This small container stands out by the figural decoration intricately carved around its body. Chasing eachother around the two halves of the box are tigers, antelopes, mythical beasts and birds. These animals and particularly the Hamsa, a kind of imaginary wild goose, belong to the bestiary of the Deccan in Central India. Hamsas as well as tigers and yalis, a type of fantastic lion, are often depicted on artworks of the period - metalwork, on textiles and in architectural decoration. Here, each animal stands in a dynamic pose under a pointed arch formed by two confronted peacocks. The Indian birds' long tails are adorsed against a cypress tree. The trees support of large rosette at the top of each domed half.
Lime paste or chunam is one of the three indispensable ingredients of paan. It is made from crushed seashells or coral, mixed with liquid into a paste which therefore has to be kept fresh, ready for preparing paan. The containers used for it were tiny, domed metal boxes no more than 8 or 9cm. in diameter.
These boxes are today much rarer than paandans, suggesting that their use was less widespread. Perhaps lime paste was kept by most people (apart from the most affluent) in disposable, less durable containers.
Bronze or brass, in two halves attached to one side with a triangular-shaped hinge, with original loop, deeply carved with animals and mythical beasts within arches formed by cypress trees and peacocks, including tigers, makaras, antelopes and hamsas, rosettes at each apex, rows of stylized petals around the lip, old repair to the hinge, the interior encrusted with remains of chunam and with old inventory numbers
Christie’s, London, 25 November 1985, lot 380 (catalogued as An Unusual Indian Bronze Spherical Box, 16th/17th century)
The collection of Simon Digby (1932-2010)
Mark Zebrowsky, Bronze, Silver & Gold from Mughal India, London, 1997, cat.475a and b, p.276