EAA Research Consultant
Join Date: Dec 2004
Location: Route 66
As noted in Elgood ("Firearms of the Islamic World",1995) notes , when Ludevico di Vathema arrived in Ceylon in 1505, the year before d'Almeida, he notes the Sinhalese use of lances and swords. I am presuming that these swords were probably of the types used in Southern India in these and previous periods.
From Cordiner (1807, "Ceylon", p.115-16) "...the evolution of the decorative hilt of the curved scimitar like kastane is not without interest. From a weapon of utility the sword became a sign of rank and the heads of lions, serapendiyas and human figures increased in number. Originally the hilt consisted of a lions head, the knuckleguard and the two quillons terminating simply. "
Also, "...a sword said to have belonged to Analepola Adigar with straight blade with low crested lionhead pommel"...is in Kandy Museum.
In Deraniyagala (1942, p.113) "..the development of the ceremonial sword of rank soon unfitted it for fighting purposes as the elaborate crest to the lionheaded hilt comes into uncomfortable contact with the heel of the users had or wrist, while it is also significant that swords so ornamented generally appear too small for war, unlike the larger ones which have no crests. The latter swords also possess as many as four quillons. "
Also noted, "...the mitta (=hilt) ...sinha munu mitta (=lion faced hilt).
The quillons are noted as serapendiya.
Cordiner (op.cit. p.97) states everyone in office wore a sword with hilt of silver as well as scabbard of silver and the design and workmanship indicated rank of wearer. The lowest were of wood.
With these notes I am thinking that perhaps the hilt indeed represented lionheads on the Sinhalese courtly swords, as these were regally symbolic. I cannot see any evidence to suggest that lionheads would have come from European influence as these are longstanding in the subcontinent from Rajputs and Sikhs (singh=lion) . Elgood ("Hindu Arms and Ritual", p.294) notes, ".....the Hindu court used iconographic lions earlier than 17th century as architectural evidence demonstrates".
I am wondering if perhaps the lionhead kastane would be of course the Sinhalese sword well recognized, and the 'variant' head forms might indeed be makara and more associated with kavara as suggested. While there is an obvious separation between the Kandy kingdom and many of the other primarily coastal regions, as well as the colonial circumstances, it seems that such interpretations could be possible.
It seems virtually all examples of kastane with VOC markings and dates are invariably 18th century, during thier reorganization efforts. As far as I know, there are no British EIC marked blades, and David Harding ("Small Arms of the East India Company") indicates no swords were so marked, only firearms and bayonets.