Sanskriti Museum of Everyday Art

By Sanskriti Museums

Sanskriti Pratishthan

Sanskriti Museum of Everyday Art, with its collection of 2000 unique Indian
domestic objects of the bygone era, which combine fine aesthetic form and
effective utilitarian function, was first established in 1984 on a smaller
scale and was later shifted to its present larger premises and with expanded
collection in 1993. 

Lock and Latch (1871/1900)Sanskriti Museums

The Museum's Collection of Unique Indian Domestic Objects

The Sanskriti Museum of Everyday Art, with its collection of 2000 unique Indian domestic objects of the bygone era, which combine fine aesthetic form and effective utilitarian function, was first established in 1984 on a smaller scale and was later shifted to its present larger premises and with expanded collection in 1993. The collection, built by Mr. O.P. Jain, Founder of Sanskriti Pratishthan, was turned into a museum curated and documented by Prof. Jyotindra Jain. In a rapidly transforming traditional society, the objects displayed in the museum reflect the collective and individual design sense of the Indian craftspersons which evolved over the centuries, open to the processes of change and improvisation.  One of the largest and most representative repositories of its kind, the collection is classified into nine sections namely Sacred Images; Rituals and Mendicants Accessories;Lamps and Incense Burners; Artefacts for use in Writing; Hukkahs, Chillums, Betel Boxes and Nutcrackers; Women and Children's World; Kitchen Accessories; Lotas, Spouted vessels and Boxes and Miscellaneous objects.  Each group of objects are introduced by a text panel informing the visitor about their history, typology, materials and techniques and cultural significance. This is supplemented by individual captions accompanying each displayed object.

Sacred ImagesSanskriti Museums


Brahmanic ritual handbooks mention two important types of images i.e. the achala or immovable and chala or movable ones. Generally the central stone image installed in the temple belongs to the former class whereas the smaller metal ones belong to the class of movable images which are used for everyday temple ritual, chariot festival as well as for household worship. The ritual handbooks forbid the use of stone images for household worship as well as for certain modes of worship even in the temple. Due to this ritual constraint, a whole class of bronze icons of Hindus came into existence. Over the centuries, several pre-Hindu, Hindu and non-Hindu beliefs and practices have existed side by side in India and their iconographies have merged and mingled with one another. It would be proper to describe the icons presented here as belonging to the entire continuum of different currents of culture rather than to a specific segment such as ‘Hindu’ or ‘folk’. The section of the sacred images includes those of Ganesha in his various iconographic forms, of Shiva-both in his anthropomorphic as well as emblematic form (as phallus symbol), a whole pantheon of goddesses, mother goddesses, divine consorts etc, and a number of images of Krishna-an incarnation of Vishnu.

An Eight Armed Goddess (1831/1870)Sanskriti Museums

An Eight Armed Goddess

This finely cast bronze of an eight-armed goddess is most likely to be a form of the goddess Durga. She is shown as if seated on a pedestal (which is missing). Notably in four of her hands are empty cylindrical forms in which, in all probability, some of her emblems cast separately were pierced. Her fanning skirt and the posture of sitting is unique to this image.

Western India, mainly the western Rajasthan and the whole of Gujarat is considered to be the home of a large number of folk goddesses such as Bahuchara, Meladi, Shikotar, Shakti, Ambika, Vishat, Hadkai etc who are often identified with the goddess Durga in a process of Sanskritisation.

Mahishasura Mardini (1700/1800)Sanskriti Museums

Mahishasura Mardini

This Hindu bronze figure of the goddess Durga annihilating the demon Mahisha depicts her as a ten-armed female bearing various weapons as well as a cup for drinking the demon’s blood.

The main scriptural legend of the goddess killing the buffalo demon is found in the Devi Mahatmya chapter of the Markandeya Purana. Besides several such scriptural versions, dozens of myths of the goddess and the buffalo can be found scattered all over India in the folk traditions.

She is shown killing the buffalo demon with a trident held in one of her right hands. It also shows the emergence of the anthropomorphic figure of the demon issuing from the decapitated buffalo. On the right side one also sees the lion vehicle of the goddess.

Goddess Kali Trampling Upon Shiva (1771/1800)Sanskriti Museums

Goddess Kali Trampling Upon Shiva

This is perhaps the most mysterious iconographic renderings of Hindu mythology. The bronze image shows the popular theme of the goddess Kali trampling upon the body of her consort Shiva. Often this iconographic conception is associated with the Hindu tantrism.

It is believed by some scholars such as D. D .Kosambi that when the buffalo worshippers such as the Gavlis of Maharashtra came into contact with the Mother goddess worshippers of the migrant food gatherers initially there was a conflict between the two groups though later on the two deities got married, on occasion the goddess reverted to type by trampling upon Shiva(Mhasoba) as well.

Image of Goddess Lakshmi (1771/1800)Sanskriti Museums

Image of Goddess Lakshmi

Here the two-armed goddess Lakshmi is shown seated on her lotus-seat. The emblems held by her in her hands are a rosary and a pot. The goddess is being lustrated by two elephants flanking her head - her standard iconographic feature.

The goddess Lakshmi, also known by several other names such as Shri, Kamala, etc is one of the earliest female deities of India. She has been adapted also in Buddhism and Jainism. One of her earlier depictions is found in the relief panels of the Buddhist stupa at Sanchi.

Tiger Mask and a Breast-Plate (2000)Sanskriti Museums

Tiger Mask and a Breast-Plate

The mask and the breast-plate are a part of the ceremony of invocation of deified ancestors or certain deities, mostly related to the cult of the bhutha popular in coastal Karnataka. Bhutha Aradhane or the worship of the bhutha spirits comprises a periodic invocation of certain bhuthas or deities in the body of one of the priests (impersonator) amidst the recitation of paddanas related to the life of the bhutha spirit or mythology of local deities. When possessed by such spirits or deities, the priest wears such a mask on his head and the breast-plate on his chest depending upon the deity or spirit that possesses him. Tiger mask is used, among others, by the impersonator of the goddess Pilichandi (tiger-chamunda) who is believed to protect farmers and their cattle from the attack of tigers and other wild animals.

Tiger Mask (2000)Sanskriti Museums

Presence of several cobra hoods on the mask and the breast-plate is rooted in the belief that snakes, which dwell the underworld, represent the spirit of dead ancestors.

Image of Durga Mahishamardini (1700/1800)Sanskriti Museums

Image of Durga Mahishamardini

This wiry but extremely expressive bronze figure of the goddess Durga compacts the widely popular Indian myth of the Mahishasuramardini. The image shows the goddess carrying weapons in her many arms and trampling upon Mahisha. Below her is decapitated buffalo from which the anthropomorphic Mahisha is seen emerging. The goddess’s lion vehicle too is seen attacking the demon. The entire scene is a tableau mounted on a pedestal.

According to Hindu scriptures, Mahisha the demon who was a devotee of Shiva was destroying the sacrificial altars of the sages. On complaint from the sages, the gods created Shakti or Durga to annihilate Mahisha. Empowered by the gods, Durga killed Mahisha and other Demons.

Ganesha (1901/1930)Sanskriti Museums


In this unique image of Ganesha, he is shown riding a dog or a horse instead of his usual mouse vehicle. This deviation is inexplicable and unique to this figure. The deity is shown holding a plate of sweets in his left hand.
The figure of his vehicle is perplexing and it is also likely that the maker of the image wanted to magnify the stature of his mouse vehicle and in the process made it to appear like a dog or a horse.

In the late 19th century, the Maharashtrian nationalist leader Bal Gangadhar Tilak organized public worship of Ganesha in which people of all castes could participate. Since then the annual Ganesha festival and worship has acquired extreme popularity in the region.

Ganesha (1800/1850)Sanskriti Museums


This cast bronze figure of the elephant-headed Ganesha has four arms. In his two upper arms he is holding Shiva’s emblems namely axes, while in the lower left hand is laddu ( a sweetmeat ball) and in the right one a siva-linga. His mouse vehicle is shown near his feet.

Ganesha and Kartikeya are two sons of Shiva. Ganesha is invoked for fruitful and auspicious beginning by the Hindus all over India.

Krishna Playing The Flute (1801/1830)Sanskriti Museums

Krishna playing the flute

In this bronze image of Krishna standing crossed legs, the deity is shown in the posture of playing the flute which is the only iconographic marker of the deity’s identity.
The image is crudely made and resembles in workmanship to the tribal bronzes of central India. Though Krishna is considered to be an incarnation of Vishnu of the scriptural Hinduism, the rural characteristic of the image invokes his massive popularity at the village level.

Hanuman (1871/1900)Sanskriti Museums


This cast bronze figure of the Hindu deity Hanuman is shown here in a playful mood with his tongue jutting out and about to spring in the air with his left leg raised to take a flight

Hanuman is shown here more like an anthropomorphic monkey than an obedient and loyal attendant of Rama, usually depicted seated at the latter’s feet.

Image of Vishnu (1000/1100)Sanskriti Museums

Image of Vishnu

Here Vishnu is shown in standing posture holding in his four hands his iconographic emblems shankha (conch), chakra (discus), gada (mace) and padma (lotus). He is flanked by Lakshmi on his right and Saraswati on his left. In the center of the pedestal there is a depiction of Garuda, his vehicle.

Vishnu is a part of the most revered Hindu trinity of Brahma, the creator, Vishnu the sustainer and Shiva the destroyer of the Universe. Vishnu is an important deity of scriptural Hinduism and his origin goes back to the Rig Veda.

Domestic Altar of Khandoba and Mhalsa (1801/1830)Sanskriti Museums

Domestic Altar of Khandoba and Mhalsa.

This miniature bronze altar of the sword wielding deity Khandoba and his consort Mhalsa riding a horse comes from a domestic shrine in Maharashtra.

Though Khandoba is a popular deity all over Maharashtra and its bordering areas of Karnataka, his main centre of worship is Jejuri, situated between Pune and Mahabaleshwar. He is considered to be the kula devata or patron deity of the farmers, warriors, pastoral communities as well as some of the forest tribes of the region.

The presence of a dog below the horse indicates that Khandoba is a form of Bhairava who in his iconography is shown with a dog. At the bottom right corner one sees a small linga-yoni symbol indicating the deity’s Shaivaite connection.

Miniature Shaivaite Shrine (1771/1800)Sanskriti Museums

Miniature Shaivaite Shrine

The compact, cast bronze shrine, mounted on a pedestal and conceived in the form of an open encloser represents the theme of worship of Shiva-linga and Ganesha by two female devotees.

Scores of such shrines have come from the small towns and villages of Maharashtra indicating that these were popular objects of worship in domestic shrines. It is customary that the domestic shrines are regularly tended with daily worship and offerings.

In the Halo at the back there is a five-hooded snake. One of the females is holding a large ritual ladle on her lap. In the centre is the Shiva-linga while Ganesha is enshrined in the left corner

Besides the feet marks of Shiva and offerings of sweetmeat, there is a figure of Shiva’s Nandi at the entrance to the enclosure.

Container for Holy Ash

In most temples, especially in Southern India there is a living custom of gathering the ashes from the incense offered to the deities. Such ashes are kept in vibhuti patra, a container, for the devotee to rub it on their forehead and chest. This brass container is in two parts and jointly it forms a simplified miniature version of a southern Indian temple. The lower portion is a rectangular container for the ashes while the upper one is constructed to be a pyramidal roof in six tiers.

Such sacred ash-boxes were made with great imagination and are among the most typical items of ritual accessories of southern Indian Hindu temples. This particular piece is rare and unique.

The base of the roof is an images of Shiva and his consort. The pinnacle of the roof has three shikharas flanked by makara masks. At the centre of the pinnacle area are nagas.

On all sides of the lower rectangular container are figures of the ganas of Shiva in flat silhouette.

Rituals and Mendicant’s AccessoriesSanskriti Museums

and Mendicant’s Accessories

When a Hindu, Buddhist or Jain cultic image is consecrated,
it becomes charged by the presence of the divinity itself. Such an image is
considered worthy of worship by the devotees in a shrine or a temple. Charms
and amulets too are cultic objects to which magical powers are imparted through
a ceremony of invocation and which are ritually worn or worshipped by devotees
to prevent evil eye and to gain prosperity. Usually amulets are cast from a dye
using a plaque of silver, copper or brass. In most cases each amulets is a
complete ‘shrine’ of a deity represented with all its iconographic features.

A group of amulets as displayed
in the museum is devoted to different goddesses including: Durga astride her
lion or tiger vehicle, killing the buffalo demon; a number of lesser known
goddesses of a locality related to agriculture and harvest, often holding a
plant in her hand and wearing a skirt made of grass and leaves.

Bhairava plays an important role
in the magical practices of rural Hinduism in Western and Northern India.
Amulets of Bhairava having four arms carrying trident, a damaru, a severed head
and a dagger, and accompanied by his dog-vehicle, are commonly found in this
region. Some of the dead heroes and ancestors are often identified with
Bhairava in the process of their deification. Amulets devoted to them are identifiable
through prominent footmarks.

Ganesha, the elephant-headed son
of Shiva, is held in high esteem as deity of auspicious beginning by the
Hindus. Amulets depicting Ganesha, occasionally accompanied by his consort Chauth
(in Rajasthan) are worn by his devotees for good luck and prosperity. Shiva,
the father of Ganesha, is also a deity closely linked with Bhairvava. Shiva
being the supreme deity for magical practices frequently appears on amulets. Though it is not certain whether horses existed in India in the pre-Aryan times there is no doubt that this animal was associated with the Aryans. Vedic literature refers to ashvamedha or horse sacrifice. The horse has always been the vehicle of kings and emperors. Many a hero who died fighting a battle has been immortalized in his memorial stone by the image of an equestrian figure. In imitation of this iconography, several tribal and rural communities of India have deified their ancestors as equestrian figures. Some of the local deities of Rajasthan, Gujarat and Maharashtra such as Ram Dev, DevNarayan, or Khandoba also have horse as their vehicle. Amulets being shrines of ancestors and some of these folk deities perpetuate this image. Hanuman, the monkey-attendant of Rama, and an independent deity in his own right, is also represented on amulets and armlets, mostly in flying posture, carrying a herb for his masters Rama and Lakshmana. A part of Hindu worship comprises anointing the sacred image with sandalwood paste, perfume, milk, yoghurt, clarified butter, etc. and a sacred bath with water. Special containers for storing these ingredients, often embellished with sacred symbols, are devised and used. The bath water of the deities and some of the liquid ingredients are offered in sacrifice or to devotees with small spoons, ladles or vessels also marked with sacred symbols. A range of these vessels and ladles are in the collection of this museum. Shiva is also worshipped in his phallic form. In many Shiva temples Shivalinga, or Shiva’s phallic image is placed in the entrance courtyard above which a brass or copper vessel having a minute hole is suspended from which water keeps dripping on the Shivalinga below. Lingayat, followers of the sect of Shiva worshippers in the South, wear a miniature Shivalinga contained in a silver box in their necks. Like flowers, fruits, or coconuts, sacred sound is also ‘offered’ to the deity in Hindu worship. For this purpose metal-bells and conch-shells are used. Conch-shell being sacred, one of the four emblems of Vishnu, often liquid vermilion to be sprinkled on sacred installations is kept inside a conch-shell.   

Portable Shrines

Concept of mobile shrines is ancient and deeply rooted in India. The most formidable example of mobile shrine is the temple chariot. Miniature temples, palanquins and boxes containing the divine image were carried from one place to the other as a part of rathayatra festival or for the daily worship of an itinerant house-holder or a monk or for ritual begging by mendicants and priests. Wooden cabinets having multifold shutters with painted panels of mythological scenes, made at Bassi in Rajasthan were meant for providing darshana of the Divine to the potential devotees in returns of alms. It is customary among the Jains and certain sects of Hindus to break their fast every morning only after their daily worship. For this, usually, a householder visited a temple or worshipped at the domestic shrine, but while on journey, he carried with him a flat box of brass or silver containing a sacred installation. Manuscript of a sacred text was considered equally an object of veneration. Often compact and ornamented containers were made for keeping the sacred books. Hindu canons prescribe two types of divine images, i.e. chala (movable) and achala (fixed). The elaborate ritual of daily bath, anointment, etc. is usually performed on the chala images. For temporary and permanent installation of these images, asanas or thrones are made of brass or bronze. In Maharashtra and parts of Karnataka, heavy bronze plaques having representations of folk deities such as Viroba, Khandoba, Bhairoba, etc. are carried in baskets by their priests for the ritual benefit of their devotees. In South India, Shaivite mendicants carried a large ritual ladle embellished with Shaivite symbols. Attached to this was bell, the sound of which attracted the attention of potential donors. Custom of installing miniature shrines at home for daily domestic worship has been common all over India since ancient times. A number of silpasastras and other ritual texts refer to domestic worship. A few examples of such miniature shrines are collected in this Museum. Any offering made at a shrine, be it water, food, or incense is considered sacred by the devotees among Hindus. After the incense are burned, the ashes are left in the incense burners or special containers meant for the purpose, from where devotees take a pinch and apply on their forehead. Such vessels, made of bronze, were often embellished with cultic images and symbols.

Medicants Objects

Deep attachment to the world is considered to be the main cause of misery for human beings among the Hindus, Buddhists and Jains. Detachment from the material life and renunciation are described as lofty ideals. Itinerant mendicants and religious teachers abstained from setting up a household or possessing any worldly paraphernalia. To fulfil their minimum requirements they carried with them all-purpose bowls and pots made of gourd, wood or metal. It is interesting to note that the archaic form of the original gourd-container persisted in the later periods when the same were made of wood and metals or even plastic. While sitting cross-legged in meditation or giving discourse, gurus and godmen often used bairagin, a T-shaped prop for resting one of their elbows. Householders took pride in presenting such props, having exquisite workmanship, to the holymen of their sect. Some of these were cast in metal whereas the wooden ones were adorned with ivory inlay, painting or carving.

With the rise of the bhakti-movement in the early medieval period, singing of devotional songs in the temple or at home became highly popular. Manjira (cymbals), often intricately carved, were used by these singers in Gujarat or Rajasthan. Expressions such as charana-kamala (lotus-feet) indicate that feet of a holy man or a deity were held in high reverence. As a mark of humbleness and devotion, it was customary to touch the feet of the revered persons, and place the dust picked from there on one’s head. Reflection of this belief is found in the practice of worshipping metal or wooden Sandals of godmen in shrines. Wooden sandals were actually used by these holymen to avoid the use of impure materials like leather. Shivalinga or the phallus of Shiva; Nandi, Shiva’s bull; snake; ram; Ganesha; etc., symbols of Shaivism, embellished metal wristlets used by Shaivaite priests. A large majority of them in the collection of the museum seem to be coming from Maharashtra and Karnataka.

Amulet of Bhairava (1931/1970)Sanskriti Museums

Amulet of Bhairava

This dye-cast silver amulet is worn in the neck by the priests and devotees of Bhairava. In his iconography, the deity is shown having four arms carrying weapons. Below his legs is his dog, the typical iconographic mark of Bhairava.

Silver plaque amulets of this variety are cast from a dye. A silver plaque of the size of the dye is placed over a dye which has the negative image of the deity. Between the plaque and the dye shellack granules are placed. The silversmith hammers the plaque till when the depiction on the dye gets embossed onto the plaque.

A Pot for Ritual Ingredients (1801/1830)Sanskriti Museums

A Pot for Ritual Ingredients

The brass pot with heavy percentage of copper has a narrow heck and bulging belly. On the outer surface of the pot one sees images of a goddess, the sun and the moon, cobras and a reservoir of water.

One of the chief features of Hindu temple and domestic worship is lustrating of the sacred image with milk, yoghurt, water etc. the pot belongs to that class of ritual objects used for storage of such ingredients.

Conch Shell with Casing (1901/1930)Sanskriti Museums

Conch Shell with casing

The sound of blowing of the conch is one of the offerings made to the deity in Hindu ritualism. This particular conch is encased in elaborate cast bronze casings. On top of the conch are mounted images of Krishna and his devotees. At one end of the conch there is a brass cap from which the conch is blown while from the other end an ornate plant issues out.

Shankha-nada or the sound of conch blowing is considered sacred by the Hindus and forms an important element of Hindu ritual practice. Conch is also one of the four emblems of the god Vishnu along with disc, mace and lotus.

Pot for Sacred Water and a Serving Ladle (1871/1900)Sanskriti Museums

Pot for sacred water and a serving Ladle

The octagonal pot of brass has fine floral patterns of inlaid copper and silver. The end of the ladle has the motif of Krishna quelling the sepent Kaliya while the spoon-bowl has fluted edges resembling a sugar melon cut into half.

The water sprinkled over the sacred image or even that used for bathing the image is offered to devotees for wetting their eyes and applying over the forehead as a mark of deity’s benediction. The priest offers such water from the pot using the elegant ladle such as this one.

A Miniature Shrine (1901/1930)Sanskriti Museums

A Miniature Shrine

The bronze cast miniature shrine with ornately perforated walls and gabled roof has a small flight-of steps (in imitation of its larger original), flanked by two images of elephants.
Such shrines were a part of domestic worship. Miniature bronze images of deities were placed inside for daily ritual veneration.

Mendicant’s Pot (1901/1930)Sanskriti Museums

Mendicant’s Pot

This oval shaped coconut shell pot carried by mendicants has a wooden handle, a brass lid and a cow-head gargoyle from which water can be poured out by tilting the pot.

Mendicants used the pot for ablutions and for drinking water. The cow-head gargoyle makes the pot sacred for the Hindus as the water flowing from the cow’s mouth would be considered holy.

Pot for the Water of Ganga / Sacred Pot (1831/1870)Sanskriti Museums

Pot for the water of Ganga/Sacred Pot

The pot is made by hammering copper sheet to shape, having floral repousse work at the neck and figures of incarnations of Vishnu on the belly. Filled with the water of the river Ganges and sealed at the mouth. Such pots were bought home by the pilgrims from Banaras and Allahabad.

The water was used for domestic Hindu rituals. Often a few drops were poured in the mouth of a dying person. It was also sprinkled on a dead body before cremation.

Shiva-Patra, a Ritual Vessel (1901/1930)Sanskriti Museums

Shiva-Patra, A Ritual Vessel

The inverted minaret-shaped vessel has a bull-head shaped gargoyle at the lower end from which water filled in the vessel would drip drop by drop. The vessel is hung over a brass or stone linga, the phallus symbol of Shiva, which keeps getting lustrated by water or milk dripping over it from the mouth of the bull attached to the vessel.

Worship of linga, the phallus symbol of Shiva is an ancient Indian religious practice. The adherents of the lingayata sect of Karnataka even wear a miniature linga in a silver casket in their neck. Though the worship of linga is common among the Shaivaite Hindus all over India, it is especially popular in southern India.

A Mendicant’s Portable Shrine (1901/1930)Sanskriti Museums

A Mendicant’s Portable Shrine.

This painted wooden shrine, known as kavad is carried from place to place by its bhopa, the itinerant narrator - priest. The shrine has several flaps or shutters hinged to each other having elaborately painted, narrative scenes from different folk epics occasionally including scenes of hell punishments.
Kavads are made by local carpenters and painters in the Bassi village of Rajasthan. Depending upon the belief and religious practice of the concerned priest a kavad is ordered for making. The artist then paints the narratives accordingly. The narrator-priest opens the kavad flap by flap singing and narrating in prose the stories painted on them. The climactic darshan, envisioning of the deity, takes place at the end when all flaps are opened and the three sculpted images of the deities Jagannatha, Balabhadra and Subhadra appear in front of the devotees.

Portable Shrine (1901/1930)Sanskriti Museums

Portable Shrine

The miniature brass shrine is in the form of a shallow flat cabinet with two shutters. On the outer side of the shutters are shallow engravings of Rama, Sita, Lakshmana and Hanumana. The back of the cabinet is similarly engraved with plant motifs. A painted image of a deity was enshrined inside.

Among the Hindus, Buddhists and Jains there has been an old custom of carrying such portable shrines for worship while on a journey.

Kharau, Sandals As Objects of Worship (1901/1930)Sanskriti Museums

Kharau, Sandals as objects of worship

These cast bronze adult size sandals are made in the form of stylized shape of the feet. The sandals are raised in height by an ornate wall below the sole. Smooth knobs are provided for gripping the sandals between the toes.

These comparatively heavy sandals appear to be more for worship as marks of a deity or a holy personage rather than for wearing. For wearing in temple premises, holy men or gurus wore lighter wooden variants.

Mendicants Elbow-Rest (1901/1930)Sanskriti Museums

Mendicants Elbow-rest

Itinerant mendicants, while giving sermon or sitting in a yogic posture for long often used prop for resting their elbow. This elbow-rest comprises a lathe-turned vertical stick over which a carved horizontal element ending in beautifully worked tiger-heads is affixed. The vertical element has ivory inlaid geometric patterns. It is on this element that the user rests his elbow while balancing the prop on the ground on the vertical element. The horizontal element is firmed up in position by two iron cantilevers or brackets.

The elbow-rest is one of the essential accessories of a Hindu mendicant along with a kamandala (waterpot), a walking stick and a pair of Kharau, wooden sandals. Many a painting portraying mendicants depict them as their belongings.

Lamps and Incense BurnersSanskriti Museums

and Incense Burners

In addition to being a source of light, the lamp has been an important ritual accessory. The nine essential Brahmanic forms of worship include lamp offering to deities.

Deepa-lakshmi is a lamp in the form of a celestial female attendant of light, identifiable with Lakshmi, the Goddess of light and wealth. In some examples here the Goddess is shown holding the lamp-bowl in both her hands, in some she stands on the tortoise, bull or elephant, whereas in few others the image of Lakshmi is adored by elephants.

Large standing metal lamps with a central shaft fitted with lamp-plates and multiple bowls for oil and wicks are sometimes topped by a bird or an elephant. The wooden ones with devices to adjust their height are noteworthy.

In South India, the home of beautiful lamps exists a type called changalavatta in which there is a reservoir for oil with a ladle attached. Oil from here is fed to the wick-pan and to replenish other lamps.

Lamps in the form of a peacock from Orissa made by the cire perdue technique are also represented.

A large variety of lamps meant to be suspended from the ceiling, hung on the wall or carried in procession come from all over India.

A peculiar lamp comprising four metal pots with spouts for wicks, piled up in tapering order and topped with a lid having cobra-hoods is spectacular.

Arti-lamps with handles comprise of a lamp plate with a row of multiple cavities for ghi and wicks. These are waved in front of the cult image as a concluding ritual.

Simple round lamp-bowls of copper with an elongated trench for the wick presuppose the form of the common Indian earthen lamps.

Boatmen often used an iron lamp with a gyroscopic device so that despite the movements of the boat, the wick remained straight.

Burning of incense, to keep insects away, to ward off evil spirits and to fill up a room with scented air, has been a popular practice in India. It is also one of the modes of temple-offerings. Incense burners were usually in metal and could either be suspended on chains or placed on the ground. The lids of incense containers were usually very decorative and had perforations which elegantly let out the smoke.

One such container is in the form of a peacock and another with miniature images of bulls, phalluses, etc. (from a Shaiva temple) is also noteworthy.

Others represent incense stick holders.

Oil Lamp (1870/1900)Sanskriti Museums

Oil Lamp

This unique brass oil lamp imbibes into its design the principle of the Tantalus Cup. The lamp is in the form of deepalakshmi or the “goddess of lamp”- a female holding the lamp bowl in her left hand and a bottle of oil in the right. Oil is poured into the hollow body of the female from the opening over her hand which also flows into the bottle in her hand. As the lamp keeps burning the oil, the same quantity of oil keeps dripping from the bottle into the lamp bowl.

The ratio of level of the oil in the bottle and that in the lamp bowl are so adjusted that the lamp bowl remains always full and the oil stops dripping as soon as it reaches the brim of the bowl. The craftsman has skillfully imbibed the device of the Tantalus Cup in the making of this beautiful lamp.

Oil Lamp (1901/1930)Sanskriti Museums

Oil Lamp

This bell-metal tribal oil lamp, in the form of a peacock whose body comprises of a compartment for storing oil. On the back of the peacock there is a small nozzle in which a cotton wick is inserted so as to keep it soaked in oil.

Using the technique of cire perdue metal casting in which the outer surface of the core wax model is covered with multiple strands of wax wire, is used, with minor variations, all over the eastern Indian tribal complex comprising areas in Orissa, Andhra Pradesh, West Bengal, Bihar, Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand.

Oil Lamp (1971/2000)Sanskriti Museums

Oil Lamp

This oil lamp in the form of a female figure holding a large lamp-bowl in both her hands is remarkable for its harmonious proportions and elegant hairdo and clothing. The flaring skirt provides it stability when placed on the ground or in a niche.

Lamps in the form of females holding a lamp-bowl popularly known as dipika or deepalakshmi are common all over India but a large variety has come from Southern India. These form a part of the ritual accessory used in temples or at home in domestic shrines.

Incense Burner (1901/1930)Sanskriti Museums

Incense Burner

This incense burner is a combination of forms of a peacock and a cobra - the tail of the peacock being shaped as cobra.
References to incense burning both as a part of ritual offerings to deities as well as for perfuming the house (including women’s hair after bath) go back to literature of early centuries of the Christian era.

The chest of the peacock has multiple perforations from where incensed smoke issues out. The belly of the peacock where the incense is burned on coal is a bowl attached to a pedestal and has a curved handle which combined with the pedestal provides a stable grip when placed on the ground.

Oil Lamp (1901/1930)Sanskriti Museums

Oil Lamp

This hanging oil lamp of brass, one of the finest examples of its class, is exquisitely crafted in terms of its workmanship, proportions, use of decorative motifs and the device of automatically re-filling the lamp-bowl with oil. The lamp comprises three parts namely the brass chain for hanging from the ceiling , which is attached to an exquisitely cast figure of a hansa with foliage in beak, the large central goblet in the form of a lotus for storing oil, and the lamp-bowl at the bottom.

The most interesting feature of this lamp is that the oil contained in the goblet continuously keeps dripping into the lamp-bowl but does not allow the latter to overflow as the device works on the principle of the ‘Tantalus Cup’

Oil Lamp (1901/1930)Sanskriti Museums

Oil Lamp

The brass lamp with flat base is for placing on a platform. It comprises the lamp bowl and an ornate halo placed over the back portion of the rim of the bowl.

The halo protects the flame from getting extinguished by wind and also serves as a shrine of the goddess Lakshmi to whom the lamp in the front is offered.

Beneath the halo is a figure of the goddess Sri or Lakshmi being lustrated by two elephants flanking her. The halo culminates on top with a makara head.

Oil Lamp (1901/1930)Sanskriti Museums

Oil Lamp

This brass lamp comprises a lamp bowl in the front, a container for oil in the middle, a ladle attached with a chain to the container for feeding oil into the lamp-bowl, and a handle, which is embellished with a figure of a hamsa.

The lamp incorporates the Hindu belief in akhanda jyot, which stands for burning the lamp without interruption. Here the lamp bowl is continuously refilled without letting the lamp extinguish even for a moment.

Incense Burner (1901/1930)Sanskriti Museums

Incense Burner

The incense burner has a round bowl for placing coal to burn incense, covered with a perforated lid to let the perfumed smoke issue out. The bowl is placed in the centre of a square platform on each of the four corners of which is affixed a figure of the nandi bull. Below the platform is a brass pipe in which a wooden rod was affixed for carrying from one place to another to spread the smoke all over.

The presence of the figures of nandis, the vehicle of the god Shiva indicates that it came from a Shaivite shrine.

Lamp (1901/1930)Sanskriti Museums


This wooden lamp has several carved wooden bowls in two tiers. The lower tier has four bowls while the upper tier has two bowls and two horse-heads. The upper tier can be turned and so adjusted that the flames from the lower tier do not burn the upper tier. The lamp is mounted on a lotus-shaped broad base.

This light and portable lamp stand mainly carved and partly lac-turned is typical of wooden objects of everyday life of Gujarat and has aesthetic kinship with other objects such as the peg for hanging turbans, wooden chests, rolling pins for making roti, the Indian bread.

Artefacts for Use In WritingSanskriti Museums

for use in Writing

Evidence of semi-pictographic writing goes back to the Harappan culture and that of the Brahmi script to the Mauryan Age. Palm-leaf manuscripts survive from about a 1000 years ago and those on paper from 800 years.

For inscribing on palm leaves, a pointed iron stylus was used. Some of these were adorned with silverwork and kept inside ivory cases. For drawing circles and curves, an iron compass with a pair of folded nibs for a droplet of link was utilised. A pen with a similar pair of folded nibs was used for drawing straight lines. The actual writing was done by reed-pens.

Brass ink-well and pen-cases of various designs were used. After writing, to quicken the drying process of ink, sand was sprinkled over it to serve the purpose of a blotting paper. For this too, special containers were made.

Pen-cases with fine lacquer work came from Kashmir or Rajasthan. Wooden ‘slates’ with ornate borders and pictures of Ganesha/Saraswati, often with painted letters of the alphabet, were used by beginners to learn writing by repeatedly going over the letters with a dry, dummy pen. While reading, the manuscripts were placed on painted or carved wooden book-holders. The manuscripts were stored in wooden or cardboard boxes which were often painted. The scribe wrote in straight lines which were arrived at by folding the paper as per the requirement. Some manuscripts had painted illustrations. An individual’s astrological statement was usually made on scroll.


Inkwell with Pen-Stand (1901/1930)Sanskriti Museums

Inkwell with Pen-Stand

The cast bronze inkwell comprises two cylindrical compartments of which the main lotus shaped one is the ‘tank’ and the inter-connected smaller one is for dipping the pen for writing. The top covering element of the main well, in the form of a lotus-mandala, has four holes through which strings were tied to hang the object on the wall, after use, to prevent accidental spilling of the ink.

Available evidence suggests that the early Indian manuscripts were written on palm-leaves by incising letters on the surface. Writing with ink on paper seems to have appeared by the 12th century AD and is conjectured to have come from China.

Tools for Drawing and Writing (1870/1930)Sanskriti Museums

Tools for Drawing and Writing.

The compass or the V-shaped hinged instrument for drawing circles and taking measurements is made of brass. One of its arms has a pincer-shaped claw for holding ink into it while the second one is pointed for lightly piercing into the surface on which a circle is to be drawn. The second instrument is a stylus for incising letters on palmleaf on which early Indian manuscripts were written. The stylus is an iron instrument embellished with silver rings.

The compass of this kind was mainly used for making astrological scrolls in which the various constellations of stars and planets were shown in intersecting circles. It was also used for drawing mandalas in tantric texts as well as a tool for learning geometry and making architectural drawings. The stylus of this kind is still in use in Orissa where the art of writing and drawing on palmleaf is a living tradition.

Writing Pad (1871/1900)Sanskriti Museums

Writing Pad

The painted wooden tablet is adorned with a floral arch on top under which there is an image of Ganesha installed on a lotus platform with his mouse-vehicle next to him. The inscription on the pad mainly records the details of its ownership. The gable-shaped peg on top is to facilitate hanging of the tablet on wall.

The pad was used for placing a writing paper on it. Ganesha is considered to be a deity connected with learning and writing. It is believed by the Hindus that the Sage Vyasa, the composer of the epic Mahabharata, dictated the text of the epic to Ganesha.

A Box for Inkwell and Pens (1871/1900)Sanskriti Museums

A Box for Inkwell and Pens

This exquisite box for inkwells and pens is made of papier mache having finely painted outer surface depicting intricate foliage intercepted by figures of birds.

Kashmir has a centuries-old living tradition of exquisitely painted papier mache objects sharing aesthetic kinship with Iran and Central Asia.

The box comprises of a sheath and a drawer. At one end of the drawer is placed a twin-compartment brass inkwell adorned with finely filigreed decorative brass pieces in combination with flat plaques of mother-of-pearls.

Manuscript Cover (1901/1930)Sanskriti Museums

Manuscript Cover

This folder-type cardboard manuscript cover is encased in satin silk embroidered on the front with silk thread embroidery depicting images of 14 dreams witnessed by the mother of Mahavira, the Jaina tirthankaras (or any of the 24 Jaina tirthankaras) during her pregnancy.

The 14 dream images which include an elephant, a bull, an airavata, the goddess Lakshmi, a pair of garlands, the moon, the sun, a celestial vimana, a bowl of jewels, and fire indicate that the cover was for a manuscript of the Shwetambara sect of the Jainas, as according to the Digambara sect, the mother saw 16 dreams and not 14.

Pen Case with Ink-Well (1901/1930)Sanskriti Museums

Pen Case with Ink-Well

This brass ink-well with attached pen-case somewhat resembles a shrine with its spire imitating the shikhara of a Hindu temple. The sikhara of a classical Hindu temple is topped by amalaka or a fluted fruit. Above the amalaka is kalasha 'vase' also resembling the crowning brass element in the spire of a Hindu temple. The horizontal twin pen-case is meant for storing reed or nib pens. The lids of the case are connected with the well by a brass chain. The object comes from a well-to-do family of traders where it was used for writing accounts.

Ink Pot (1901/1930)Sanskriti Museums

Ink Pot

This pagoda-shaped ink-well has a lid in the form of a tall spire. The hollow base of the spire fits over a nozzle at the mouth of the well below. A set of three pegs with perforations attached to the lid as well as to the well are meant to tie-up the former with the latter with a thin rope which also serves as a sling for hanging the ink-well on a wall after use to prevent spilling.

Ink Pot (1831/1870)Sanskriti Museums

Ink Pot

This brass ink-well is in the form of a highly stylised elephant with the head , trunk and two front legs jutting out prominently from a bulging semi-circular body which serves as container for ink. On top of the well is a small opening with a lid in the shape of a kirtimukha, the preventor of evil eye. The writer dips the reed or nib of the pen into the well from this opening for writing. One of the possible objectives of having the elephant head on the well is to invoke the deity Ganesha who is proverbially believed to have written down the epic Mahabharata as dictated by the Sage Vyasa. Ganesha is also invoked by the Hindu trading communities at the start of their respective New Year, when new account books are opened.

Hukkahs, Chillums, Betel Boxes and NutcrackersSanskriti Museums

Chillums, Betel Boxes and Nutcrackers

Before the 17th century, when tobacco was introduced into India, smoking of hashish, cannabis, opium, etc, was a common practice. For smoking these, chillums or small pipes of terracotta, or of wood with clay lining, were used. Smoking a hukkah was an established practice by the end of the 17thcentury. A hukkah usually consists of a bowl for coal and tobacco, a central hollow shaft, a smoking pipe, and a base which is filled with water. As the smoker inhales, the smoke passes through the water and thus loses some of its nicotine content. Parts of hukkah and chillums were made of brass and other metals; silver covered hollow coconuts, clay, porcelain, etc. Some hukkah bases had fine inlay of one metal over another.


In all probability, the culture of eating paan or betel leaf already existed in India in the 3rd century A.D. Boxes for storing these were made of different materials and in various shapes and sizes. Those with perforations to allow fresh air to circulate and keep the leaves fresh came from almost all over India. Some were used for storing the various ingredients needed to prepare paan. Special containers called chunadani for storing chuna or lime chewed with pan or tobacco were made in exceptionally compact and beautiful forms in Maharashtra. A variety of betel boxes can be seen depicted in the medieval Rajput and Moghul miniature paintings. Nutcrackers of iron and brass (the cutting edge being always of iron) available in a charming variety of shapes and sizes, were made for cutting areca nut, a narcotic fruit growing along the coastal areas of India, to be chewed with or without paan. Nutcrackers were conceived in the shape of birds, animals, or amorous couples, with jingle bells attached for rhythmic sound or simply decorated with finely designed perforations.



Base of a Hukkah (1871/1900)Sanskriti Museums

Base of a Hukkah

This bell shaped base for a hukkah, a smoking pipe, is made of an alloy of zinc, copper, tin or lead and blackened by dipping in a solution of copper sulphate.
Known as bidriware from the name of the town Bidar in the Deccan, the craft attained superlative quality as it was patronized by the local rulers, chiefs and aristocrats of the region. Besides hukkah bases, exquisitely adorned boxes, spittoons (ugaldans), wash basins (sailabchis), betel boxes (pandans), vases and euvers were produced by the craftsmen of the region. Today Hyderabad is the main centre of production of bidriware.

The surface of the base is adorned with floral motifs comprising pieces of silver sheet embedded into the surface of the object by chasing and hammering as in bidari techniques.

Hukkah (1871/1900)Sanskriti Museums


The upper half of the coconut shell base of the hukkah which contains water is embellished with ornately filigreed and repoused silver plaques. On the colourfully lac-turned wooden pipe too silver discs are attached. The actual pipe is missing but a silver chain to be loosely attached to the base and the pipe is in place. The hukkah is placed on a brass stand which appears to be a later addition. The hukkah bowl in which burning coal is placed to ignite tobacco is missing.

On account of its non-porous fabric, hardness, ideal shape for the purpose and easy and inexpensive availability, the coconut shell has become one of the most popular materials for a hukkah base.

Hukkah for a Lady (1901/1930)Sanskriti Museums

Hukkah for a Lady

This simple but ingenuously designed small, hand-held hukkah of brass is meant for a lady. The ring is the container for water. In the nozzle at the top a wooden pipe must have been affixed which held the hukkah bowl for burning coal. A pipe for smoking was once attached to the side nozzle.

The convention of smoking hukkah by women appears to be quite common as evidenced by several Rajput and Pahari miniature paintings as well as by the prevalent living tradition.

An Opium Container (1901/1930)Sanskriti Museums

An Opium Container

This lathe-turned circular container is made by hollowing a piece of wood and is lined with brass rings at its narrow opening and with brass strips which strengthen the box from all sides.

The opium boxes from western India usually had narrow mouths to prevent the opium mixed liquid from evaporating or drying up.

Hukkah (1901/1930)Sanskriti Museums


This cast brass hukkah is ingenuously designed combining a mango-shaped water container adorned with a turned-neck peacock, an ornate lotus stem-shaped central pipe which culminates in a bowl for coal in the form of a blooming lotus flower.
The hukkah reiterates the fact that the Indian craftsman’s design inspiration came primarily from the objects of nature such as mango, peacock, lotus stem or the lotus flower which were adapted to overall form of the objects and its function. The hukkah seems to come from an upper or middle class family. Its graceful dimunitive form makes it suitable for a female smoker.

Hukkah Base (1931/1970)Sanskriti Museums

Hukkah Base

This cast bronze hukkah-base is in the form of a peacock with spread out feathers. The cavity on its back was for a pipe leading to the coal and tobacco bowl while from the hole on the side must have issued a pipe for smoking.

To avoid mouth to mouth pollution in community smoking, often the smokers brought their own mouthpiece to be inserted into the pipe and removed while passing on the hukkah to the next smoker.

Hukkah Base (1871/1900)Sanskriti Museums

Hukkah Base

This bidari work hukkah base is made of a special metal alloy comprising blackened zinc and copper which is covered with delicate floral inlay of silver foil, an art form introduced into lndia by the Mughals. The designs are rendered in floral patterns in the teh-nishan (inlay of sheet) and tarkashi (inlay of wire) techniques.

Bidar was the main center of production of bidari work but today Hyderabad has become the main hub of the craft.

Chillum (1931/1970)Sanskriti Museums


The chillum is a hand-held smoking pipe comprising a mouthpiece connected to a bowl for burning tobacco.

Before the introduction of tobacco in to India by the Portuguese in the c.15th century, Indians are known to have smoked hashish and cannabis, in all probability from a chillum. Unlike the hukkah, the chillum does not have a water container for filtering the smoke.

This chillum’s mouthpiece, which is in the shape of a fish, is made of white metal holding the brass tobacco bowl in its mouth.

Opium Grinder (1901/1930)Sanskriti Museums

Opium Grinder

This cast bronze, boat shaped opium grinder has at one end a linga or the phallus symbol of Shiva placed under a cobra-hood while at the other end is a stylised tiger head. Opium is mixed with water in the grinder and the liquid is taken out through the mouth of the tiger which acts as a gargoyle.

It has been a custom especially among the Rajput hosts of Rajasthan and Gujarat to feed a few drops to the liquid opium to their guests at community ceremonies such as wedding. On such occasion liquid opium is poured into the palm of the host from such a container as this through the tiger’s mouth to feed the guests.

Apparatus for Filtering Liquid Opium (1931/1970)Sanskriti Museums

Apparatus for filtering liquid Opium

This brass apparatus comprises a tripod on which a Shaivaite shrine is mounted with images of a snake, Nandi, the bull vehicle of Shiva, and linga, the phallus symbol of Shiva.

It was customary among the Rajput chiefs of Rajasthan and Gujarat to consume and offer to guests liquid opium to be sipped directly from the palm of the host. Before the advent of the colonial rule, opium was locally grown and consumed in Bihar and Bengal as well as in the Malwa region of Central India. The British developed a vast opium trade with China which became a source of major revenue over the 19th century.

The central miniature shrine is flanked by two brass rings adorned with ornate peacocks. These rings hold cone-shaped cloth filters for filtering liquid opiums which are now missing.

Betel Leaf Container (1931/1970)Sanskriti Museums

Betel leaf Container

This dome-shaped copper and white metal container for betel leaf and ingredients was typically found in Mohammedan homes on account of its form resembling the dome of a mosque or a minarette as well as the crescent moon motif repeated all over.

Lime Container (1931/1970)Sanskriti Museums

Lime Container

This bronze cast, narrow necked and broad bellied lime container rests on an inverted, shallow bowl affixed at the bottom. Attached to the lid is a bronze pin which pierces through the former and goes right deep into the container. The pin, tied to the container with a brass chain is used for applying lime on betel leaf.

Traditionally betel leaf is consumed all over India with thin layers of wet lime and wet katechu in combination with sliced areca nut, cardamom, cloves and such other as per regional customs and individual taste.

Container for Betel Leaves and Condiments (1931/1970)Sanskriti Museums

Container for Betel leaves and Condiments

This peacock shaped brass container for betel leaves and condiments has two main compartments- the one in the bird’s belly has four cavities with lids in which lime, katechu, cardamom, cloves, pounded tobacco leaves etc are stored. The tale of the bird forms the second compartment having a flap lid hinged at one end, which is used for storing betel leaves. The neck and the legs of the bird are bronze cast.

The conventional betel containers were generally round or hexagonal boxes often having perforated lids for the circulation of air which kept the leaves fresh. However some fancy examples such as this one were specially made to suit individual taste. Early 20th century saw proliferation of betel boxes in the form of silver motor cars especially among the royal and aristocratic patrons.

Areca Nutcracker (1901/1930)Sanskriti Museums

Areca Nutcracker

This hinged nutcracker of brass is adorned with punched decorations on the surface of the metal while the handles are covered with strips of ivory for smoother grip. Cast bronze figures of birds are additionally attached at the end of the handles as well as on top of the upper lever. A sharp iron blade is affixed to the upper lever while the lower one has a flat surface to hold the nut in place.

The areca nut, slightly narcotic in character, is the fruit of the areca palm which grows in the vast coastal regions of India. It is consumed either with betel leaf or chewed independently.

Nutcracker (1901/1930)Sanskriti Museums


This iron nutcracker has inlays and attachments of decorative brass pieces including a peacock revetted above the blade. Two levers are hinged at one end. The handles are curved to make a convenient grip.

The culture of betel and areca nut chewing was probably introduced into India around the beginning of the Christian era in the coastal south India through trade with South East Asia from where it might have spread northwards. In terms of design, this nutcracker has affinities to the Burmese and Srilankan varieties.

Women and Children's WorldSanskriti Museums

and Children's World

Women's Toiletry:

Objects traditionally used by the Indian woman for her make-up are proof of a subtle personal culture of toiletry.

Hair-drying pins of metal with devices for creating rhythmic sound while drying or simply with charming motifs on the handles have come to light, mainly from South India. Metal combs with stunningly simple and elegant forms were also used.

Slender bottles for kohl, used as an eye-liner, or for other cosmetics also had mirrors attached. Collyrium was collected, mixed and stored in specially made kajal-dans of brass. Kankavatis, the containers of red pigment for marking the forehead from Rajasthan and Gujarat often had multiple compartments and were made in many interesting forms. Even an object, like a foot-scrubber was made with great imagination. Metal pieces were sealed inside the hollow space of the scrubber so that they made a rhythmic sound while it was in use. In South India, special cups were made for storing oil and turmeric paste which were applied on the body before taking bath. While going out, Orissan women carried delicately made fish or mango shaped betel containers of metal. A waist-band of brass, meant for a little girl or woman with a narrow waist is noteworthy. A variety of jewellery boxes, some with a lock and key device, were commonly used. Hand-fans of khas grass, bead-work, embroidery or metal with delicately crafted handles in metal or ivory were used by the ladies of the house themselves. Larger ones were waved by servants.

Collyrium/Vermillion Bottle (1901/1930)Sanskriti Museums

Collyrium/Vermillion Bottle

The bottle is in the form of a female figure with its mouth above the head. The bottle was closed with a lid (now missing) with a long pin attached to it which remained dipped in the collyrium/ vermillion inside the bottle when closed. The user opened the lid and applied collyrium to the eyes or put a vermillion bindi on the forehead with the pin.

A wide variety of collyrium and vermillion containers made of brass or silver have come to light over the centuries. These have been made with great imagination using refined craftsmanship. These are a part of the larger paraphernalia of shringar or women’s toiletry comprising combs, hair oil bottles, hand-held mirrors, hair drying pins etc.

The female is shown holding a parrot in her left hand and a triangular object in her right hand.

A Comb for Drying Hair (1901/1930)Sanskriti Museums

A Comb for drying hair

This unique brass comb used by women to dry the long tresses of their hair has a handle in the form of the goddess Saraswati standing in cross-legged position and playing the veena (her iconographic marker). The comb is just an extension of the fingers which are still used by the women for the same function.

A remarkable feature of this comb is that a goblet containing hair oil is attached below Saraswati’s feet. This is for the user to oil her hair after drying them. The variety and range of such pins that have been collected, especially from southern India, is simply astonishing.

Her head is flanked by two ornate peacocks. From her hair bun rise two spikes which are run through the wet tresses of hair by the user to untangle them and dry them as the breeze passes through them

A Collyrium Or Vermillion Container (1931/1970)Sanskriti Museums

A Collyrium or Vermillion Container

Cast in bronze this peacock-shaped collyrium or vermillion container is a fine example of paraphernalia of women’s toiletry objects. The body of the peacock acts as container for collyrium where as the gracefully upturned tail has a cavity for holding a circular mirror. At the back of the mirror there is one more container for any other ingredient for make-up. Through the opening in the bird’s chest a pin is inserted to obtain collyrium or vermillion for application.

Indian craftspersons as well as their patrons have often shown concern for imaginatively designing objects of everyday life imbibing forms of nature into their making. The Sanskrit word alamkara popularly translated as ornament or decoration literally means “to do extra”. This desire to do something extra is the beginning of making things “artistic”

A Comb for Drying Hair (1700/1800)Sanskriti Museums

A Comb for drying hair

This cast bronze miniature masterpiece is a comb for women to disentangle their long tresses of hair and dry them in the process. Five spikes issue from this pendant for combing and drying hair.

There are more than 100 such combs for drying hair in the Sanskriti museum of Everyday Art- all different in design and motifs.

The circular, ornate pendant for holding the comb has an animated depiction of mother and child with a female attendant standing on the right. Below this are two figures of vyali while above the tableau of figures is a lion mask with protruding eyes- both being in the artistic idiom of southern India. The entire composition is encircled by foliage

Containers for Vermillion and Collyrium (1931/1970)Sanskriti Museums

Containers for Vermillion and Collyrium

This brass container having several compartments for collyrium and vermillion is adorned with figures of peacocks all around. The top compartment is for collyrium and opens with a lid hinged on one side. This compartment itself can be slid by pushing it aside to open the bottom compartment which is divided into two sections- one for the dry vermillion powder and another for the wet. To close, the upper compartment is slid back to position where it gets automatically locked up under the beak of one of the peacocks.
Such multi-compartment containers for collyrium and vermillion with deep aesthetic engagement in combination with compactness and smooth dovetailing of elements speak of efficient design in everyday life.

Container for Making Collyrium and Storing Vermillion. (1931/1970)Sanskriti Museums

Container for making Collyrium and storing Vermillion.

This cast bronze container has three discs with shallow cavities for storing collyrium and vermillion. The discs are attached to a revette and are opened for use by sliding away one from another.

The top disc is held over the flame of an oil-lamp to collect soot in its cavity which is later turned into Collyrium by mixing ghee, camphor etc. into it. The middle disc probably had a mirror affixed to it.

Women’s Toiletry Box Women’s Toiletry Box (1831/1870)Sanskriti Museums

Women’s Toiletry Box

This painted wooden toiletry box in the shape of a tiger contains a number of things that a royal lady required in the confines of the zenana.

Only refined materials have been employed: jade, ivory, damascened steel and mother of pearl with a generous use of gilt and gold painting.

Materials Inside Tiger Shaped BoxSanskriti Museums

The different objects in the box includes pair of scissors, knives, a fork, a hammer and an anvil, a magnifying glass, a razor, a saw, spoons, a tweezer, a file, a nail cutter, an ear cleaner, a kohl applier, a nut-cracker, a pen, a ruler, a comb and a miniature painting.
Another opening on a back of the tiger reveals a chaupad, a game akin to the Chinese ludo, with ivory pawns and dice, a shatranj, chess set, complete with chessmates, a pack of ganjifa, playing cards, a scale with rattis, tiny weights to weigh gold and precious jewels. A manuscript with a magnifying glass and painted ivory bottles of perfume.

Aranmula Mirror (1931/1970)Sanskriti Museums

Aranmula Mirror

The unique mirror made of a secret alloy of metals (not glass) is a specialty of the Achari craftsmen of Aranmula in Kerala. The circular mirror is encased in an ornate brass frame which is placed over a two-tier rectangular brass platform. At the bottom of the mirror frame are two incised figures of makara (stylised crocodiles)

According to a legend common among the Acharis of Aranmula, the secret of the alloy was revealed to one Parvathi Amma of the Vishvakarma community in her dream. The Acharis say that the shine on the mirror is on account of use of some powdered herbal leaves.

Hand-Fan (1901/1930)Sanskriti Museums


The hand-fan is made of a natural palm-leaf which is covered in fine muslin and to which a wooden handle is attached. The fan is adorned with pigment painted floral and peacock motifs.

Natural palm-leaf fans in different sizes (depending upon the palm from which the leaf is derived) have been in use in India for centuries.

This large fan having a specially attached wooden handle and fine and delicate painting certainly comes from an aristocratic family. On one side of the fan there is an inscription in Roman script reading: Meer Fatte Alikhan Bahadur.

Playing ToySanskriti Museums

Children's Playthings

The Sanskrit words for amusement, entertainment, pastime, toy, game, play, sport and dalliance, are all derived from the root krid, meaning “to play”. Accordingly, the word for toy is kridanaka, literally “a plaything”. In fact, the Varaha Purana refers to a toy called kridanaka presented to Skanda, the son of Shiva. The Sanskrit words puttala or puttika, meaning, “a doll” or “a puppet” are of equally interesting origin. Derived from putra, meaning “a son”, the word puttika also denotes “an effigy” or “a replica”.

All traditional Indian dolls and toys, like those in other countries, are replicas of things in the real world. To the microcosm of the child’s world, these toys bring a tangible recognition of the life around it in the form of miniature temples, icons, utensils and other objects from the household and community. Thus, toys are not only sources of delight, but are also educative and act as bridges between the worlds of fantasy and reality from which children journey back and forth with great ease.

Fairs, festivals and weekly markets have been an important feature of the everyday life of rural India. Creative playthings, made in materials ranging from ivory, silver and metal to terracotta, wood, fibres and rags were all sold at these gatherings. Imaginative yet simple and inexpensive, these dolls and toys provided children’s first lessons in form and texture, colour and design, light and sound, thought and feeling. Weekly markets and fairs were thus important in child’s learning experience of the adult world and its complex relationship.

Toy Mobile of Musicians (1901/1930)Sanskriti Museums

Toy Mobile of Musicians

This kinetic balancing toy has three painted wooden figures of musicians of which that of the standing female is mounted on the central wooden column while the two males are shown seated on square wooden plaques attached to two ends of a bent iron rod placed at the pinnacle of the column.

This kinetic toy, with its balancing device, when given a gentle push of the hand, keeps the musicians moving up and down until it stabilizes again. From the drape of the sari of the female and the turbans of the males it appears that the toy comes from Maharashtra.

Child's Walker (1901/1930)Sanskriti Museums

Child's Walker

This beautifully carved lathe-turned and lacquered walker has a horizontal handle-bar mounted on top of two vertical elements and an axle at the bottom of this structure. Two wheels are attached at two outer ends of the axle bar while from the centre of the axle issues another bar orthogonal to the axle to which a third wheel is attached at the outer end making a sort of a tricycle.

The walker, one of the rarest examples of its kind, marked by refined lac-turner, fine carving and simple kinetic devices, certainly once belonged to an aristocratic family. The figures of the lions with typical stylization of posture and protruding eyes are typical of southern Indian aesthetic tradition. On the front axle there is a wooden figure of a galloping horse.

Just above each of the two rear wheels two miniature wooden pavilions are perched, attached to two iron brackets, in such a way that when the wheels move, the pavilions keep turning on account of friction between the horizontal axle and the bases of the pavilions.

Toy Horse Carriage (1901/1930)Sanskriti Museums

Toy Horse Carriage

This meticulously designed horse carriage cast in bronze is so accurate in the construction of all its elements that it could almost serve as a to-scale miniature model of a real carriage alluding to axle, yoke, wheels with spokes, suspension device and a deck having elaborate chequered pattern of rope filling in brass and copper.

Yoked to the carriage are two horses decked with caparisons and mounted on wheels so that the carriage could be smoothly drawn on a string.

A Child’s Horse Saddle (1931/1970)Sanskriti Museums

A Child’s Horse Saddle

This smaller than normal saddle of wood is encased in brass sheets with joinery strengthened with iron brackets, strips and nails. A piece of thick leather serves as cushion.

The saddle is meant for a pony or a small mule for a child to learn riding.

Kitchen AccessoriesSanskriti Museums


Along with the various cooking traditions, a wide variety of cooking utensils and implements were introduced into India over the centuries. In most rural areas, cooking pots and pans of terracotta were used before the introduction of metal ware and therefore the former acted as the prototype for the latter.

With the exception of the coastal areas of the south and the east, where rice is the staple food, in the rest of the country, a variety of flat breads are cooked on direct fire. For rolling these breads, a low round tepoy of wood metal or stone was used. The rolling pins of metal often had devices for producing a rhythmic sound while in use.

In South India, highly ornate ladle-holders of metal or wood were made. Some ladles had rattling devices.

In every Indian house it was customary to churn buttermilk to extract ghi. An exceptionally beautiful, carved wooden ‘rope’ for fastening the churning rod from Gujarat, is a part of this collection.

For separating chaff from grain, winnowing fans of metal, bamboo or wood were popular. Mortars and pestles of brass, iron or stone which were used for grinding fresh spices everyday had charming shapes.

For grating coconut and chopping vegetables, beautifully carved wooden implements were specially used in Maharashtra and Southern India.

In some parts of Rajasthan, leather pots were used for storing ghi and cooking oil.

Cooking Pot (1901/1930)Sanskriti Museums

Cooking Pot

This rare cooking pot is cast in bronze in one piece. The outer surface of this heavy pot is variously ornamented. The collar is delicately adorned with incised floral creeper while on its belly there are figures of fish, peacock and chequered triangular forms.

A heavy layer of hardened black soot at the bottom reiterates its use as a cooking pot. The walls of such cooking pots were rather heavy to hold the heat longer to cook the food faster and retain it warm much longer.

Coconut Grater (1901/1930)Sanskriti Museums

Coconut Grater

This exceptionally well designed and crafted coconut grater has a rectangular carved wooden board adorned with peacocks at the head and floral creepers along the edges. Attached to the board is an iron blade having a circular saw-like grater below which a semi-circular bowl is carved out by hollowing the board. When a halved coconut is pressed against the grater and turned right and left, it gets grated and the pulp falls in the bowl below.

The coconut grater comes from Tamil Nadu. Grated coconut is profusely used in daily south Indian cooking. The elaborately carved grater certainly comes from an aristocratic Tamilian household. With the coming of mechanised or even motorized graters and grinders, the elegantly made grater of this genre is now relegated to museums.

Vegetable Slicer (1901/1930)Sanskriti Museums

Vegetable Slicer

The vegetable slicer made of cast bronze is in the form of a stylized rooster. The belly of the bird is a flat platform with four small legs and adorned with incised floral designs. The long and carved neck jutting out of the platform ends to form the head of the bird. On the inner side of the neck an iron blade is affixed.

While cutting vegetables, the user presses the knee or foot over the platform and slices them with the sharp edge of the blade. The slicer is designed so elegantly that it appeals as a piece of sculpture.

Butter Churner (1901/1930)Sanskriti Museums

Butter Churner

This wooden butter churner combines elements of a conventional churner and the spinning wheel. The rectangular base of the contraption has four small wheels attached to it for mobility.

This is a modernized version of the earlier butter-churning device in which a simple churning rod having a churner at the lower end was placed inside a pot filled with buttermilk and was turned manually by the women folk. Use of conveyor belt-like device is modern and part-mechanised.

The churning pot is placed at the bottom in such a way that the churner goes inside the pot. The ribbed middle of the rod has a looped churning rope fitted into its groove. The other end of the rope is affixed into the groove as in the box-type spinning wheel like a conveyor belt. As one turns the wheel, the churning rod also turns and churns the butter milk.

Peg for a Churning Rod (1901/1930)Sanskriti Museums

Peg for a Churning Rod

This wooden apparatus is a literal translation of a knotted rope into a wooden device commonly used in villages for holding a churning rod in straight position while churning buttermilk. It comprises two elements- one for tying the devise to a wall or a pillar and another with a hole for holding the churning rod. The joining of the elements in an actual rope device would be by knotting but here the two are linked together by wattling technique which provides scope for slight adjustment of the rod as would be the case with the original rope device.
Crafted with a rare and fine sense of design, the rod holder is finely carved, brilliantly combining beauty of form and functionality. The extra-ordinary smooth surface of the object arises from its use over the decades. Hardly any other example of this genre of object has come to light.

Sandalwood Grinder (1871/1900)Sanskriti Museums

Sandalwood Grinder

This exquisitely carved round stone plate was used for preparing sandalwood paste used for ritual purposes. The obverse of the plate is just a grainy plain surface on which sandalwood stick was rubbed with water to obtain the paste. The reverse of the plate (as seen in the picture) was intricately carved with floral motifs.

This object speaks of the understated aesthetic engagement with an ordinary object of day-to-day use. The functional side (the obverse) is just a plain grainy surface while all adornment is done on its non-functional side which becomes visible to a viewer only when after washing the plate it is left for drying against a wall. The multi-petalled lotus medallion in the centre and the three tiny, half inverted bell-shaped lotus footholds in combination with a scrolling creeper along the edge make this object of everyday life a true masterpiece.

Ewer (1901/1930)Sanskriti Museums


This hammered silver sheet ewer is made in four parts namely the lid, the long neck, the bulging belly and the base. The belly has fluted pattern resembling those of a sugar melon. The lid is hinged to the mouth and has a small latch to close the ewer.

Such ewers were used for storing and serving wine in Iran as well as the central Asian countries as evident from the paintings from these regions. In India such ewers are a part of the central Asian legacy.

Ladle Hanger (1901/1930)Sanskriti Museums

Ladle Hanger

This neatly carved and wattled wooden ladle hanger comes from a southern Indian aristocratic kitchen. The upper end of the hanger is crowned by a carving depicting a pair of parrots perched on stylised foliage. The bottom end has a carving of a swan. Between these two ends is a wattled panel comprising diagonally crossed bars having perforations between the cross bars. The handles of the ladles to be hung are pierced sideways into the perforations and then turned frontwards so as to keep them entangled in the slot and prevent them from falling. The ladle hanger is one of the finest examples of its kind.

Tray (1971/2000)Sanskriti Museums


This octagonal brass tray comprises a flat octagonal base in the middle from which rise eight shallow sloping walls on the sides. The base and the walls are advanced with finely engraved decorative motifs- in the centre a pair of peacocks in landscape surrounded by a floral border and on the side walls ten ornate leaves symmetrically placed.
The tray was meant for serving sweets and dry fruits on special occasion in aristocratic homes.

Lotas, Spouted Vessels and BoxesSanskriti Museums

Spouted vessels and Boxes

In rural Saurashtra, carved wooden hangers for turbans were very popular. The projecting pegs of these anchor shaped objects were usually formed like horse-heads.

For tying a turban, a wooden dummy in the form of a man’s head and bust was used by professional turban winders. When they satisfactorily completed winding a turban around the dummy they lifted it and placed on the head of the actual wearer. The dummies had fine sculputuresque qualities. Some of these had a compartment for storing needles, thread, scissors, etc.

Turbans were wound with great care and intricacy. Once wound, these were put on and removed from the head of the wearer without disturbing its form. While taking rest, these were removed from the head and placed inside the specially made turban-boxes which were often beautifully adorned.

In Rajasthan, even something as mundane as the stick for beating out dirt while washing clothes was minutely carved.

In Gujarat, the wooden implements for distributing and sowing seeds in the furrows had charming designs carved on the outer surface. The same implement cast in bronze has also come to light. In many areas, long brass pegs with the heads of bullocks, peacocks, etc. were pierced into the yoke as stoppers. For pouring medicine down the throats of domesticated animals, highly sophisticated hollow brass tubes were designed. Noisy rattles were used for chasing away birds from the fields as also when garden parties were held. Among the former ruling families of Rajasthan there was a custom of giving a gun-salute to a distinguished guest. A gadget devised for exploding gunpowder for this purpose is one of the interesting objects in the collection.


A simple stone meant for grating sandal wood into paste had the lotus symbol carved on its lower side. This could only be seen when the stone was washed and dried against the wall. The floor at the entrance to the house was freshly adorned daily with auspicious threshold designs. Brass containers and stencils with perforations were filled with white or coloured powders for making such designs.

Consumption of opium was very popular in many parts of India. Gadgets for mixing and filtering opium, often adorned with Shaivite symbols, were made of iron, brass, wood or stone. A few of these are displayed in the Museum.

Boxes of variety of shapes, sizes and designs were fondly acquired and used for storing jewellery, cash, perfumes or even eatables. The Museum has a fine collection of such boxes.


Scales, Weights and Measures:

For selling or bartering liquids items like oil or ghee or solids like food-grains, both the systems of weighing and measuring were in vogue. A synthesis of accuracy of measure and elegant form and design was discernible in many scales and measuring bowls.

Noteworthy are the bronze rice-measures from Eastern India.


Ovens and Tongs:

Ovens of iron, brass and copper were used in Vaishnava temples and in aristocratic houses to warm up against the winter. Some of these with wheels at the bottom could be rolled on the floor according to requirement. Those having chains were suspended from the roof so that the smoke did not gather in the living area of the room.

Tongs of brass, copper or iron were used by hukkah smokers to rearrange burning coal or by goldsmiths to handle heated metal pieces while fashioning ornaments. A few smaller ones were meant for plucking body hair. Some tongs had a sliding knob to tighten the grip. Even a small instrument like a pair of tongs was often made with great care and aesthetic awareness.


Locks and Latches:

Locks with a number of levers operated by key seem to be known and used in India over many centuries. Giant locks were used for protecting the gates of places and forts. In Kerala, the locks and latches attached to chests, and the entrance doors were made with especially elaborate ornamentation.


Spouted Pot (1931/1970)Sanskriti Museums

Spouted Pot

This simple but elegant vessel is bronze cast. Its collar is rather broad which allows holding the pot between two wrists by the user to wash hands by tilting it downwards without external help. The parallel running shallow diagonal trenches provide a good grip to the holder of the pot.

It has been a common practice in rural India to drink water from a cup formed by joining the palms and fingers of the two hands in which water is poured from a spouted vessel. This eliminates the possibility of pollution of touch by mouth of the drinker. Spouted vessels are also used by the adherents of certain religious groups for ablution which requires washing with running water.

Spouted Pot (1901/1930)Sanskriti Museums

Spouted Pot

This cast bronze vessel having a flat round belly and a somewhat elongated neck, a dome-shaped lid with a crowning figure of a peacock, and a spout is meant for pouring ghee or oil over roti or rice.

The peculiarity of this pot is that the spout is not totally round like a pipe as usual, but more like an open channel. Open spouts of this type have an old history in western India. Several fragments of earthenware spouted vessels from Harappan sites such as Kot Diji collected from the excavations have revealed this particular spouted vessel type.

Container for Precious Clothes and Jewellary (1901/1930)Sanskriti Museums

Container for precious Clothes and Jewellary

This large, three tiered, dome-shaped container is made by hammering and folding brass sheets to shape and welding the joints. The container stands on three hollow brass legs and has strong latching and locking devices on two sides. On top of the container there are two heavy brass rings attached to the pinnacle of the dome. The dome-shaped lid has geometric repouse patterns.
This container known as dablo among its kathi users of Gujarat was used for storing precious clothes, jewellary, cash or any other valuables. It is believed that foreseeing a plundering raid, kathis lowered the container into a well and after the danger was over they pulled it out by a rope to which anchor-like iron device was attached at the lower end. The pegs of the anchor got entangled with the brass rings and thus the container was pulled out.

Spouted Pot (1931/1970)Sanskriti Museums

Spouted Pot

This spouted brass vessel for ritual ablution is typical of the South Canara district of Karnataka as well as the border areas of Kerala as indicated by the presence of the typically curved, upward rising spout in the region.

Spouted Pot (1901/1930)Sanskriti Museums

Spouted Pot

This cast brass vessel with high percentage of copper has a spout in the form of a cow’s head and neck. Water fetched from any sacred river or pond was poured over divine images or the linga (Shiva’s phallus) for their lustration.

Water passing through the cow’s mouth has special significance for the Hindus as it is considered to be the most sacred of creatures. Early Hindu texts refer to Kapila or Surabhi as divine cows.

Pot Or Lota (1800/1900)Sanskriti Museums

Pot or Lota

The copper pot in the form of a fluted melon has a specially left out plain space on its belly where a pair of feet marks of Vishnu flanked by his emblems chakra(discus) on the left and shankha (conch shell) on the right are depicted in shallow incision. On the collar of the pot there is an inscription in Kannada which reads.

Container (1901/1930)Sanskriti Museums


This circular wooden container for day-to-day household goods with ornate brass hinges, a latch and a handle literally imitates the form of a fluted pumpkin or a melon.
Interestingly, forms of fruits such as mangoes, coconuts, and melons and vegetables such as brinjals, tori, paprika etc have inspired, all over India, the shapes and designs for domestic containers, especially for betel leaves, lime and tobacco and even for coins.

Betel Box (1901/1930)Sanskriti Museums

Betel Box

This large, circular betel container of brass has a number of perforated medallions all over its body and the lid. The container has an ornate latch hinged to the lid, a handle affixed on the top and eight small foot-holds at the bottom.

Consuming betel leaves with several ingredients such as wet lime paste, katechu, areca nut, cloves and even tobacco leaves has been popular in India atleast from the fourth century AD. This particular box with its large size and crescent moon medallions indicates that it came from a large aristocratic Islamic family.

Miscellaneous ObjectsSanskriti Museums


In rural Saurashtra, carved wooden hangers for turbans were very popular. The projecting pegs of these anchor shaped objects were usually formed like horse-heads.

For tying a turban, a wooden dummy in the form of a man’s head and bust was used by professional turban winders. When they satisfactorily completed winding a turban around the dummy they lifted it and placed on the head of the actual wearer. The dummies had fine sculputuresque qualities. Some of these had a compartment for storing needles, thread, scissors, etc.

Turbans were wound with great care and intricacy. Once wound, these were put on and removed from the head of the wearer without disturbing its form. While taking rest, these were removed from the head and placed inside the specially made turban-boxes which were often beautifully adorned.

In Rajasthan, even something as mundane as the stick for beating out dirt while washing clothes was minutely carved.

In Gujarat, the wooden implements for distributing and sowing seeds in the furrows had charming designs carved on the outer surface. The same implement cast in bronze has also come to light. In many areas, long brass pegs with the heads of bullocks, peacocks, etc. were pierced into the yoke as stoppers. For pouring medicine down the throats of domesticated animals, highly sophisticated hollow brass tubes were designed. Noisy rattles were used for chasing away birds from the fields as also when garden parties were held. Among the former ruling families of Rajasthan there was a custom of giving a gun-salute to a distinguished guest. A gadget devised for exploding gunpowder for this purpose is one of the interesting objects in the collection.


A simple stone meant for grating sandal wood into paste had the lotus symbol carved on its lower side. This could only be seen when the stone was washed and dried against the wall. The floor at the entrance to the house was freshly adorned daily with auspicious threshold designs. Brass containers and stencils with perforations were filled with white or coloured powders for making such designs.

Consumption of opium was very popular in many parts of India. Gadgets for mixing and filtering opium, often adorned with Shaivite symbols, were made of iron, brass, wood or stone. A few of these are displayed in the Museum.

Boxes of variety of shapes, sizes and designs were fondly acquired and used for storing jewellery, cash, perfumes or even eatables. The Museum has a fine collection of such boxes.


Scales, Weights and Measures:

For selling or bartering liquids items like oil or ghee or solids like food-grains, both the systems of weighing and measuring were in vogue. A synthesis of accuracy of measure and elegant form and design was discernible in many scales and measuring bowls.

Noteworthy are the bronze rice-measures from Eastern India.

Grain Measures (1971/2000)Sanskriti Museums

Grain Measures

These hourglass shaped brass grain measures effectively imbibe form and function. Before the measuring of quantity of grains by weight became popular, a system of measuring by volume was in vogue in India. These measures belong to this latter category.

The measure is made by hammering the brass sheet to requisite shape and joining at one end by dovetailing and soldering. The top edge of the measures is lined with an extra metal strip to lend it strength. The larger measure has the name of the owner engraved on it. Before the advent of the British measuring system, Indians measured their grains in tolas and sers. One ser comprised of 80 tolas and was equal to 2.5 lb. For measuring grains, Indians had measures of different sizes based on the quantity to be measured.

Scale for Weighing (1871/1900)Sanskriti Museums

Scale for weighing

This simple scale comprises a wooden stick adorned with cast bronze decorative elements attached to it at both ends. At one end there are bronze pegs from which the object or material to be weighed is suspended. The wooden stick was marked with numbers indicating the measured weight of the object to be weighed. A small, shifting string loop or sling is placed around the stick. After suspending the material to be weighed from the pegs at one end, the string loop is moved on the stick upto the point when balance is struck indicated by the stick attaining exact horizontal position. The weight of the object is indicated by the number on the stick where the loop strikes the exact balance.

This weighing device goes back to atleast the second century of the Christian era as shown in a Buddhist relief panel depicting one of the Jataka stories in which the Bodhisattva is asked to give to a king as much of the flesh of his body as the weight of a pigeon that he wanted to save from being killed by the king.

Scale for Weighing Scale for Weighing (1871/1900)Sanskriti Museums

Bronze pegs from which the object or material to be weighed is suspended

Pali/Paili, Grain Measure (1901/1930)Sanskriti Museums

Pali/Paili, Grain Measure

The handsome and well-crafted grain measure is made of brass and copper sheets. The basic structure is made of a copper sheet folded into a cylinder and joined by soldering. The outer surface is adorned with horizontal as well as vertical ornate bands which reinforce the sheet structure besides adding to its looks. Flat figures of cows, parrots elephants and a crescent moon cutout from a brass sheet are soldered on to the surface. A round copper plate is affixed at the bottom to hold the grain.

Before the advent of the British measuring system, Indians measured their grains in tolas and sers. One ser comprised 80 tolas and was equal to 2.5 lb. For measuring grains, Indians had measures of different sizes based on the quantity to be measured.

Bellows for Igniting Coal Fire (1871/1930)Sanskriti Museums

Bellows for Igniting Coal fire

The leather bellows mounted on ornately carved wooden legs has a mouth shaped like a stylised makara having protruding eyes, typical of southern Indian stone and wooden carvings.

Such bellows were used for igniting coal for large-scale cooking or even for melting metals or smelting iron by craftsmen.

Lock and Latch (1871/1900)Sanskriti Museums

Lock and Latch

Malabari teak is proverbially known for its durability and was profusely used in Kerala as building material but especially for making elaborately carved, handsome doors and large wooden chests. To match the finely carved decorations of the doors and chests equally finely crafted locks and latches of iron or brass were designed and affixed on to them. The present example is one of the most intricate and well-designed. Most remarkable is the trident-shaped peg in which the latch is inserted while shutting the door. The two side elements of the trident are in the form of a curved, elongated horse-neck while the central spike of the trident is a pointed arrow. The rod of the latch is held in position by ornate fixtures while the latch itself fits accurately in the lock below, which too is elaborately designed with perforations.

The most prominent element of a traditional Kerala house is its main entrance door which is embellished with finely carved decorative sections. The same is the case with its large wooden chests. To match the high quality of their design and aesthetic the iron locks and latches had to be equally beautiful.

A Padlock (1901/1930)Sanskriti Museums

A Padlock

This forged and lattice work iron padlock, in the form of a peacock is ingenuously designed. The main lock is in two parts-the belly and the neck of the bird is one part which has a locking device with a latch and the keyhole, while the tail is the second part which has a peg into which the latch gets inserted when the key is turned.

Before the arrival of the western locking devices incorporated into the door itself, a system of hanging padlocks on a latch attached to the door was commonly used. Blacksmiths designed and manufactured such locks, often with multiple levers for enhanced security. Nature of patronage and function defined the design and aesthetic quality of the lock.

Manuscript Basket (1871/1900)Sanskriti Museums

Manuscript Basket

This elongated oval shaped basket, meant for storing manuscripts in Kerala is made of cane. It has two brass locks and latches on the right and left.
The pores between the woven strips of cane allow fresh air to circulate which prevent the manuscripts from soiling.

Farmer’s Sowing Apparatus (1901/1930)Sanskriti Museums

Farmer’s sowing Apparatus

This unique apparatus for sowing seeds in the field is made of bell-metal by using cire-perdue method of casting. Most of its surface decorations are created by using wax thread before making a clay mould. While sowing, the apparatus is attached to the plough with three hollow bamboo tubes affixed to it in three holes at its bottom which are inter-connected with the seed bowl at the top. As the farmer pours seeds in the cavity, these slip into the bamboo tubes each of which is directed to a furrow. As the farmer moves the plough, seeds tumble down into the furrows evenly.

Made with care and affection, the apparatus has two jingle bells attached to it. These produce a rhythmic sound as the plough moves. The apparatus used to be often ritually anointed before use along with other farm tools.

Child’s Rattle (1931/1970)Sanskriti Museums

Child’s Rattle

This cast bronze rattle comprises a hexagonal central pipe to both ends of which perforated hollow bulbous elements having jingle-bells are affixed. Inside the bulbs a few small pebbles are put. As the child holds the rattle in its fist and moves the hand, jingling sound is produced.

Among several communities it had become customary to gift a silver rattle to a newly born baby by the relatives and friends on their first visit to the baby’s family. Often such rattles had a jingling device at one end and a whistle at the other.

Feeder of Medicine for Cattle (1901/1930)Sanskriti Museums

Feeder of Medicine for Cattle

This traditional veterinary instrument for pouring medicine down the throat of cattle is made of brass. This rare instrument is in the form of a pipe of which one end is meant to be closed to hold the liquid medicine inside. One-third of the other end of the pipe is cut half vertically like an open channel. This portion is inserted into the mouth of the cattle and the pipe is tilted bottom upwards so that the liquid goes down directly into the throat of the animal.

The handmade instrument is a rare example of a local innovation to fulfill a day-to-day function. The form indicates that this brass instrument possibly derived its form from a bamboo prototype. Fine smoothening of edges and raised floral and geometric decorations on the surface are remarkable.

Turban Box (1871/1900)Sanskriti Museums

Turban Box

This round turban box with a dome-shaped lid made of cowdung mixed clay and papier mache is densely pigment painted depicting scenes from Hindu mythology as well as courtly life in a style remotely invoking the Kota idiom of Rajasthan. The painted scenes on the lid include vastra-harana or Krishna taking away the clothes of the bathing gopis, Krishna flanked by two gopis, Shiva and Parvati, and Ganesha being venerated by a female devotee.

The images on the box represent courtly life including royal personages riding an elephant or a horse, man combating a tiger, an aristocrat being carried in a palanquin and a female seated in a horse-drawn chariot.
The box was used for keeping laboriously wound turbans which were often embellished with ornaments studded with precious stones.

Chains for a Swing (1901/1930)Sanskriti Museums

Chains for a Swing

Each of the four brass chains comprise several ornate links of cast brass intercepted by globular boxes having perforations. The upper ends of the chains were attached to hooks in the ceiling while the lower ends were connected to brass or iron rings attached to a rectangular wooden plank of the swing in its four corners.

Chains for a SwingSanskriti Museums

The most remarkable feature of the chains is that in the perforated globular containers perfume dipped cotton or incense on burning coal was placed. As the swing moved, the room got filled with scented air.

Flask (1871/1900)Sanskriti Museums


This oval-shaped brass flask with bulging belly, narrow bottle-neck for filling up water and a slender pipe attached to it on one side for drinking straight from the flask is made in two symmetrical parts hammer