This ornate betel box was used in Burma at ceremonies when young men entered a monastery as a novice. It is in two halves and is in the shape of a hintha or sacred goose.
Such a box was intended to evoke the princely luxuries that Prince Siddhartha chose to give up when he embarked on a spiritual career which lead him to become the Buddha.
The betel box, comprising a base and a cover, shows the hintha standing on two feet and with a particularly high, pierced tail. (In India, the hintha is known as the hamsa. In Burma as in India, the sacred goose was associated with royalty.)
The hintha betel box has been made from lacquered and gilded wood and ferrous metal with the lacquer being inlaid with silver and green foil-backed glass roundels. The non-gilded sections are decorated with cinnabar red lacquer. The hintha has been further embellished with moulded relief work in lacquer putty, a technique known as thayo.
The plump body of the hintha separates into two halves revealing a shallow cavity decorated in plain red lacquer. This is where small quantities of betel were stored.
A pair of hintha boxes related to this example currently are displayed in London’s Victoria & Albert Museum. A similar box is illustrated in McGill (2009, p. 89).
The item is in excellent condition with almost no loss. It is a fine example of an extraordinary piece of Burmese religious art.
Isaacs, R., & T.R. Blurton, Burma and the Art of Lacquer, River Books, 2000.
McGill, F. (ed.), Emerald Cities: Arts of Siam and Burma, 1775-1950, Asian Art Museum, 2009.