Join Date: Sep 2011
Location: Sri Lanka
I must say that I had decided to stay away from the thread; not due to being unable to stand argument as some might suggest-but as it no longer seems objective about the study that for me is one of profound personal interest. same things repeat over and over with minor contortions while (sadly) quickly forgetting all the information that has been Included in the previous thread where this discussion initiated. I did feel quite sad as among the noise there was also some very important material being shared and raised and I must say I did learn a lot being part of it.
The reason I am writing this note is to at least provide a re-cap of points that were presented in the other thread that seem to be getting forgotten and to at least try in some way to counter some of the mis-information that seem to be taking root within the thread. being from the country of origin of the Kasthana - It is sometimes difficult not to be amused by some of the things that continue being said (despite errors being pointed out). Many theories about Sinhala arts, crafts, culture and history portrayed seem alien and quite new to me having been a student of Sinhala Art history all my life. - it’s quite an eye opener how much mis-information; just starts as a wild guesses becomes realities and can take root through the internet. (may be it is my disadvantage to be from Sri Lanka - otherwise may be I would have enjoyed the fantasies more freely.)
As David already very correctly pointed out- In Sri Lanka neither Lion, Makara nor Serapendiya are ever considered deities or gods in any form; they are depicted as no more than mere decorative “BEAST” forms (though auspicious- like the lotus or conch-shell). They are used as Icons; Lion representing Sinhala race, Makara as a symbol of protection and regeneration. etc. etc.
The only goddess or deities represented on Kasthana seem to be images that may be Sri-Devi/Luxmi, or Patthini devi depicted sometimes on the outer side of the hand guard and/or on the langet. These on occasion may be only figures of “Nari-latha” or tree nymphs. It is a significant area of study to identify the mostly female deities present on a weapon instead of a warrior gods such as karthikeiya or Kali.
Forum still does not seem to recognize the sources I provided that in a Sri Lankan/ Sinhala historic context clearly establish the Kasthana Sword to mid 16th century. which at least in a local context is backed by examples that have good provenance and supported by strong literary evidence. There is solid local evidence to prove that the Kasthane sword in its proper form and name existed at least in mid 16th century if not earlier. . (please check earlier thread for reference) I do understand that the forum members are at a loss when it comes to reading original historic sources written in Sinhala. but the reality is that they do exist. the post 14th century era saw the emergence of a long series of books written as “Hatan Kavya” (war poems) which give significant details of battles and warriors and arms used.
If the sword (and the name Kasthana) was in existence in the early to mid 16th century and associated well with King Rajasinhe I. it is clear that the origin of the weapon clearly and significantly pre-date the Kandyan kingdom and its workshops; and would have its origin more in the Sithawaka and/or Kotte kingdoms- post the transfer of the capital to Kandy the workshops there would have continued production of the swords. but it would not have originated in “Kandyan workshops” which is a misnomer. The design trends associated with the early (more refined) form of Kasthana can be associated with art trends of even the Dambadeni or Gampola Kingdoms which predate even the Kotte Sithawaka era.
The Sinhala crafts and technology was influenced by more than the 3 European invaders and the moors, The country was visited 3 times by the Navy of Cheng ho (Zheng He) shortly before the arrival of the Portuguese; and there was prolific trade, diplomatic, religious and cultural ties to Thailand to Burma and most of East Asia and even up to China. Mainland India both Northern and Southern continued to be in strong contact throughout time. large Sinhala trade ships are documented sailing to Chinese ports and even to Roman courts more than a millennia before. the concept that the moors were the “mercantile marine” of the sinhales is in error though they did carry out trade in Sinhala ports during the 15th century and supported the Sinhales in some battles as the Portuguese was a direct threat to their trade. The Sinhales craftsmen were good at adapting foreign technology encountered often giving them a local twist. The location of the country at the southernmost tip of the Indian sub-continent necessitated any ships plying the coasts of South Asia would use it as a trade hub. The 14th century text “Kandauru siritha” list many types of foreign swords used by the kings army including swords listed as Pandi, Wadiga, Jaina, Malaya, Madura, Thelangu, Java, Vanga, Ayodhya swords. A total of 32 types of swords are listed including “Wak kadu” or curved swords which may have been the predecessor of the Kasthana type blade- which if true would date the type of blades significantly before the Portuguese encounter.
The craft based “cast” system was in existence in Sri Lanka till the end of the Kandyan Kingdom in 1815. The system was broken down only under the British rule.
The Early Kasthana was possibly designed with a lot of thought and reason for each of its components. The traditional systems carry rather firm disciplines in proportions and use of its elements. The texts like the “Vaijayantha-thanthra” are examples. which set guidelines for the length and breadth of blades and the types of decoration and iconographies to be followed. most of the sword lore and smiting techniques became extinct under the extreme repression of the British raj. The Brits took over the country using intrigue not the force of arms in which they repeatedly failed as long as the Sinhala crown lasted. so the Brits knew the need to suppress anything that was even connected to martial traditions in the Sinhales. Orders were given to shoot at anyone practicing “Angam” and all arms and armor related crafts perished in the post 1815 era.
Recently I was rather saddened to see a small “ola leaf” technical manual on ancient sword making being dismantled and sold piecemeal page by page to gullible tourists in an antique shop the South of the country purporting to be “Lord Buddha’s own handwriting”. But the bit that I saw remaining indicate firm guidelines set in construction of the blades.
Though I would not feel confident in identifying the inspiration for the Kasthana design- Based on the way a TRADITIONAL kasthana is constructed and put together I believe that the use of the quillons and the langet is used mainly to strengthen the base of the sword, provide a good seat on the scabbards and also to deflect a sliding cut away from the hand. not for the purpose of holding and locking enemy blades. The association of tibetan vajra with kasthana is purely artificial in a Sinhala context- as I pointed out before the Mahayana/Vajrayana buddhist traditions to which vajra symbolism belonged was extinct or only vestigially present in Sri Lanka the time in question. The predominant Theravada Buddhist traditions give no significance to it. the quillon shape is quite regular within the framework of Sinhala motifs without a need to associate it with the Vajra
Ibrahim I think your classification of Kasthana to include characters of all degenerate deviant sub-species counters the identification of proper kasthana swords- the true Kasthana carries a single edged blade that is curved, The quillons are always 4 and the primary animal heads on quillons, guard and hilt is 6 (or more- never less). There is a firm order and tradition of composition of animal head types and accessory figures and iconography on hilt and quillons. but I shall refrain on commenting further on this as I have given sufficient level of my comments on that topic elsewhere in the earlier thread but the issue within this forum stays stubbornly muddled.
Ibrahim I am not sure how these modern illustrations of Hindu gods become useful in the purpose of the thread. if needed look for period specific reference that may have more value here.
Napoleon- it is best to visit the earlier thread which carried some good illustrations of Kasthana, There are a modest amount of direct historic evidence available within a Sri Lankan archaeological/ historic records. If you would look at my posts I have included some references to heirloom swords still remaining with the original families they were gifted to by Kings which give good provenance as some still even carry gift deeds, flags and other items presented along with the kasthana to the chieftains who excelled in battle. I am also very interested in the typological chronology of the kasthana which seem quite clear path of evolution from the earliest (most refined) to late (of more valuable material but weak craftsmanship and design). a lot of modern poor quality replica’s also float around including brass bladed items. previously I made a possible reference to a source that could well stand as an earlier example of a Kasthana timeline based on the evolution of design elements.
I just hope the forum stay objective and selective in acceptance of the material provided- unless the thread may do more harm to the study of the Kasthana than good.
p.s. Ibrahim thank you for the private message to me. I was any way thinking of posting this.