6534

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North Indian Parcel-Gilt Silver Syringe Pichkari for Holi

North India
18th-19th century

length: 14.5cm, width: 6.8cm, weight: 113g

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Provenance

UK art market

This very fine silver syringe (pichkari) was used at Holi, the Indian spring festival. It comprises a lotus flower-type head and nozzle that is perforated with fine holes. The cylinder is decorated with two gilded bands of petal motifs around a central plain ring with rope-twist borders. The sides of the cylinder have two faceted, gilded, curved finger handles. The internal plunger which is pulled in and out of the tube to force water out the nozzle also has a fine silver faceted handle that similarly has traces of gilding.

The base of the syringe is decorated with a pair of addorsed gilded parrots.

Holi is a popular spring festival, also called the ‘Festival of Colours’, and is celebrated around India. Bonfires are lit at night on the first day. And on the second day, known as Dhulandi, people throw or spray red-coloured powder and water on each other. People also invite one and other to their houses for feasts and celebrations late into the evening.

Originally, the colours used in the pichkaris came from the flowers of trees that blossomed during spring, such as the Indian Coral Tree and the Flame of the Forest. Both have bright red flowers. Most of the blossoms used were also believed to have medicinal properties. No longer are beautifully made metal pumps such as the one here used today. Instead, cheap plastic pumps are used. Often they are bought from street stalls. No longer do they contain natural colours but pre-mixed industrial dyes.

Several similar silver holi syringes are illustrated in Terlinden (1987, p. 87). These examples are attributed to Rajasthan.

The example here is in very fine condition. It has a good patina and obvious age.

References

Terlinden, C., Mughal Silver Magnificence, Antalga, 1987.

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