Most old paintings of Sikh warriors typically show them with a shield, either strapped on their back or hung from a shoulder, this shield is known as a dhal. Because of the limited defensive capabilities of the tulwar sword, the dhal shield formed the primary defensive weapon of the Khalsa.
Dhal shields were typically made of buffalo or sometimes the more durable rhinoceros hide which were lightweight yet very strong when dried and lacquered. Dhal’s varied in diameter from 30cm to 90cm. Metal dhals were also used although they tended towards the smaller sizes.
The convex curved surface of the dhal was designed to cause a lance head or arrow to glance off or slip from the curved surface. The dhal was held by passing an arm through two cross straps on the back. The straps were fastened to steel rings which were riveted to four metal bosses on the shield face. The inner lining of the shield was typically cotton, velvet or brocade. Both the bosses and the large smooth surface of the dhal provided artists an ideal surface for artistic decoration with patterns and figures, both animal and human.
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