EAA Research Consultant
Join Date: Dec 2004
Location: Route 66
Thank you Napoleon, those are most interesting observations, and Travancore, along with other kingdoms and regions in South India did of course have connections to Sinhala from ancient times. We are of course considering that Indian art and symbolism is well represented in the creatures on these various kastane hilts.
It is interesting also that the Dutch VOC lost control of Travancore in the war with them (1739-1753).
One of the things we have been considering here is whether the apparent variations of kastane hilt (sinha or makara)are simply interpretive representations or distinctly intended figures that may reflect these hilts being from various parts of Ceylon.
We know that the 'Royal Swords', which were the more sumptuously produced examples of kastane were likely produced in the Royal workshops in Kandy. Regarding your question earlier on whether craftsmen were identified with certain swords, I found this in a reference online (from a New Delhi study, Craft Revival.org) , "...the names of various craftspeople are recorded in 'sannas' (royal edicts/charters) and in various other deeds but cannot be matched or associated with any particular piece of work". While this reference is regarding the craftsmen at the royal workshops collectively it does suggest a larger circumstance.
As for kastanes produced in other areas, it seems unlikely that it would be possible to attribute examples to certain makers or workshops as the hilts were made to hilt trade blades most likely. This brings me to the next question :
Where were blades obtained, and most likely mounted?
We have discussed earlier that one of the most distinctly recognized and identifiable blades often found on kastanes seem to be those marked with the Dutch VOC. These seem to invariably be with a year stamped with that balemark. They appear to be in most cases 18th century hanger type blades and dates are typically 1749; 1757; 1768;1775 but these years noted are from examples sold and from collections in recent years. Suggestions in earlier discussions noting years 1609 (the VOC was formed in 1602) and 1660 so they seem far too early and have generally been viewed as possibly 'talismanic ' numbers (c.f. 1414; 1441).
The Dutch were busily minting their coins for these colonies through the 18th century and it is interesting to see the VOC, dates and sometimes similar features like the four leaf from these coins also appear on sword blades. It seems from examples I have seen of other Dutch swords with VOC on larger arming swords that they are typically without these large dates on the blade, and with the other often seen motif sun, moon etc.
Would this suggest these dated swords were specifically for trade?
In a sale description (Christies, 2000) it is noted that VOC blades were traded to the Sinhalese and mounted locally, often remaining in use until the 20th c. The Dutch colonial period is regarded as 1658-1796 . While the Dutch controlled the maritime provinces, they never occupied Kandy.
After the war with Kandy, 1761-65, the King recognized Dutch sovereignty in the maritime provinces. The Dutch surrendered these to England in 1796.
It would seem that these blades coming into the trade ports, along with other hanger type blades unmarked probably from Solingen and Leige, would have been hilted locally in interpretations of the favored kastane.
We know that kastane like swords have been seen attributed to Southern India, Thailand and other locations.
Is it possible that the makara like hilts might have been produced in port regions in the north of Sri Lanka, Jaffna for example?
The Sinha type hilts perhaps may be more likely attributed to Colombo, Galle, Kotte? and again interpretations of the more classical swords of Kandy.