This fine betel or paan box or pandan is of circular form with a domed cover that rises to a flattened top. The cover and box have fluted sides, giving it a Mughal architectural quality.
Other than the very apex of the cover, it is decorated all over with flowers and leaf scrolling.
A very similar example, possibly by the same maker, is illustrated in Zebrowski (1997, p. 273).
Its significant age is evident from softened contours, wear to the etched motifs and hue of the brass.
The cover and base fit together with the aid of a small series of notches in one and the other, which when lined up, allow the two to be put together evenly for tight closure.
Betel or paan chewing is a habit that unites Southeast Asia with the Indian sub-continent, parts of southern China and the Western Pacific. Whereas alcohol was associated with feasting, betel was the everyday social lubricant: it was offered to visitors to one’s home. And just as the English developed elaborate tea sets, Indians and Southeast Asians developed elaborate rituals associated with betel nut usage, and fine containers to store the elements of the betel quid.
The actual nut comes from the areca palm tree. Typically, it is sliced, mixed with lime (usually obtained from crushed seashells) and then wrapped up in a betel creeper leaf and chewed. The lime reacts with compounds in the nut to produce alkaloids which give a mild narcotic effect.
Zebrowski, M., Gold, Silver & Bronze from Mughal India, Alexandria Press, 1997.