EAA Research Consultant
Join Date: Dec 2004
Location: Route 66
Excellent, references here seem to be addressing the period of the Sinhalese-Portuguese wars of 1520-21, and with the mention of kasthana sword. It does seem though that these accounts are based on 17th century writers material so we cannot be sure if the term was used contemporarily or whether it had been in place that early.
It still seems the lionhead kastane's earliest terminus ante quem remains set with the example in Tokyo acquired in 1622 embassy. Dereniyagala (1942) seems to be off in his estimation of its appearance, but is accurate in noting the courtly rather than combat effective nature of these; "...in 18th century when the curved, scimitar blade with lions head comes into fashion.
The development of the ceremonial sword of rank soon unfitted it for fighting purposes as the elaborate crest to the lion headed hilt comes into uncomfortable contact with the heel of the users hand or wrist while it is also signoficant that swords so ornamented generally appear too small for war, unlike the larger ones which have no crests" (p.113).
Kandy remained independant, while Kotte in the southwest had been in degree in league wth the Portuguese in trade until disagreements led to wars and unrest. As I understand the Dutch aligned with the King of Kandy around 1636, and by 1658 the Portuguese had left Ceylon. Naturally these colonial circumstances are described briefly and only to note presence and period.
Though the Dutch regal lion became a heraldic symbol after the Union of Utrecht in 1574, and was certainly possible as influence, I remain convinced however that the lion was well emplaced symbolically in Ceylon from quite early times, the 5th century Sigiriya (lion rock citadel) as one instance.
The French traveller Pyrad de Lavel (1605) expressed unqualified admiration of Sri Lankan workmanship in metals, and especially in the fabrication and ornamentation of arms.
Deraniyagala (op.cit.p.99) notes, "...the Dutch plan of the Royal Palace at Kandy in 1765 shows armouries for different types of weapons, and quarters for the armourers, proves the great attention paid to weapons by Sinhala royalty", further noting the auspicious placement of lions among others as decoration.
This author (p.110) describing the pihaya kattha "...in the more primitive types the pommel is unadorned, in others it is a lions head, while in the final form it is a floral scroll issuing from the lions mouth".
If I interpret these references correctly, it would seem that the Kandy workshops were long established, as noted in the Dutch observation of 1765.It would seem that the lions head was likely present on the early forms of pihaya kattha which was more an accoutrement than of course fighting weapon. We know that the kastane is presumed in form by c.1620 and the term kasthane in use for it or some type of sword c.1605. By the 18th century it had become regarded as a courtly sword ,though the smaller hanger type blade on the 1622 example in Japan and hilt suggests earlier.
The numerous examples of kastane with Dutch VOC blades suggest the circumstances in which Kandy existed within the Dutch colony in the 18th century. Many of these blades are dated, mostly 1760s it seems. The lionhead hilt would seem to have been adopted from its presence on the smaller weapons worn in courtly and status oriented examples and to the hanger blade court swords at around beginning of 17th century.