Indian padlock details

Trade routes
Established trade routes to east and west existed even among the earliest cultures in India. Around year zero, huge amounts of luxury goods and other goods were transported by road and by sea through Europe, West and East Africa, the Middle East, India, Ceylon and China, in both directions. Goods were traded, bought and sold in cities, trade stations and markets along all the roads,

Silk fabrics, porcelain and spices were brought to Imperial Rome with camel caravans along the Silk Road from China. In Persia, this road joined up with trade routes from the east. From India, Rome imported gemstones, spices, sugar, cotton fabrics and dyes. According to Roman author Pliny the Elder (23-79 AD), imports from southern India were so massive that they threatened the economy of the Roman Empire.

Traders were important political and financial links between countries and cities. They worked together with emperors, kings, officials and other people of power. Their goods were in high demand, and generally they were quite wealthy. In most cases trade was a combination of barter and buying and selling, and the accepted coinage was silver and gold.

Roman padlocks
Padlocks fitted with slat springs or ward springs were invented by Roman engineers around the year zero. The great geographic extent of the Roman Empire meant that Roman technology spread quickly. Craftsmen along the caravan routes picked up new ideas and inventions in connection with trade. They studied and copied them, generating all sorts of local varieties and designs, as well as new ideas that could be used in their own manufacturing.

Ancient Indian handcrafts
India has a famous example of early ironwork – two cast-iron columns, one in Mehrauli near Delhi (measuring 6.6 m high) with a Sanskrit inscription stating that it was manufactured in 360-400, and the other (measuring 7.5 m high) near Dhar, which was made in 1304. The iron in the columns is so free from impurities that they are practically rust-free.

The old artisan tradition lived on in India, and many crafts were passed along in families. These included textile arts (silk, muslin, calico, wool and cotton fabrics), ivory and metal. As a colony, the country’s production was adapted for export. Mines in India provided fine metals and gemstones as well as iron (steel), brass and bronze. When it gained independence in 1947, India was still an agricultural country, with no true industry despite centuries of British rule.

As in most countries in Asia, padlocks were made according to the old, primitive artisan traditions until a bit into the 20th century. Locks were made by nomads, traveling locksmiths, and locksmiths working in small shops in the cities. They worked seated on the floor or the ground, with simple tools and no machines. The locks were made of brass, bronze or iron. After forging or casting, the surface was filed, sanded and polished, and possibly engraved for a relief effect. The products could be even more decorated with engraving or embellishment with a punch or chisel. Designs could also vary; often a locksmith collaborated with a bronze caster, who cast certain parts of the lock.

The primary market for a locksmith’s wares was in the city. Traditionally they sold their goods in bazaars or markets, and in many cases they made their locks on-site or nearby. Later, as cheap domestic and imported mechanically made locks began to compete and take over the market, the old locks fell out of use, along with the old craft.

Use and dating of locks
Just as in other countries in Southern Asia, practical padlocks were often used as door locks in India. Padlocks are primarily used to lock furniture, including chests, boxes and trunks as well as vehicles (using chains), handcuffs and more. The locks I’ve come in contact with were made in the 17th–20th centuries.

Decorations and motifs
Long before the Common Era, beautifully decorated everyday objects were common in various Asian cultures. This is also true of padlocks, and we also see similarities to and influences from other countries. The shape of locks is another such factor. Indian padlocks come in a large variety of usually symmetrical shapes, human figures, plant shapes, demons and representations of gods.
As in the surrounding countries, China, Iran, and Nepal, it was traditional in India to make locks in the shape of animals, such as horses, elephants, camels, lions, tigers, deer, buffaloes, birds, scorpions, frogs, rats, turtles and fish.

Hindu and Buddhist divinities are somewhat confusing to Europeans. Many exalted figures in these religions also appear in the shape and ornamentation of padlocks, with the aim of enhancing their protective properties.

In particular, we see divine images on less-skillfully made newer copies of older bronze locks from Nepal, which are sold to tourists today as Indian. There are more than a dozen varieties of these.

The technology of these locks also exhibits similarities to and influences from surrounding countries. This is particularly true of the mechanisms: ward springs, screw locks, latch-key locks and turning-key locks. All are found in India, but in special Indian varieties.

Today’s locks and security solutions

Welcome to ASSA ABLOY’s product pages for more information about today’s locks, access control, mobile keys with NFC, door automatics and more. In the ASSA ABLOY solution pages you can experience lock and security solutions for any door opening.