Niyapoṭen vēda (නියපොටෙන් වේද) or "finger-nail work" is a distinctive form of Sinhalese lacquer work. It was primarily associated with the village of Hapuvida, South Mātale, in former Kandy.

It is also kown as "Mātale work".1


Classic niyapoten vẹḍa on a fine Sinhalese patisthānaya from the King's Four Workshops.
Sold by Mandarin Mansion in 2019.

The craftsmen

Sinhalese lacquer workers were called ī-vaḍuvō, literally "arrow-makers" who were involved in both the turning of wooden objects and lacquering them.

At any time, two of them would be working in the armory of the king's "Four Workshops". They would produce mainly bows and polearm shafts.2


The object to be decorated would first be covered with a base color, usually vermillion red. In the case of a staff, it would be turned fast and the lacquer applied with a talipot leaf, the friction heating the lacquer and applying it. 

The elaborate decorative work would be done by warming a lump of lacquer and drawing it out. The craftsman would typically wind the string around his knee a couple of times for it to cool. The staff would now be warmed gently, continuously turned by an assistant, usually a small boy. The narrow band of lacquer would then be applied to the staff by pressure, and the pattern created as the staff revolved. The end would be nipped off with the nail of thumb or finger. As a consequence, lines have straight ends and all "dots" in this kind of work are angular in shape. After completion of the motif, the staff is then warmed again and smoothed with the leaf. 3

Further reading

Article: Sinhalese lacquer work


1. See Ananda Coomaraswamy; Mediæval Sinhalese art, Broad Campden Essex House Press, 1908. Pages 215 - 217. I used a more modern transliteration.
2. For the entire process, see: Ibid. Page 216.
3. Ibid.

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Often called piha-kaetta, these knives were mainly made by the King's Workshops.


With carved horn hilt and characteristic finger guard.


Rarely seen today, a commoner's example with carved, bone hilt.


This kind of fine work is typical for Tibetan work of the 15th-16th centuries.


A very rare Chinese saber guard dating from the height of the Qing dynasty.


The style typical of Kutch, the execution far above what is normally seen on work from that area.

Price on request