EAA Research Consultant
Join Date: Dec 2004
Location: Route 66
In more efforts to revisit articles and notes as well as reviewing the discussion, it seems that the complexities and conundrums of the mysterious kastane remain as elusive as ever. In continuing to examine the nature of the creatures imaged on the hilts of these swords, it seems that consideration of Sinhalese art as a whole may reveal some perspectives .
In "Medieval Sinhalese Art", (A.K. Coomaraswany, 1956) it is noted that "...medieval and modern Sinhalese art is essentially Indian art, but it is not modern Hindu, rather it is such an art as might have survived in some yet Buddhist part of the mainland, if Buddhism had not there been entirely merged in Hinduism"
In "A Royal Dagger of Ceylon" (J.F. Pieris, The Connoisseur, Jan-Jun 1938, Vol, CI) , it is stated that "...much ingenuity and art have been lavished by the Sinhalese craftsmen in adornment of his daggers". While clearly this article is toward the piha kaetta it is important to consider the notes toward this adornment, much of which concerns botanicals, but the use of the serapendiya is mentioned as "...a mythical creature whose decorative possibilities have been freely exploited by craftsmen".
Deraniyagala (1942, p.110) discusses the piha kaetta stating that early examples are unadorned but later featured the lions head, and in final form a floral scroll issued from the lions mouth
While these descriptions are toward the piha kaetta dagger, what is key are the references to the kind of decorative motif and artistic influences in place in Ceylon as the kastane developed . While it does seem that later some degree of influence may have been imported through European presence, I would consider that more nuanced than notable. Naturally I am referring to the decorative features of these swords, as my earlier comments on the guard structure of the hilts probably Italian filtered through Arab traders remain my opinion as stated.
To me it is extremely doubtful that the Sinhalese were in any way in league with the Portuguese in the evolution of the lionhead kastane hilt. The Kandyan kingdom and the Royal Workshops, which remained autonomous through and far beyond those times seem of course where this evolution probably occurred . It seems that artisans and craftsmen in these workshops, like other Sri Lankan artists, were taught to have a degree of latitude in their creativity. However they were also required to learn from early treatises such as the Vaijayanta, and the Rupavaliya how to draw gods and mythical animals.
Deraniyagala (p.101) notes this interesting description of the Royal Sword apparently from the Vaijayanta, "...the hilt of the sword should have a pommel of lotus petals; the middle part should be decorated and possess auspicious figures of lions etc."
What seems interesting here is that this obviously quite early reference notes the pommel with lotus petals, while the lion although auspicious, is curiously in a relatively subordinate position on the hilt. I am not familiar with this treatise nor its period, but it seems to note at least the use of some zoomorphic and botanical embellishment on Royal swords.
The extreme organization of the workshops at Kandy is described in a Dutch plan of the Royal Palace in 1765, "..showing armouries for different types of weapons and quarters for the armourers, and proves the great attention paid to weapons by the Sinhala royalty". (Deraniyagala, p.99).
The organization of these workshops and artisans was quite complex and specialized, but apparently in some cases weapons could be commissioned by others than royalty for specific fees. I am wondering if these private commissions, which obviously require further research, might account for some of the more notable variations in some kastane?