This weapon is known also as ‘surul vaal’, which means ‘spring sword’). As its name suggests, this weapon consists of a metal blade that is wielded like a whip. The urumi has often been described as one of the more bizarre weapons that the world has seen. And it is an extremely dangerous weapon, not only for those whom it is used against, but equally so for its wielder. Thus, this weapon is one that is exceptionally difficult to master.
Variations on Urumi Designs
In its simplest form, the urumi consists of a long strip of metal attached to a handle with a thumb-guard and a knuckle-guard. Due to the urumi’s whip-like design, it can be rolled up when not in use. This allows it to be easily carried around during travels, or concealed. In addition, this weapon has been often worn as a belt.
A rolled up and open depiction of a multi-blade urumi weapon. ( CC BY-SA 4.0 )
Nevertheless, there are numerous variations to this basic design. For example, whilst an urumi blade is normally between 1.2-1.7 meters (3.94-5.58 ft.) long, some have lengths that are much greater than this. Some blades, for instance, have a length of between 3-5 meters (9.84-16.4 ft.) As for the width of the blades, they are usually about 2.5 cm (0.98 inches) thick. The thinness of the blade allows the weapon to be used like a whip.
In addition, the number of blades on this weapon may be modified. Multiple blades may be attached to the handle, which would increase the weapon’s deadliness, as well as the difficulty to master it. One urumi, for instance, is said to have had up to 32 blades attached to its handle.
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Origins and Current Use of the Urumi
The urumi traces its origins to the southern states of India, and it may have existed in the time of the Mauryan Dynasty, i.e. between the 4th and 2nd centuries BC. The urumi, however, eventually fell out of favor amongst the warriors of southern India, and ceased being used regularly as a weapon for generations.
Nevertheless, the urumi has survived until today thanks to two forms of Indian martial arts, one being Kalaripayattu, which originated in the southern Indian state of Kerala, and the other being Silambam, which is from Tamil Nadu, another southern Indian state.
In Kalarapayattu, the technique of wielding the urumi is usually taught last, as it is an exceedingly difficult weapon to use. As the urumi functions like a whip, prior knowledge of this weapon would be needed before one could learn to use the urumi. Students learning to use the urumi start by practicing with a piece of cloth. Whilst this allows the student to learn the intricate moves of the urumi, it also serves to minimize the risk of hurting himself / herself.
Use the Urumi to Slash – Not Stab
Unlike conventional swords, the urumi is not good for stabbing an enemy due to its flexible nature. Instead, this weapon is used for slashing. Whilst conventional swords may also be used for slashing, the urumi works somewhat differently. The main difference is that an urumi can be used to strike an opponent continuously. For this to be done, a fighter would need to swing the weapon over and around his / her head and shoulders in arcs. This in turn keeps the urumi continually in motion, thus maintaining the momentum needed to generate the weapon’s slashing power.
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Fighters using urumi. ( CC BY SA )
It is due to this continuous motion that a wielder of the urumi also risks injuring himself / herself whilst using the weapon. Nonetheless, it is also this feature of the weapon that gives it several advantages. For instance, the arcing motions creates a defensive ‘bubble’ around its user, and any enemy foolish enough to enter the weapon’s trajectory risks being slashed by it. Due to this, the urumi is highly suitable for defending against multiple opponents, as its wielder may use the weapon to defend from a number of angles. In addition, the urumi is said to be able to curve itself round the edges of shields during combat, and injure an enemy combatant, thus rendering such pieces of armor less useful than they would normally be.
An Aara (urumi) demonstration when the wielder begins to swing the weapon over and around his head and shoulders in arcs. ( CC BY SA 3.0 )
Top image: A Sri Lankan version of the urumi, with multiple blades. Source: CC BY SA 3.0
By Wu Mingren
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Thanks for the demonstration video. I would like to see one using the multi-blade version.
Truly the "death by a thousand cuts."
Thank you for pointing this out, the image has been removed and replaced.
The top two images are not of urumi swords. The first one is a broadsword that belonged to a nordic ruler; when he died, his sword was bent this way to symbolize that he needed to fight no more to win his honor. The second sword is a scimitar, bent in a related way for ceremonial burial along with the death of its owner.