Sinhalese cross spear
Overall length

216 cm

Shaft

Length 182.7 cm

Thick 33 mm at base,
30 middle,
29 near tip

Head

Spearhead 22.5 cm

Width of fork 7.7 cm

Crossbar 11.9 cm

Blade thickness at base 4.5 cm

blade width near base 23 mm

Weight

1313 grams

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Patisthānaya is the Sinhalese word for a type of polearm that resembles the partisan of Europe.1 Weapons of its general form were in use on the island of Sri Lanka well before the first colonists appear.

These typically only have two wings without the crossbar and are called thatu hella or "winged spear".2 Those with the added crossbar are typically called patisthānaya, the word seems to have derived off the Portuguese word partidária.

In the Kingdom of Kandy, ornate patisthānaya were presented by the king to high ranked officials and were carried by their retainers as an emblem of rank.

Read more in my corresponding glossary article.

Kandyan chiefs

Kandyan chief from Gampola and his retinue.
Photographer/Publisher: Charles T. Scowen and Co. Late 19th century.
Source: lankapura.com

This example

A fine example of a processional patisthānaya, of a type that was made in the king's workshops and presented to high ranked Kandyan chiefs and carried by their retainers.

Spearhead

The spearhead features a wavy blade with ridged cross-section, somewhat reminiscent of the Indonesian keris. The forte of the blade is straight and rectangular in cross-section and both faces are engraved with floral designs that were plated with silver. The work is much like that found on the forte of some of the better kasthāné.

The base of the blade is winged, with further chiseled floral embellishments that are plated with a bright yellow copper alloy. It is much like brass, but doesn't tend to tarnish like brass so it is perhaps some alloy containing silver and / or gold.

Under the blade are three flattened bolsters, the middle of which holds a crossbar. Under that starts the socket, which is octagonal in cross-section. Each faced is chiseled with floral decoration and plated with silver and a yellow metal alloy.

In typical Sinhalese fashion, the fit is further reinforced by four langets, two long and two shorter, that are sunken into the shaft and are secured with small screws.

Shaft

The long shaft has a thickened butt for balancing and a gradual taper towards the tip. It is covered in its entirety with lacquer work in black, red, yellow and dark green. The 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.

The Sinhalese craftsmen had a peculiar way of applying such lacquer that did not involve a brush but instead was applied in strings with sticks, and cut with the nails. As a consequence, lines with have straight ends and "dots" are angular in shape.3

Seen on this shaft are several classic Sinhalese decorative patterns such as patura; elongated isosceles triangles, kola vẹla; stylized leafy branches, dẹla; net patterns, bō-kola; "bō leaf", and biṇduva; dot patterns.4

Conclusion

A beautiful example of a rather rare Sinhalese pole-arm that served as an emblem of rank for Sinhalese chiefs, of which few survived in such good and original condition.

 

Notes
1. The term patisthānaya appears in Coomaraswamy, Ananda K., Medieaval Sinhalese Art, Pantheon Books, New York, Second Edition of the 1908 original, 1956. Page 342 and plate XLVII and P.E.P. Deraniyagala, Sinhala Weapons and Armor. Journal of the Ceylon Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society Volume XXXV. No. 95 Part III, 7th December 1942. (Reprint, Ken Trotman, 2009.) Page 118.
2. H. Parker, Ancient Ceylon. Luzac & Co, London, 1909. Pages 534-538. And: P.E.P. Deraniyagala, Sinhala Weapons and Armor. Journal of the Ceylon Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society Volume XXXV. No. 95 Part III, 7th December 1942. (Reprint, Ken Trotman, 2009.) Page 118.
3. For an explanation of the method of Sinhalese lacquerwork, see Ananda Coomaraswamy; Mediæval Sinhalese art, Broad Campden Essex House Press, 1908. Pages 215 - 217.
4. Ibid. Pages 330 and plate XXIV.

Sinhalese patisthānaya
Sinhalese patisthānaya
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