This rare and almost octagonal shaped silver parcel-gilt pandan (or pan dan) box is decorated with finely engraved Hindu religious and mythological scenes, the Box surrounding sides are decorated with pierced open work floral and geometrical shape designs.
The unusual box can open up from both sides, and it was made to give the owner the choice to use either side as the topside.
Boxes like these, with various lids and compartments, would have been used to store pan or paan—a stimulant prepared with the leaves of betel.
The perforations on the side allow fresh air to circulate inside and keep the leaves fresh for longer time.
Both sides of the box feature scenes of the Ramayana, one of the two major Sanskrit epics of ancient India.
One of the lids bears a depiction in chased lines of the goddess of love and wisdom, Saraswati, riding a sacred peacock or swan (hamsa) and in company of an attendant amidst lush foliage.
On the other side, a scene renders the monkey-god Hanuman in presence of Sita and Rama.
Both scenes are framed by a rim of chased wavy peacock feathers. Most of the motifs on the lids are gilt.
Paan, is traditionally sanctified by religion and was believed to posse’s medicinal properties and was often taken as an aphrodisiac also often it denotes love, for that reason the scenes in this pandan are of remarkable relevance.
The consumption of paan was widespread in Mughal India and part of the hospitality rituals aimed at distinguished guests.
Mughal pandans were characteristically decorated with floral motifs, however luxurious pandan like these were still being produced in the refuge of Hindu culture in Rajasthan, for Rajput rulers had preserved the ancient religion and the religious traditions by demanding the craftsmen to decorate works of art such as items metal ware with deities.
In addition, pierced works in Rajasthan seem to have become popular in betel boxes due to Islamic influence.
The iconography and style, alongside the shape of the pandan helps us to date it to the 18th century, as later pan boxes became of a totally rectangular shape.
It is noticeable that goddess Saraswati holds in on of her hands a rectangular item bearing an inscription engraved with the letters POG and what appears to be 4141 in Hindu numerals this could be the intials of the owner of the box, also it’s worth maintaining that the inscription is likely of a rare local Indian language.
Also the proposed dating of our box is conservative, as it might be earlier.
Condition: very good, few cracked edges with minor wear and tear.
cm. the width.
cm. the height.
cm. the depth.
Provenance: (The item was purchased from the following auction house).
Rosebery Auction House, London.
For a similar pandan please see
Mughal Silver Magnificence, from the 16th-19th Century, by Christiane Serra Fabri-Terlinden, Antalga, 1987. Please see Figs. 203–208.
Christie’s London, Sale 708 Art Of The Islamic And Indian World, October 2012, please see sold Lot no. 192, A Parcel-Gilt Pierced Silver Betel Box (Pan Dan).