The sword in the news

Was it the sword stick? Former Museum Director on the missing artefact
By Dr. P.H.D.H. De Silva

In our studies of ‘Edged Weapons in Sri Lankan Museums’, the results of which have since been published as a monograph titled ‘Ancient Swords, Knives and Daggers in Sri Lankan Museums’ by the Director, Department of National Museums, Colombo, we were privileged to examine four such weapons which were in the custody of the Kotte Archaeological Museum.
missing sword
Sketch provided by the writer shows sword stick at the Kotte Museum

Of these, two were swords and two were sword sticks. The two swords were an Indian Talwar with an Indo-Muslim hilt and a Dutch sword. Only one sword stick had a sheath and the one without a sheath was a Dutch rapier with the year 1747 and the V.O.C. monogram inscribed on the blade. The sword stick with a wooden sheath is very likely the ‘Missing sword’ under reference (ST PLUS of July 12).

According to the Kotte Museum records the sword stick with sheath as well as the Indian Talwar had been gifted by Douglas Ranasinghe of Galpoththa Road, Nawala while the remaining two items hadbeen purchased from him.

My description of this sword stick is as follows: “A note attached to the sword stick states that 'the sword stick was used by TIRUVARAGAM WICKRAMASINGHE, Sannas Minister to King Parakramabahu VI (1412-1467 A.C.)

“The sword stick has a rapier blade. The grip is of ivory which appears reddish brown in colour, almost cylindrical, slightly narrowed at the middle. A tang washer with pala-peti decoration and a central tang button are present. The grip is decorated at the two ends. At the forward end three circles and a row of triangles, each triangle capped by a small circle, all in black. At the distal end of the grip is a decoration of the same triangle ornamentation but with two circular grooves. A narrow brass ferrule is present.
“The blade is a straight, double-edged tapering rapier blade with a prominent centre rib. It is diamond- shape in section. The blade is of strong steel, probably foreign.

“The sheath is of wood, in two halves, lacquered with black, yellow and orange colours very much like a Sessath pole. There are three brass bands, one around the mouth and two others on the sheath. The sheath terminates in a conical iron tip. The total length of the sword stick is about 94.5 cms (37 ¼"). The blade length is approximately 65 cm (25 ½"). The hilt length is about 9 cms.”

The earliest sword stick (No. SW43-150) is in the Colombo National Museum and we have assigned it to the Portuguese period in Sri Lanka. It was a part of the Gordon Cummings collection and purchased by the Museum. Its blade bears a double cross and an orb inscribed. However, its hilt is local.

Sword sticks as a weapon were introduced into this country by the Dutch. Dr. Joseph Pearson, a former Director of the Colombo Museum states that the sword blades of the Dutch East India Company were "greatly in demand" among the Sinhalese and their sword sticks were fashionable among the noblemen of the Sinhalese court towards the end of the 17th Century.

This particular sword stick can be dated to the 17th Century A.C. The Sinhalese term for a sword stick is not kinissa which means a dagger but Kala bondhalava. The Sinhalese dictionary published by the Cultural Ministry gives another term – Bondikkula.

Museum professionals consider each museum object as unique and irreplaceable. Its value is in the amount of information it could reveal whether historical, archaeological, technological, artistic or sociological. They are not guided by the commercial value of the objects they acquire for the Museum.

Effective segment of acquisition is through purchase and donations – and when a donated artefact such as this sword stick so zealously cared and looked after by Mr. Ranasinghe goes missing from the very museum he was Honorary Curator, it is a matter of great regret and profound concern.

(The writer is a retired Director of the National Museums)

Minister says probe continues

The valuable sword which was exhibited at the E.W. Perera Museum in Kotte is still missing while investigations are on to solve the mystery.

“Inquires are on and the police are conducting investigations but nothing tangible has been found yet,” Cultural Affairs and National Heritage Minister Mahinda Yapa Abeywardene said when contacted by the Sunday Times.

“The dagger is in a sheath in the form of a wooden walking stick which is decorated with lacquer,” he said.

When the issue of the missing sword was raised in Parliament once again last week, the Minister said it could be described as a 125-centimetre dagger believed to be of the Kandy period.

Meanwhile, the Sunday Times was able to locate a photograph of the missing sword, which had been among a collection donated by Douglas Ranasinghe, a former Curator of Archaeological Sites in Kotte.

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