Salar Jung Museum houses an impressive collection of walking sticks. Numbering about 250, they come in different shapes and sizes, in varied materials and for purposes more than one (helping one to stand). Excellent art work is seen in hand-crafted handles.
The walking stick has four parts — the handle by which the stick is held; the shaft or straight part of the stick; a handle or collar which joins handle to the shaft; a ‘ferrule’ or tip for protecting the end of the stick.
Although the first sticks were probably used to stand, they became, over the centuries, weapons and symbols of authority. Points, stones, hatchets were added, making them weapons as well as walking aids. The most elaborate of sticks would belong to chiefs of tribes. Those were often carved with emblems pertaining to tribes.
In ancient Egypt a stick was an object of importance. It remained with the chief even after death. It would be placed in the coffin beside the mummy to ‘protect’ the deceased.
The Middle Ages (5th to 15th centuries) were dominated by the Church and this showed in the design of the sticks. Some sticks even contained hiding places for money, precious stones and secret weapons.
European kings used canes or sticks as symbols of authority. English rulers Henry VIII (1491-1547) and Charles I (1600-1649) have paintings showing their hands resting on sticks. French Emperor Louis XIV (1638-1715) ‘wore’ his canes and the court followed suit.
In modern times walking sticks came to contain many materials and multiple purposes. Handles and shafts could be ivory, metal, porcelain, wood, glass, Jade and handles could be human and animal figures, birds, flowers and vegetables. Sticks were made for different uses like walking, city use, country use, emblem for professions, as weapons and just for show.
The museum’s hand sticks belong to India and England. A couple of Jade sticks go to 18th century. They are enriched with shell inlay and precious stones. Some are monogrammed as belonging to Salar Jung III and one bamboo stick with ivory handle bears an inscription “presented by Nawab Vicar-ul-Umra to Razza Ali”. Sir Vicar-ul-Umra (1856-1902), a Paigah noble, was from an aristocratic family in Hyderabad. A rare hand stick is the sandalwood object carved with ten avatars of Lord Vishnu and curious are hand sticks hiding torches, swords, umbrellas, measuring rods, both Indian and English. Elaborate animal and human figures adorn the handles of the hand sticks.