Ten Superb, Large Brass & Copper Devotional Hindu Stamps (Chhapa)
Orissa & Bengal, Northeast India
18th & 19th century
length of largest: 11cm, height: 7.4cm
These ten devotional stamps (chhapa), from Northeast India, are important for their variety and size. Some unusually large and complex stamps are included among the ten.
Each stamp bears either symbols or scripts related to a deity, usually Vishnu or Shiva. Motifs that comprise pairs of feet denote Vishnu’s feet, for example.
And on the reverse, each has a supportive, bracing structure, typically cast as plaited bronze which terminates with a pierced finial through which bronze rings were threaded thereby allowing a series of related stamps to be held together.
It is customary for many Vaishnavite, Shaivite and other sect adherents to mark the body with such stamps. The marks on the body provide a visual display of the adherent’s devotion and also to transfer the beneficence of the deity to the wearer. According to Untracht (1997:25) the stamps are applied after the devotee has undergone a purifying bath. A paste of white sandalwood and water is then prepared in the case of Vaishnavites or in the case of Shaivites a paste of red sanders wood. (The stamps variously retain paste remnants.) The paste is then applied using the stamp to proscribed parts of the body such as the forehead, cheeks, shoulders, forearms and stomach. The main Vaishnavite stamps are those associated with Vishnu – the conch, the lotus, the disc.
Related stamps currently are on display in the British Museum (examples include inventory nos OA 1986.10-27.1, OA1903.11-17.69, 5, 46).
Similar stamps are illustrated in Terlinden (1987, p. 268) and Utracht (1997, p. 26.)
Each stamp here has obvious age and excellent patina. An 18th and 19th century dating is based on the wear. They were acquired in the UK and most probably came to the UK during colonial times. There are no breaks, losses or repairs, just wear associated with ritual use. Overall, this is a fine collection that includes some rare shapes.
Terlinden, C., Mughal Silver Magnificence, Antalga, 1987.
Traditional Jewelry of India, Thames & Hudson, 1997.
UK art market
Inventory no.: 3505
Chhapa stamps currently displayed in the British Museum.