It represents the best of Burmese silversmithing with repousse work in high relief.
Base 10 mm
Middle 5.5 mm
Widest at tip 5 mm
Near tip 4 mm
Base 26 mm (narrowest part)
Middle 29 mm
Widest at tip 32 mm
11.3 cm from hilt
Mindan village, Yamethin district, Burma (Myanmar)
Iron, steel, silver, agate, wood, resin.
Probably late 19th century.
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Mindan village in Yamethin district, just south of Mandalay, was known for making ornate dha with fine silver overlay:
The inlaid dha and dagger blades of Mindan near Yamèthin are well-known. The dhas are inlaid in gold, silver and brass.1
-Gazetteer of Upper Burma and the Shan states. 1901.
"Of the 26,221 workers and dependents shown in the census returns under the head of workers in iron and hardware, few can have been capable of executing anything more than the coarsest blacksmith's work. An exception must, however, be made in favour of the forgers of the inlaid knife-blades produced in Yamethin District, some of whose work is really meritorious." 2
-Imperial Gazzetteer of India, Provincial Series, Burma Vol 1. 1908.
The most thorough account on their work is Bell's monograph on Iron and Steel production in Burma:
"Another artistic development has its home in Mindan Village, Yamethin District, where every household depends mote or less on its smithy, though there are only a few professors of the particular art to be described, which consists of an inlay of silver wire upon an iron surface. The usual articles produced are ornamental dalwes or da-hmyaungs, scissors, ...
This industry is said to have had its origin five generations before Saya whose son Saya Pyo, the chief local artist, turned out the articles shown in the illustrations. The originator's name is forgotten, but the art is traditional, from father to son, each improving on his ancestors, as Saya Lan himself said:
"I was better than my father, and now my son, Maung Pyo, is better than I ever was." 3
-E.N. Bell, Rangoon, 1907.
When he wrote his monograph in 1907, the tradition was said to have started five generations before Saya. Assuming some 30 years for each generation, this puts the origin of the work in about the middle of the 18th century.
A fine Burmese dha with a well-balanced, heavy blade with a long back bevel. The blade is overlaid in silver in the typical Mindan fashion, with annotated scenes from the Vessantara Jataka story.4 At the base, for example, is written on both sides:
Jataka are stories about the previous lives of Gautama Buddha. In this particular instance, the Buddha was a prince named Vessantara who is eventually crowned king. It is one of the most popular stories of Theravada Buddhism and tells of a compassionate prince called Vessantara, who gives away everything he owns, including his children. The story is celebrated annually with festivals on the full moon of the 12th lunar month.
Vessantra offers his children as slaves to Jujaka, a poor Brahmin, while his wife Maddi is out in the forest.
Three gods disguised as tiger, lion, and leopard keep her in the forest to save her the suffering of witnessing the children's departure.
The sword's hilt is completely covered with silver sheet and scenes in contrasting niello. Just under the silver it seems to be strengthened with iron, as a magnet firmly sticks to its outer surface. There is fine ornamental silver braid work on either end of the hilt. The pommel contains a deep red stone, probably agate.
The Gazetteer of Upper Burma and the Shan States of 1901 mentions the use of red stones on dha as insignia of certain officer ranks around the Shwe-gyo-that Ne, literally: "Royal City Area", the Mandalay district.5
The duties were described as follows:
"The duties of all the officers were to try civil and criminal cases; to collect land revenue and thathameda; and to repair roads, bridges, bunds, irrigation channels, and the like, within the limits of their charge.
They were at one and the same time Police Officers, Magistrates, Judges, Revenue Officers, and Engineers, and there were no rules limiting their powers or their duties. The more serious cases, however, were generally decided by the Wuns, Myoôk, and Né-ôks." 6
Yamethin where these dha were made, was some 200 km south of Mandalay.
A fine Burmese dha. Because of the story portrayed on the blade, some collectors have called these "story dha". But not all of them portray a story, what unites them more than anything is the lavish use of silver in hilt and blade overlay, and their craftsmanship which was applauded then and now.
A survey through the literature indicates that these are mostly made in Mindan village, Yamethin district. They seemed to have been made mostly on order to people who could afford them. In one case this was a British officer called Rundle who ordered one in 1898. (See: The Rundle Dha). The foreign market was of course only a side-business for the Mindan sword makers who mostly catered to a local, high-market.
This particular dha has an interesting addition in the form of a red stone pommel which may be indicative of it being made for a state appointed official in the Mandalay district.
1. James George Scott, John Percy Hardiman; Gazetteer of Upper Burma and the Shan states, Part II, Vol III, 1901. Page 386.
2. Imperial Gazetteer of India, Provincial Series, Burma Vol 1. The Province; Mountains, Rivers, tribes, etc.; And the Arakan, Pegu, Irrawaddy, and Tenasserim Divisions. Superintendent of Government Printing, Calcutta. 1908. Page 79.
3. E.N. Bell I.C.S.; A Monograph on Iron and Steel Work in Burma. Rangoon, Superintendent, Government Printing Burma, 1907.
4. The buyer will get a PDF by a Burmese scholar who worked on this dha for me.
5. James George Scott, John Percy Hardiman; Gazetteer of Upper Burma and the Shan states, Part II, Vol II, 1901. Page 149.
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Presented by the local Dai nobility to a British customs officer in 1936.
A Chinese sword guard from the 18th century with a Buddhist mantra in lantsa script.
Signed: Ricky Milnes, India 44, Burma 44, Ramree 45.
With markings attributing it to the Tongzhou incident and a Japanese surrender tag.
Collected by a Russian prince from the hill peoples of central Vietnam in 1892.