A black coral, silver and gold Sinhalese piha-kaetta dagger
Sri Lanka (Ceylon), Kingdom of Kandy, mid-18th century

L. 27 cm
 

The kasthāné is the national sword of Sri Lanka. It seems to have emerged in the 16th century following the first contact with Europeans. The general design shows influences from various cultures, but their execution is wholly Sinhalese, exhibiting classic Sinhalese motifs and lion head pommels after the royal emblem.

Silver-mounted kasthane, like this example, were made in the royal workshops of the King, who bestowed them upon noblemen and local chieftains as symbols of rank and office or as gifts to diplomats. Gold was reserved for the king himself and silver for his highest officials, Adigar, who were feudal lords that also acted as ministers and governors. The piha-ketta is often called ‘the Kandyan-knife’, but some suggest it was intended as a page-turner, not a knife.


In the collection of the Rijksmuseum, two similar kasthane, one gold and one silver, and a piha-kaetta in gold can be found, together with the famous Lewuke’s Cannon, as a result of the looting of the VOC after subduing the Kingdom of Kandy.