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Old 6th October 2012, 05:00 PM   #23
Prasanna Weerakkody
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Default Animal heads on Kasthana

Thanks Jim.
While it is difficult to add any good clarifications to most of your points. I am also interested in the motifs and decorations of the weapons. There seem to be three primary animal forms used on sword hilts, The Lion which is a national symbol of the Sinhalese (Sinha =Lion) and two forms of mythical beasts The Makara or the equivalent of a “Dragon” and the Serapendiya which is a Raptorial bird.

The differences in depiction of the beasts is not always straight forward, The Lion head which in the late medieval tend to be stylized to different degrees can be defined by the clear depiction of a lions mane around the neck arranged usually as three rows of flowing curved motifs, The Lion figures often have the tongue extended as well. The Makara has its origins in a Water beast with combined elements from different animals as the trunk of an elephant, tusks of a boar etc. It is usually depicted with a up curved proboscis like devise at the tip of the snout and the tusk depicted as a large rounded knoblike tooth as is often used to depict the canine tooth of the Lion heads in some figures, The Serapendiya is often portrayed with a toothed down curved beak with similarly shaped pointed sharp teeth; lacking the enlarged canine tooth at the front end of jaw. This is a very basic guide which may not help define all depictions as the individual craftsmen seem to have introduced variations. The Pommel is (almost) always a Lion-head though few with serapendiya heads are sometimes also found. I have never seen a Makara head on the pommel of a kasthana Sword. The quilons and guards carry Makara and Serapendiya heads interchangeably. Some swords also carry representation of deities on sword hilts in addition to the Animal forms.

Being a Sinhalese from Sri Lanka - I think Ibrahiim has been reading too much of the Alternate “Fake” history propagated by the nefarious elements aligned mostly to the Separatist movements like the recently crushed LTTE in Sri Lanka. There is a Mainstream history in the country that also has one of the longest documented histories in Asia; substantiated with vast amounts of solid archaeological work. I do not know why Ibrahim is prejudicial against the Sinhales. If one is to accept most of what Ibrahiim have copied in as evidence; we may have to burn libraries of good books that say otherwise. This issue is not relevant here and due to the political / sensitive nature of it I shall not engage in any further comments in that regard. But would ask the readers to look at the so called “myths” and all the derogatory statements on the Sinhala race by Ibrahim objectively, much has been written on these issues in the relevant fora and it can be researched adequately there.

To keep it relevant to the topic the Sinha (Lion) motif has been well Identified with the Sinhala (People) both in motifs as well as within literary sources.

I have seen a very curious sword in a private collection that is transient between the predominant long straight double edged swords popular in the Polonnaruwa Kingdom 1017-1235 AD and the Kasthana in that it shows the early evolution of quilons with terminal primitive animal head devises while still carrying the straight blade and hilt elements from the Polonnaruwa swords. It is believed that this sword may belong to the period before the Kotte/Seethawaka Kingdoms or the time of the Portuguese wars. so a trend towards adoption of zoomorphic ornamentation may have existed prior to the arrival of the Portuguese. There is a proper Kastana sword in the Colombo Museum that is believed to be of King Buwanekabahu I of Yapahuwa Kingdom which predates the arrival of Europeans on the Island by at least a century. (Though I am not convinced of the authenticity of this piece)
The kasthana swords come in different sizes and classes of ornaments, some of the larger more impressive swords seem to have seen significant action; most of them would carry wooden or horn hilts and brass guards and quillons and some are rather simple swords that still carry the components of the Kasthana. The Golden and Silver swords with precious stones would more likely be side arms of Chieftains or in the latter centuries purely rank or gift swords. The practice of presenting swords as emblems of authority was prevalent. The short length of the blade may not in itself disqualify any sword as a fighting sword as it seem to have yielded to local fighting styles.

I shall include a sword Identified as having belonged to Kandyan Chieftain “Leuke” Disawa who was a prominent warrior in the wars against the British in the 18-19 centuries. It is a rather large and heavy Kasthana with intricate Silver workings, It is not clear when this sword was manufactured as his father was also known to be a leading figure in the Dutch wars.
Hope this was helpful
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