Enquiry about object: 8841

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    Northern Indian Silver Paan or Betel Box

    Northern India
    late 19th-early 20th century

    height: approximately 13.5cm, diameter: 18.9cm, weight: 898g

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    from the collection of Sir Christopher Ondaatje, UK.

    This found silver box with a domed, and then flattened, hinged cover, was used to store the ingredients to make a betel or paan quid.

    Betel or paan is a mild social narcotic that was used widely across South and Southeast Asia. A latch to the cover would have allowed the box to be closed with a small padlock.

    The box has been chased all over with Islamic-inspired vegetal scrollwork. The top of the cover has been decorated with an eight-petalled flower motif.

    This actual box is illustrated in Weereratne (1999, p. 138) a book on the collection of Sir Christopher Ondaatje.  Ondaatje is of Sinhalese and Dutch ancestry and was born in Sri Lanka (or Ceylon as it was known) in 1933. A businessman, writer and Olympian, he is the older brother of author Michael Ondaatje, author of The English Patient, among other works.


    Weereratne, N., Visions of an Island: Rare works from Sri Lanka in the Christopher Ondaatje Collection, Harper Collins, 1999.

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