EAA Research Consultant
Join Date: Dec 2004
Location: Route 66
To continue my earlier post from an outside interruption, the point I was alluding to with the mysterious therionthrope in Trois Freres was of course that these curious figures, just as in considerable ethnographic iconography or for that matter even medieval heraldry etc it is often hard to determine what is actually represented . We can of course speculate using known contexts associated with the example being considered, but these things can seldom be proven with any large degree of certainty.
It seems well substantiated that the ancient mythology of Sinhala has considerable focus on the lion, therefore seemed well in place by the time of trade contacts and later colonial incursions. With this it seems quite reasonable to assume that the sinha (lion) would be represented on the pommel of these hilts . As with many forms of Asian iconography, the embellishment and flourishes extend far beyond what western interpretations of various creatures might expect.
Since there seem to be variations on the appearance of the creatures featured on the pommel of different examples of the kastane, we have clearly instances of artistic license possible, as well as potentially other influences affecting the portrayal of the figures on the hilts.
I believe the analysis of these varying forms are more to the artistic aspects iconographically and individual examples should of course be attended to on their own merits and unique features.
Returning to the larger scope of our discussion, what we are trying to determine is just how long ago the use of figured iconography began its use on Sinhalese swords, specifically the kastane. Just how far back does the kastane hilt as familiar today go back in Sinhalese history?
Until the discussions on the previous thread ('Sinhalese/Sri Lankan Swords) I had assumed the Sendai Museum sword to be one of the earliest examples of the hilt (c.1600-20) but interesting instances farther back were presented by Prasanna. Hopefully we can gain more data and perhaps images of those.
The Sendai (Hasekura) example (Keicho Mission) for Date Masamune of Japan has proven most interesting with the question of exactly where it was obtained by Hasekura. While it was speculated that this sword was acquired from Philip III of Spain while the mission was in Madrid, it is now my understanding that this was probably acquired in the Philippines in the two years Hasekura was there. Rather than being a 'presented' item, this seems to have been more an acquired item along with the kris with it. This seems more in line with the lack of documented narrative concerning these items.
The questions which intrigue me on this particular kastane are more toward the interesting blade, of somewhat falchion form and with the 'monster' head at the blade peak which indeed does correspond to similar creature detail on a glaive type Chinese blade posted by Vandoo. We know of course that the Philippines as a trade entrepot had presence from Sri Lanka, China, Indonesia and of course the major powers .
Could this kastane have been mounted with this blade in the Philippines and been acquired by Hasekura as an interesting novelty to present to the Date?
These are the questions I hope to follow here. The dialogue on the artistic representation on kastane hilts is always interesting, but I think that its subjective nature often creates a certain volatility. Just the same, these figures are of course an integral part of the history of this weapon, and should be approached with a great deal of patience as differing views are examined.