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This set of four devotional stamps (chhapa), from Northeast India, is notable for its patina and how the stamps are linked together by brass loops.
One square stamp has as its face invocations in Bengali script (in reverse). The other three stamps comprise symbols that relate to a deity, usually Vishnu or Shiva.
And on the reverse, each has a supportive, bracing structure, typically cast as plaited bronze which terminates with a pierced finial through which multiple brass rings are threaded thereby allowing the stamps to be held together.
It is customary for many Vaishnavite, Shaivite and other sect adherents to mark the body with such stamps. The marks on the body provide a visual display of the adherent’s devotion and also to transfer the beneficence of the deity to the wearer. According to Untracht (1997, p.25) the stamps are applied after the devotee has undergone a purifying bath. A paste of white sandalwood and water is then prepared in the case of Vaishnavites or in the case of Shaivites a paste of red sanders wood. (The stamps variously retain paste remnants.) The paste is then applied using the stamp to proscribed parts of the body such as the forehead, cheeks, shoulders, forearms and stomach. The main Vaishnavite stamps are those associated with Vishnu – the conch and the lotus.
Similar stamps are illustrated in Terlinden (1987, p. 268) and Utracht (1997, p. 26.)
Each stamp here has obvious age and excellent patina. An 18th and 19th century dating is based on the wear. They were acquired in the UK and most probably came to the UK during colonial times.
Skelton, R. & M. Francis (eds.), Arts of Bengal: The Heritage of Bangladesh and Eastern India, Trustees of the Whitechapel Gallery, 1979.
Terlinden, C., Mughal Silver Magnificence, Antalga, 1987.
Utracht, O., Traditional Jewelry of India, Thames & Hudson, 1997.