This exceptional and unique piha-kaetta is unusual because of its length, its hilt, and its decoration.
It has a carved ivory hilt; a heavy, straight, single-edged blade; and a wooden scabbard with silver mounts.
The root of the blade is inset on both sides with a repoussed silver plaque decorated with a serapendiya, a mythical bird-dragon creature.
The hilt is intricately carved with vegetal scrolls, probably the liya-pata pattern – a typical leafy creeper pattern of Sri Lanka’s interior. The work is reminiscent of that on Kotte ivory caskets made for the 16th and 17th century Portuguese market and which suggests that this piha-kaetta might be earlier than the 18th century.
It has a silver-encased tang button.
The scabbard is light wood, the upper part of which has been encased in a silver sheet. The end of the scabbard is carved to resemble a parrot head. The scabbard retains an old collection label to one side.
The piha-kaetta is without losses or repairs. There is a (very) old, shrinkage-related split to the ivory hilt part-way up one side. The ivory has a delightful honeyed patina and also some rust staining from the tang beneath. Overall, this is a fine, rare item. We are unaware of another piha-kaetta quite like this example.
Published/Illustrated – This actual knife is illustrated in Hales (2013, p. 63).
Caravana, J. et al, Rites of Power: Oriental Weapons: Collection of Jorge Caravana, Caleidoscopio, 2010.
Hales, R., Islamic and Oriental Arms and Armour: A Lifetime’s Passion, Robert Hale CI Ltd, 2013.
De Silva, P.H.D.H & S. Wickramasinghe, Ancient Swords, Daggers & Knives in Sri Lankan Museums, Sri Lanka National Museums, 2006.
Weereratne, N., Visions of an Island: Rare works from Sri Lanka in the Christopher Ondaatje Collection, Harper Collins, 1999.